Alexandria Letter: What Makes ARHA Special?

Alexandria Letter: What Makes ARHA Special?

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

At last Wednesday’s ARHA-Council work session on Ramsey Homes, disturbing points emerged that should cause Alexandrians concern.

The first involves the proposed rezoning, set for another vote on March 12. ARHA missed the deadline for this year’s low-income housing tax credit cycle, and Planning and Zoning staff proposed a new schedule that envisions a final DSUP being submitted to Planning Commission and council in September, after a series of the usual “community outreach” meetings designed to simulate the appearance of compromise with the surrounding neighborhood without any of the real political effort.

Yet ARHA and Councilmen Justin Wilson and John Taylor Chapman seem determined to push through the rezoning now, though it is not consistent with city policy or practice to do so without the final DSUP. This anomaly was noted by Stewart Dunn of the Planning Commission at its hearing on Ramsay Homes in early February, resulting in his abstention on the rezoning vote. And Mayor Silberberg asked Mr. Wilson three times last Wednesday why it was not reasonable to wait until September and follow normal procedures by submitting the rezoning request along with the DSUP for approval. In essence, Vice Mayor Wilson brushed the mayor off.

Not surprising given the bitter rivalries among local Democrats — but it does beg the question why the rezoning needs to be split off and approved in such haste.

Second, there was an emphasis there would be no Memorandum of Understanding as there was in 2008 with the James Bland redevelopment. An MOU is the only tool that the city has to ensure accountability and cooperation from the notoriously recalcitrant ARHA, which regularly places its collective hand in Alexandria taxpayers’ pockets for loans and bailouts. Is this because Mr. Wilson and Chapman, as the council’s work group delegates, do not wish to hold ARHA accountable? They were both members of council last fall when that body voted to override the BAR decision on demolition while calling for the public housing authority to find compromise, yet they and the ARHA board allowed CEO Roy Priest to take a no-hostages, hang-tough attitude toward council by resubmitting the same application again five months later.

Finally, it is clear that ARHA has no consistent long-term plan for sustainability. It was ARHA who let Ramsey Homes deteriorate through neglect.

The emperor has no clothes, and ARHA has no consistent business model. Its building configurations and the split between market-rate and subsidized units changes with every project. Neighbors are told that off-siting is simply impossible, yet ARHA’s strategic plan calls for scattering units from Hopkins-Tancil. Mr. Priest has yet to explain why 53 units at Ramsay Homes is the only magical number that will make the project competitive for tax credits, contrary to the findings of the city’s own tax-credit consultant. And when the city retained an expert to investigate construction costs, they found ARHA had overestimated.

The city needs to reconvene the former Economic Sustainability Task Force to analyze ARHA and determine both its long-term viability and the city’s potential liability.

On the very night of the controversial Feb. 20 council vote, a robbery occurred on West Street by the Adkins project, followed a week later by gunshots heard by the police who now regularly camp out in the Post Office parking lot and a robbery near Old Town Commons. With two unsolved murders at Adkins and pointed criticisms made by ARHA residents over safety and upkeep at the packed community meeting that followed, the question is whether ARHA is really serving its tenants or the politicians.

Leslie Zupan