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Change Surprises ARHA

Some public housing residents affected by tax credit limit.

Reestablishing displaced low income residents into the Chatham Square redevelopment project has become more contentious than originally envisioned thanks to a heretofore undisclosed provision in the tax credit application filed with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA).

As originally conceived by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) Board of Commissioners, the maximum income for admission to replacement units at the site of the former "Berg" by those displaced and new applicants was not to exceed 60 percent of Annual Median Income for the Metropolitan Statistical Area for 40 percent of the units.

However, when the tax credit application was filed with VHDA by a consultant specializing in such procedures it was stated that 100 percent of the "replacement units would be provided to families at or below 50 percent AMI." This was to apply to all of the public housing units in the new Chatham Square and the three scattered sites associated with the project.

"The consultant for Mid City/Edgewood determined that due to competition for the tax credits, our (ARHA's) standards would not be competitive and they changed it to get the tax credit. They felt that 100 percent of all the public housing units had to be committed to the 50 percent of AMI for us to be eligible for the tax credit, " said A. Melvin Miller, chair, ARHA.

"We were not aware of the change until Edgewood Management Company raised some question about the eligibility of three families coming into the new units on site. However, we believe they are looking at the criteria incorrectly for two of those families," Miller said.

Mid City/Edgewood is a partner with ARHA in the public housing units segment of Chatham Square. The market rate units are owned by the overall developer, Eakin/Youngentab, until purchased by individual residents.

THIS CHANGE TRIGGERED a special meeting of ARHA's Board on May 9 to redefine the income eligibility pertaining to the tax credit. Miller wrote a letter to VHDA seeking guidance in the "tax credit income definitions for the two families who qualified under public housing, but do not qualify under the tax credit interpretation," according William Dearman, ARHA executive director. The answer is still pending.

Reentry selection policy was originally divided into three groups known as "tiers."

* Tier one: Those who would receive first preference, was compromised of only former residents of Samuel Madden Homes Downtown living on site at the time of redevelopment and were displaced by that action. This group was never subject to income minimums, employment criteria or credit checks since they were guaranteed reentry if they chose to exercise their option.

* Tier two: Current public housing residents in good standing with annual incomes ranging between 40 and 60 percent of AMI for this area. Being in good standing would apply to their rental history, one-year minimum work history for either the head of household or spouse, and a credit check.

* Tier three: Public housing applicants on the waiting list with incomes of 40 percent to 60 percent of AMI. Employment, rental history, credit, and criminal background checks would be conducted for all in this tier.

Of the 59 families displaced by redevelopment of the former "Berg" only three could be potentially impacted by the change in AMI eligibility from the original 60 percent range to no higher than 50 percent as specified in granting the tax credit, according to Marye Ish, director, ARHA housing operations.

"Tier one always had a maximum income level but we never thought that would be a problem. We also knew right from the beginning that we would have to have some residents at the upper income level. But, we eliminated former residents from this requirement," Miller said.

"The one family that was already moved in when this situation came to light is not a former resident. We are trying to work with them to get them into another set aside unit in one of our other scattered sites. The other two families caught in this situation had not moved in yet," he said.

ACCORDING TO PUBLIC housing guidelines: "Chatham Square applicants who were not original Samuel Madden Downtown residents must have incomes of at least the minimum wage annualized (approximately $10,000 as of May 2005) to the maximum of 50 percent of the medium income. All waiting list applicants who are considered as new move-ins into Chatham Square and the new scattered sites must have income between 30 percent and 50 percent of the area medium income."

It was acknowledged that "These requirements may also require ARHA to skip families on the waiting list ...." These families will be entitled to a voucher as a result of a resolution adopted by the board.

ARHA's board voted the necessary changes at their regular meeting May 23. Since the original AMI concerns came to light nearly a dozen other families have moved into the Chatham Square site, according to Miller.

According to Dearman, "A total of 34 former Berg residents have indicated they would like to move to the Chatham Square and the Scattered Sites as of May 12, 2005. Those interested in Chatham Square total approximately 26 and eight former Berg residents have requested the Scattered Sites."

Dearman reported that as of May 17 the status of the 52 ARHA on-site units was as follows: Four buildings have been turned over to ARHA with a total of 24 apartments. Two "A-Type" units, townhouses not included in the garage building, are scheduled for turn over "by the end of May, thereby completing the work on the northernmost block."

Buildings in the southernmost block are scheduled to be released to ARHA by June 16. "To date $6,895,472 has been relinquished which represents 61 percent of the total contract price," Dearman explained to the board in his memorandum.

As for the three scattered sites, containing 48 units, which are part of the overall Berg project they "continue to be a challenge," according to a May 17 memorandum by Dearman to the ARHA board. "All permits have been received and the work is progressing, however the contractor has logged 145 delay days to date and 23 lost work days due to weather. One hundred and 45 days or 38 percent of the total contract days have elapsed," he stated.

Dearman also informed the board, "The most recent schedules project Braddock Road to be completed Aug. 10, Reynolds Street to be completed Sept. 27, and Whiting Street to be completed by Dec. 2 .... There are 12 proposed or pending changes, two of which we have received pricing for a total of $57,202." Each of the scattered sites have experienced delays due to a variety of factors, according to Dearman.