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Once a Dream — Now a Reality

Chatham Square is open for business.

What once seemed only a vague possibility and even viewed by some as an impossibility, has now become a reality with the symbolic presentation of keys to the new first residents. "The Berg" is officially now Chatham Square.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 17, Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the City of Alexandria, and Eakin/Youngentob Associates, unveiled the first of the planned 152 units to be completed replacing the former Samuel Madden Homes Downtown. The entire 52 units of public housing are scheduled for completion and occupancy by early fall.

"This transition is a benefit to the city as a whole, both physically and socially," said Mayor William D. Euille, who spent his early years as a "Berg" resident.

"It is somewhat of a bitter sweet moment for me to see what has happened at the former Samuel Madden Homes site thinking back to my youth. But, having participated in the groundbreaking and now the actual transition to this beautiful development, it is truly exciting," he said.

A. Melvin Miller, ARHA chair, said, "This is going to be viewed as the most outstanding HOPE VI project in the nation. I want to thank everyone who worked cooperatively on this project and even those that opposed it at times. Their constructive criticisms probably helped to bring about a better development."

THE PROJECT is considered innovative for its public-private partnership and the intermixing of 52 public housing units with 100 market-rate townhouses. In addition, 48 other public housing units will be constructed at three off-site locations. It was financed by a mix of federal, state, local and private monies.

"It was a really good feeling to see a young family that had once lived in The Berg go back into the first new public housing unit," said William Dearman, executive director, ARHA. "Particularly since the husband had actually worked on the very unit they will be living in."

The family of Darnecia Brooks received a symbolic set of keys to their new unit during the ceremony, according to Dearman. "She'll be the first ARHA resident to move back in," he said.

"When I first arrived here I heard a lot about this HOPE VI project. And, a lot of people thought this day would never come. Today, made all the struggle worthwhile, to see this become a reality. It's been a true community effort," Dearman said.

THOSE THOUGHTS were echoed by Robert Youngentob, president, EYA. "The success of this public/private partnership has proven critical in the rebuilding of this property. The development of Chatham Square not only provides quality housing for those most in need but also aims to improve the quality of life for public housing residents," he said.

A congratulatory letter from Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner also praised the public/private partnership that seeded the innovative project. "This demonstrates community cooperation at its very best. I am confident that both the public housing units and the townhouses of Chatham Square will be equally comfortable and charming places in which to live," he wrote.

Former residents of Samuel Madden Homes who were relocated during the transition to Chatham Square were given first priority to move back into the new community, according to ARHA and EYA. The first new residents of the market-priced units will be selected in the coming weeks as units become available.

"Of the families that were moved out of Samuel Madden Homes, 25 have indicated a willingness to return to the new units on site. Some of the others have said they would rather go to one of the off-site units. And, others have dropped out of the mix for a variety of reasons," Miller said.