“It’s more than frustrating, it’s a tremendous loss.” — Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper
Troubling. Frustrating. Unconscionable.
Echoing the sentiments of the Planning Commission in its meeting last week, the City Council expressed outrage over delays to the Andrew Adkins housing redevelopment project. Earlier this year, a proposal from Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) for the redevelopment of Andrew Adkins, a block of affordable housing units near the Braddock Road Metro Station, proposed an overall decrease in the number of affordable housing units at the site rather than an increase. Disagreements between the city and the developers allegedly caused developer Clark Realty (CRC) to stop work on the designs for the building. According to city staff, these delays will almost certainly mean the project is delayed another year. Even if the tax credits are available next year, council members warned the delays could still be costly.
According to Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, the disagreements between the city, ARHA, and CRC were rooted in concerns about the number of affordable housing units at the site and concerns about how that number affected the bonus density for the site.
“We should not be here,” said Wilson. “The committee tried to tease out different ways to arrive at the unit math that I think would create a situation that ARHA and the private development partners would be comfortable with, but we did not get there. That’s very frustrating. As we talked about last meeting, while it should cause us to take a deep breath, it should not cause us to sit back for too long, because we still have a tight deadline for next year to get this right.”
But delays another year could be costly to the city or even fatal to the project. Wilson pointed to delays by a year for the Ramsey Homes redevelopment that resulted in the project costs increasing by $1 million. The even bigger concern is that if the project is delayed, the federal tax credits being sought either might not exist or might be underfunded.
“Given what’s happening in D.C., we do not want to miss tax credit cycles because they might not be there in the future,” said Wilson. “That’s a very real concern. But right now, combination of the city, ARHA, and private development could not get to a place where we were all in the same place to move forward.”
Mayor Allison Silberberg expressed hope that city staff and ARHA might be able to dedicate their resources to this project and get it finished in time for this tax cycle, but City Manager Mark Jinks dismissed the possibility.
“Three months were lost,” said Jinks. “There is not physically enough time for a restart of that process to get the tax application done.”
Wilson and Jinks also cautioned that rushing the project could have disastrous results, compounded by the fact that Andrew Adkins is the first in a series of scheduled redevelopment projects and could set precedent for future processes.
“We’ve had experience with what happens when there is too much of a rush to get some things done,” said Jinks. “We had that with Ramsey. And we’re not talking about a row of townhouses. We’re talking about an entire city block; 500 units of market rate affordable and public housing. This is extraordinarily complicated. It’s not a matter of staff, it’s a matter of getting the technical work done in order to have a complete application and complete proposal.”
“That’s just unconscionable,” Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said. “Some of those saying this is frustrating, that’s very polite. It’s more than frustrating, it’s a tremendous loss.”
It didn’t take long for members of the council to connect the frustrations with the Adkins to other past redevelopment arguments between the city and ARHA.
“We’ve had numerous restarts with ARHA,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg. “Again and again, we’ve had this conversation several times. There’s so much at stake here in terms of dollars and commitment and everything… I feel very uncomfortable with where we are right now.”
Wilson warned that the frustrations and concerns about affordable housing redevelopment projects were just getting started.
“Redevelopment requires land-use trade offs,” said Wilson. “If we were to treat public housing redevelopment the way we treat private sector, it doesn’t pencil out… We need to be having that discussion now at the front end of what is going to be the first of a series of large [projects]. Every single one of those is going to be difficult. Ramsey was the easy one, and that wasn’t easy. Every single one of the remaining five is going to be difficult. It’s going to require compromise on the part of all sides.”