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Chatham Square Moves Forward

Housing authority approves application process.

Applications for admission to the first completed public housing units of the new Chatham Square and three off site locations will commence "not later than 60 days prior to the date" of their availability, now projected to be in October.

That policy was adopted Monday night by the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority (ARHA) after approving the "Chatham Square/BWR Apartments Selection Criteria For Public Housing" Report from executive director William M. Dearman. It represented several months work by a 27-member Re-Occupancy Sub-committee Advisory Committee.

Formerly known as Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown), or "The Berg", Chatham Square will contain 52 public housing rental units and the Braddock Reynolds Whiting Apartments, referred to in the report as "BWR Apartments," will provide 48 new units. Both were developed under a 1998 HOPE VI initiative.

"THIS DOCUMENT represents a unanimous agreement by the committee," Susan F. Brita, a member of the committee, told the ARHA Board. "However, I feel we have done a disservice to Section 8 residents by excluding them from consideration," she said.

This led to a lengthy board discussion as to whether or not such residents are excluded by the criteria as adopted. ARHA chair A. Melvin Miller said, "They are not excluded."

Marye Ish, director, ARHA Housing Operations, said, "Section 8 residents that were originally in (Samuel Madden Homes) can come back." However, this analysis was later challenged by several board members due to interpretive wording within the document.

The majority of the board expressed the opinion that Section 8 voucher holder residents should be encouraged to make application for residency in the new units because of their normally higher incomes than other public housing residents. "Our major concern is to have people moving into these units who are not able to pay the rent," Miller said.

"To get into public housing a resident has to be on the public housing waiting list. Anyone can apply to get on the list. If a Section 8 resident were chosen they would have to give up their housing subsidy so that it would not be a double situation," Ish said.

"If someone applies today to be put on the waiting list, it will take two or three years to get to the top of that list to be considered," Miller said.

AS SPELLED OUT in the Applicant Selection Criteria, "Each applicant for admission to a rental dwelling unit in the development must submit to ARHA a completed and signed application, including all related certification forms."

Potential applicants were divided into three tiers:

* Tier 1 - Affected head of household displaced from Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown) households

* Tier 2 - Residents of other public housing or subsidized housing who are "Residents in Good Standing"

* Tier 3 - Public housing waiting list for families

Tier 1 households are considered the "Affected Residents" and are subject only to the definition of "Resident in Good Standing" as approved by the ARHA Board of Commissioners Feb. 25, 2002, according to the report. "Tiers 2 and 3 are subject to HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] requirements ... and all other qualification requirements that are specified in this document," it said.

In determining who would be accepted and rejected for the public housing units, the report specified, "If the Management Agent [ARHA] determines that the applicant is ineligible for Chatham Square or BWR Apartments, the Management Agent will notify the applicant in writing. Any applicant determined ineligible will have the right to a grievance ...."

After extensive debate, primarily focused on requirements applicable to income levels and criminal records of potential residents, the Board approved the criteria unanimously subject to changes to be included by ARHA staff.

IN OTHER ACTIONS, the board:

* Was told by Dearman that HUD had notified them of changes in the federal budgeting process that will require each public housing site to "stand on its own." This will prevent ARHA from interchanging funds to support less profitable sites. "This is going to have a very serious impact on public housing as we know it," Dearman said. He suggested that a joint meeting with Alexandria City Council be scheduled for September to apprise them of the impact of this anticipated change in HUD procedures. "If this goes into effect, it may come to the point we will be forced to skip over people we can't afford," Miller said.

* Reacted with surprise to learn the Montgomery Street Family Resource Center had been closed. This came to light when Joan Burchell, representing ALIVE, asked what the time frame was on reopening the Center. When Miller asked why it had been closed, Dearman said, "I will discuss it after the meeting." Commissioner Leslie Hagan said, "This is a very bad time for the Center to be closed since children need to continue learning over the summer." Dearman offered no further explanation for the closure. He did acknowledge that the Center was an ARHA initiative not required by HUD.

* Heard a complaint by Ladrey resident Dorothy Carter that work she requested in her unit had gone uncompleted for a year. She cited four instances of nonresponse to her requests including her air conditioner, which has not worked since she arrived in April 2003, she said. "It's awful the way seniors are being treated here," she said. Dearman claimed he had only received her letter of complaint Monday morning. Miller told Dearman he wanted maintenance personnel in Carter's apartment by Tuesday morning. Commissioner Carter Flemming questioned the entire maintenance of Ladrey including the status of carpeting in the halls and individual units. "Bad carpeting is a real health hazard. Particularly to those people with any type of respiratory ailment," she said.