One of the most contentious and financially draining public housing projects in the history of the Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority (ARHA) may finally be on the road to recovery as a result of a unanimous vote of approval Tuesday night by the Alexandria Planning Commission.
Commonly referred to as Glebe Park, the three-part application for two separate Development Special Use Permits (SUP) and one parking reduction request, actually dealt with properties in the 800 block of West Glebe Road and 3900 block of Old Dominion Boulevard. Presently, the properties contain 152 housing units, 93 of which stand vacant due to health related uninhabitability.
Approval of the Planning Commission was actually the lowest hurdle ARHA's Board of Commissioners faced in redeveloping the site. The primary stumbling block is Glebe Park's financial quagmire. However, solving that problem could not move forward without first gaining approval of the SUPs.
Constructed in 1945, Glebe Park was purchased by ARHA in 1987. Prior to that purchase the property had actually been condemned by the City for "life safety code deficiencies" resulting from multiple floods that left the buildings contaminated with mold. The reason for the excessive flooding was that the site is located in the Four Mile Run flood zone.
In recent years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has widened the adjacent channel thus lessening recurring water problem. Although substantial renovations were undertaken in 1987/88, the properties continue to be plagued with mold and mildew from the flooding. ARHA's Board of Commissioners concluded that the only feasible solution was to totally replace most of the units.
Compounding the physical deterioration is an outstanding $5.6 million debt to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development in the form of tax-exempt bonds, exacerbated by the pending expiration of a letter of credit. If that is not satisfied the entire site could go into foreclosure, substantially reducing the number of public/affordable housing units in the city.
In a "Corrective Action Plan," submitted along with their SUP applications, ARHA noted, "At 53 percent occupancy, Glebe Park currently places a cash demand on ARHA as operating revenues ... fall short of meeting operating expenses and debt service." Although refinancing of the original debt in 1987 and 1996 resulted in lower debt service costs, "ARHA has for years, and continues to, subsidize operations at Glebe Park," according to the Plan statement.
TO SOLVE THIS fiscal bleed-out and transform the decaying site into viable housing inventory, ARHA Commissioners decided on another joint venture with their partner in the redevelopment of "The Burg," now known as Chatham Square, Eakin-Youngentab Associates (EYA). This new joint venture, which was arrived at through a public Request for Proposals (RFP), calls for the total transformation of the present 40 public housing units and 112 market rate units.
The redeveloped site would contain 78 new housing units, 48 at the West Glebe site and 30 at the Old Dominion site, plus 24 renovated units at the Old Dominion West site, for a total of 102 units. A reduction of approximately 50 units. Of the 152 existing units, 40 are subject to City Council Resolution 830 calling for "one for one replacement of public housing units, if redevelopment occurs."
According to the application, the 78 new units and 24 renovated units would consist of 84 public housing rental units, 10 affordable/workforce for-sale units, and eight market rate for sale units. The latter units would be priced at approximately $500,000 each while the affordable/workforce units would be in $300,000 range, according to Attorney Jonathan Rak, representing the applicants before the Planning Commission.
ARHA's proposal is to fund the renovation and redevelopment through income received from the land sales and mixed-income redevelopment of ARHA's James Bland property, located in the area of the Charles Houston Recreation Center, and through competitive low income housing tax credits, according to the application. ARHA is also in negotiations with the City to pay off the $5.6 million HUD mortgage to thwart foreclosure.
Additionally, ARHA is preparing an application to HUD for a HOPE VI grant, which HUD recently reopened to applicants nationwide. There will only be a few applications approved nationally, according to ARHA's Chairman A. Melvin Miller. The deadline for that grant application is Nov. 7.
IN ADDITION TO all these factors, both ARHA and the City have gone through an elongated public outreach process with residents in the Glebe Park area who questioned the entire Glebe Park redevelopment/renovation proposal. Their primary complaint was that it continued to concentrate public housing rather than scattering it throughout the city.
"There have been a series of difficult meetings on these applications with area resident stakeholder groups. But, the fact that there are no public speakers on these items tonight shows that those meetings have been successful," said Jeffrey Farner, development division chief, Alexandria Planning & Zoning Department.
The issue of concentrating public housing was addressed by, Mildrilyn Davis, director, Alexandria Office of Housing. "We do not feel this neighborhood is being unfairly impacted. There are other areas of the City with more units of public housing than Glebe Park," she told the Planning Commissioners.
In the final analysis, the stakeholder groups split on two plans for redevelopment of the site, one known as the "EYA Plan" and the other as the "Workforce Plan." But, both approved moving forward with redevelopment/renovation of the overall site, according to a detailed memorandum submitted to the Mayor and Council by City Manager James K. Hartmann on Sept. 6.
The overall consensus of the stakeholder group was divided near evenly, with about half — composed primarily of affordable housing advocates and some residents — favoring the original EYA proposal for a combination of public and market rate housing and the other half — composed of civic association representatives — supporting more market rate units, with the inclusion of affordable/workforce units, according to the staff report.
When it came to the request for a reduction in parking requirements for the site, the Planning Commission agreed to follow the request of ARHA based on the latter's experience in judging the needs of their residents for both occupant and visitor spaces.
Planning Commission Vice Chairman John Komoroske raised the point of providing a resident manager on site to "make the residents feel more secure." However, the suggestion was dropped when it was pointed out that in order to do that it would mean sacrificing a housing unit.
The Planning Commission vote allows ARHA to apply for the HOPE VI grant and move ahead with other financing vehicles. No definite time frame has been established for commencement of the project.