Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Need to Focus on Public Housing

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Need to Focus on Public Housing

On Monday, July 10, an affordable housing advocacy coalition sent a letter to City Council protesting current plans for the redevelopment of Andrew Adkins, a public housing site in Old Town. Adkins is one of six public housing sites, all but one of which are in Old Town, slated for redevelopment. Thirty-three people signed the letter (edited below), including representatives of 12 nonprofits and 10 clergy.

“… We understand that the continued reduction in federal funding for the operation and maintenance of public housing requires ARHA to rethink how to best position their real estate portfolio to address their mission and remain economically viable. However, the following issues need further consideration.

“Ratio of Market Units to Lower Income Housing. While we are dismayed that only 60 of the 90 public housing units will be replaced on-site, the creation of approximately 350 new market rate units on the original ARHA site is very troubling. Is this the best deal that ARHA could structure with the developer in light of the dramatic loss of affordable units in the city, and the significant increase in rents over the last 10 years?

“The mission of ARHA is to serve the most vulnerable families with extremely low incomes, and we believe they have an obligation to press for more affordable units at much lower income levels. Based on information provided by ARHA, the overwhelming majority of households at Adkins earn less than 30 percent of the area median income [AMI]. The current proposal only provides for 20 of the 60 replacement units to be affordable to households at less than 30 percent of AMI. The optics of this proposal are not good, to say the least, and the reality is even worse.

“We recommend 1) replacing all 90 units on site in perpetuity for households earning less than 30 percent AMI, and 2) including additional units at 60 percent AMI of area median income. … We are in favor of mixed-income development in all redevelopment efforts as long as each project ensures an equitable and viable mix of household incomes, and does not result in a net outflow of low-income households from their neighborhoods. That is what is currently proposed for Adkins. Permanently removing residents from their communities disrupts their lives and removes them from established social networks, schools, faith communities and neighbors. Practices like these contravene our core values of diversity, inclusion and social equity.

“Transition Plan for Residents. Currently, there appears to be no meaningful transition plan for the residents at Adkins. … [W]e recommend that a detailed plan be developed and presented to the residents now, to give them time to prepare for what is being proposed for their relocation.

“Housing Affordability as a Citywide Priority. We respect the right of communities adjacent to the Adkins site to be engaged in this planning process by offering their comments and sharing their concerns. However, the Braddock Implementation Advisory [G]roup should not be considered the sole representative of interests in the area. We encourage ARHA to reach out to the small businesses in the area (who may employ Adkins residents), and faith communities who are concerned about the loss of housing affordability in the city or whose congregants may live at Adkins.

“… Housing affordability has been and needs to remain a top priority for the City and as a community we need to maximize these opportunities to secure housing – especially when the land belongs to our public housing authority.

“We urge council and city staff to work with ARHA staff and their board to evaluate the remaining properties slated for redevelopment and seek creative financing strategies and best practices that are economically viable, successfully integrate households with a mix of incomes, and maintain the integrity of these diverse neighborhoods.”

Katharine Dixon, Rebuilding Together Alexandria; Jon Smoot, Habitat for Humanity Northern Virginia; Michelle Krocker, Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance and Housing Alexandria; The Rev. Mary Beth Blinn, Lead Pastor, Fairlington United Methodist Church; The Rev. Oran Warder, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; Kari Galloway, Friends of Guest House; Allen Lomax; The Rev. Jeanette Leisk, Pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church; Ann Marie Hay; Melanie Gray; Nathan Bridges, Lt. Corp Officer, The Salvation Army; Bill Harris; Shannon Steene, Carpenter’s Shelter; Lynn Thomas, Community Lodgings; Pam Michell, New Hope Housing; J. Glenn Hopkins, Hopkins House; Shelley Murphy, Wesley Housing Development Corporation; Shannon Steene and Lynn Thomas, co-chairs, Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness in Alexandria; Canek Aguirre, Economic Opportunities Commission; Evelin Urrutia, Tenant and Workers United; Will Monahan and The Rev. Anne Monahan; The Rev. Noelle York Simmons, Christ Church; The Rev. Juli Wilson-Black, Fairlington Presbyterian Church; Walter Webdale, AHC, Inc.; The Rev. Jo Belser, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection; Betsy Faga; June Stowe, ALIVE! Affordable Housing Committee; The Rev. Donald Fest, Pastor, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; Diane Charles, Executive Director and Patrick Anderson, Board President, ALIVE!; The Rev. Thomas James, Washington Street United Methodist Church