With the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development threatening to foreclose on an Arlandria public-housing complex, city officials have found themselves in a pickle. They can do nothing and potentially lose public-housing units or act on a plan that could require a $4 million loan to fund a renovation effort that is unpopular with many of the neighbors. Councilwoman Del Pepper said that she has heard from many residents who live near the Glebe Park complex who are unhappy that the city seems to have abandoned the “scattered-site” public-housing model used successfully in Chatham Square — mixing public-housing units and market-rate units in an effort to avoid creating pockets of poverty in the city.
“I think some people in this city seem to have an inability to think outside the box,” said Pepper. “But I blame HUD.”
The city’s current plan is to send a letter to the Virginia Housing Development Authority supporting income housing tax credits for the redevelopment of Glebe Park, the Arlandria public-housing complex originally built in 1945. City leaders want to move public-housing residents from the James Bland public-housing units in the Parker Gray neighborhood, but federal regulations require that any public-housing unit lost in redevelopment be replaced on a “one-for-one basis.”
So the redevelopment plan crafted by city officials relocates Parker Gray public-housing units to Arlandria without creating the kind of scattered-site housing blend that many neighbors were expecting. During a Tuesday night discussion of the plan at City Hall, Councilman Paul Smedberg noted that the current redevelopment plan calls for 217 public-housing units in Glebe Park and only six market-rate units — turning the concept of scattered-site housing on its head.
“What good are six market-rate housing units?” Smedberg asked Melvin Miller, chairman of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. “Were you just trying to pacify the neighbors?”
“We felt this was the responsible way to proceed,” Miller responded.
According to recent reports from the city manager’s office, Alexandria has missed out as other Northern Virginia jurisdictions have added thousands of new jobs. But the situation might not be as grim as first thought. The city’s monthly financial report, which was received by City Council members earlier this week, showed that the job-growth estimates suffered from a lack of good data.
“It should be noted that the city at-place employment data chart has been corrected to reflect the fact that the U.S. Patent and Trademark employees have not been reporting to the Virginia Employment Commission which is the source for local at-place employment statistics in Virginia,” wrote City Manager Jim Hartmann in a March 22 memorandum.
The updated data add thousands of new jobs. Instead of records that showed a net loss of 697 federal jobs during the last five years, the new numbers show that Alexandria has added 7,303 new positions. Yet Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks warned that even considering the new numbers from the Virginia Employment Commission, the charts still show that Alexandria hasn’t benefited from the regional job growth.
“These positions are not new jobs, they were existing positions that were shifted within the region,” Jinks said after Tuesday night’s meeting. “We didn’t get any portion of the new job growth in the region.”
The Energy Fairy?
The city has been involved in a protracted effort to get rid of its coal-fired power plant for years. City Council members are unanimous in their desire to shut down the Potomac River Generating Station operated by Mirant, the Atlanta-based publicly traded energy company. Although Mayor Bill Euille called the coal-fired power plant “a major source of pollution” in his State of the City address earlier this year, Mirant Mid-Atlantic Business Unit CEO Bob Driscoll disagreed, saying that the waterfront coal-fired plant posed no significant health risks to its neighbors. In a meeting with reporters and editors last week, Driscoll predicted that the city should get used to having Mirant in the neighborhood.
“I’ve told Mayor Euille on a number of occasions that we are going to be neighbors for a long time,” Driscoll said during the meeting at Connection Newspapers headquarters in McLean. “The mayor and I have agreed to disagree.”
“People think that they are going to get reliable electricity without living near a plant,” added Debra Bolton, a Mirant vice president who lives near the plant on Braddock Road. “Who do they think is going to bring it? The energy fairy?”