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Column: Must an Affordable Neighborhood Be Lost?

— Soon we’ll celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday — a day for service. But I want to suggest that it should be a day for justice, beginning in our own backyard. The injustice that my family and our neighbors are experiencing in the Beauregard area is “a threat to justice everywhere.”

For decades, the Beauregard neighborhood has been a welcoming place for families to make a home. This tree-filled valley in Alexandria’s West End is also home to a unique multicultural community that my family and many other Alexandrians cherish. Indeed 70 percent of our neighbors are Asian, African, Latino, and African American.

The 10,000 Alexandrians who live in this neighborhood include those who build this city and provide the services that make it run. My wife and I clean homes. My neighbors drive the taxis that take you home from the airport, cook your meals and wash dishes in the restaurants you eat in, build your homes and office buildings, pave the roads you drive on, file your papers, take your blood pressure, and provide care for your children and grandparents. Our tax dollars help fill the public treasury. In short, we help make Alexandria a great city.

But too many of my neighbors have already been forced out of this community. Others work two or even three jobs to afford to stay in the neighborhood and provide a good future for their children. Our landlord, JBG is destroying one of the most affordable and diverse neighborhoods in Alexandria. They aren’t waiting for the bulldozers that will demolish 2,475 homes to make way for a new development of hotels, shops, and luxury apartments. They are driving out families now by increasing rent and utility charges by hundreds of dollars a month for many residents.

City leaders tell us that JBG has promised that eventually (sometime over the next 25 years or so) perhaps 12 percent of the units in the new development will be affordable. But that’s not enough and it comes too late. Meanwhile, will JBG completely drive working people and people of color out of Alexandria’s Beauregard neighborhood? Surely that’s the kind of injustice that Dr. King struggled against throughout his life.

Will Mayor Euille and the new City Council allow this injustice to continue or will they stand up to save a vibrant, multicultural community? Our leaders should work with JBG to stabilize rents at fair rates and create an enforceable plan that guarantees affordable housing for all of the current residents.

We envision a Beauregard in 30 years that is a thriving, diverse neighborhood that includes our children and grandchildren.

We invite Mr. Glosserman of JBG, Mayor Euille, and City Council members to make this dream a reality. Only then will justice be done.

Hector Pineda is a long-time resident of the Beauregard neighborhood. He is president of the Beauregard Tenants Association and a member of Tenants and Workers United.