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Letter: Displacing The Poor

To the Editor:

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Beauregard Small Area Plan working session held at the Landmark Mall. As many of your readers may be aware, this plan is quite contentious — particularly to the residents of the West End neighborhood who will be most impacted.

It is my opinion that there is still a lot of work yet to be done on this plan. That’s not to say that I oppose development in this neighborhood — far from it. Development is critically needed in this part of the city, and it’s encouraging to see city leaders turning their attention to an area that has in the past been overlooked when it comes to improvements and new opportunities. Yet the plan as currently proposed is deficient in several key areas.

Chief among these deficiencies is the plan’s treatment of affordable housing. Simply put, the current version of this proposal decimates affordable housing in Alexandria, and that is not something that I can support. In this plan, the Beauregard corridor will lose a significant number of affordable housing units. In exchange for this, the developer would allow for about 703 affordable housing units. I find this deeply troubling, especially considering that the plan is virtually silent on what would happen to thousands of displaced Alexandrians. Where will they go? Are they expected to move to Woodbridge?

Ultimately, the content of this plan illustrates the need to have a broader conversation about the definition of affordable housing. The current plan considers residents with income ranges from 55 percent to 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). As I understand it, most of those that live in the area fall below this income threshold. Realistically, their incomes are in the range of 30 percent to 50 percent of AMI. This just reinforces my sense that the plan has no intention of supporting the families that live in the area today. Before this plan moves forward, a study should be done of resident income levels so that decision-makers and residents can better understand exactly who this plan will benefit.

At the very least subsidy considerations must be made for those in the 30 percent to 50 percent AMI range to keep people living in their community. The cost could potentially be offset by a reconsideration of the $29 million ellipse that neighbors have strongly opposed. Alexandria needs to be a more livable and walkable city and the ellipse at Seminary and Beauregard would not be pedestrian friendly. In addition, it goes against the spirit of smart growth, which attempts to provide a means of getting people out of their cars and onto sidewalks.

I believe that Alexandria and JBG Properties can be more creative in their approach to improving our city. I think it is in the best interest of everyone affected by this development to slow down and to try and find the middle ground that benefits the city, the developer and the residents alike. That means figuring out a true affordable housing compromise, preparing for the changing transportation needs of the area, and making appropriate considerations for green space. We are making choices here that will provide a template for the future of an exciting and vibrant part of our city. We owe it to ourselves and to future Alexandrians to make sure that we do it right.

Charles Sumpter

The writer is a Democratic candidate for Alexandria City Council and a resident of the West End.