Friday, August 14, 2009

What's Happening at Glebe Park

Activity abounds at the Glebe Park project. The buildings slated for replacement were leveled in anticipation of Friday's groundbreaking. There were a couple articles on the site last week, as well -- one before and one after last Friday's groundbreaking ceremony.
First, DCMud put out an article discussing the Glebe Park Project early in the week (link to article). They announced the groundbreaking that occurred Friday and gave an overview of the project. Eight buildings in total were leveled, with 2 others gutted for a complete overhaul. In all, the end result will be 102 new and renovated units. Most will be 2 and 3 bedroom, ranging from about 1000 sqft to 2000 sqft. The 10 biggest units will be sold at market rate, with 8 others sold as work-force (moderate income) housing. The remaining 84 are slated to be low-income public housing run by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Agency (aka ARHA).
Following the groundbreaking, posted the only summary of the event that I could find (link to article). There are some inaccuracies (misquoted two officials as saying the development was "mixed-use" instead of "mixed-income") and omissions (Rob Krupicka was left out of the summary, even though he was mentioned by speakers as instrumental to getting the project done), but it summarized the event and briefly talked to the history of the project.

A little more history

This project (now dubbed "Alexandria Crossing" according to signs that have been erected along West Glebe Road) has been far from controversial. Some 40+ units of below market-rate housing were moved from one concentrated below market-rate housing area (Parker Gray) to another (Arlandria). An expressed ARHA goal is to deconcentrate low-income housing, and this project did little towards that goal. Arlandria is home to numerous non-profit organizations -- several immediately adjacent to Glebe Park -- that provide low-income residents with housing and assist with career services (see chart here, but make sure to read the footnote). The mix of incomes, races, and cultures in the neighborhoods of the North End provide much of the eclectic energy of the area, but over-concentration of public and other below market-rate housing often leads to increased crime and decreased quality of life for all residents. Indeed, in the 1990s, Alexandria City Council adopted Fair Share housing goals that promised to promote HUD's mandate to affirmatively further fair housing by placing new affordable housing units in neighborhoods that aren't already poor or primarily minority. While the City's Community Service Board still follows that mandate with respect to assisted living and group homes, ARHA has not been as cooperative. Glebe Park will be a (much needed) significant upgrade to the substandard housing that got the wrecking ball, and it provides much needed affordable housing, but it is far from the ideal scenario.

ARHA is in a rush to get back to management of 1150 public housing units, the number that under City Council Resolution 830, ARHA and the City agreed to preserve since the 1970s. Preferably, ARHA and the City would have worked with developers to incorporate more below market-rate housing into new and ongoing projects throughout the city. More often than not, developers have the option to pay out of the obligation and often do. There should be a covenant to the below market-rate sidestep that only allows such exceptions in areas that have a high concentration already . The folks that worked on the Arlandria Plan back from 1998 to 2003 knew this and hoped to set the standard. Their vision led to re-zoning of the Arlandria CDDs (Coordinated Development Districts) that required 10% of any new development be slated for affordable housing. Their hope was that no neighborhood would turn its back on its affordable housing obligations and as neighborhood planning processes proceeded, such provisions would become commonplace throughout Alexandria. Instead, ARHA and other non-profit providers sought City financing to increase the number of affordable and public housing units in Arlandria, while successive neighborhood plans stayed silent about affordable housing provisions elsewhere. Even just a few months ago, the Landmark Gateway project was approved under the new approved Landmark/Van Dorn plan with hardly any affordable housing incorporated into it.
Discussions about affordable housing throughout Alexandria have to be more substantive that just a few photo ops (which is how the Alexandria Gazette Packet covered last week's groundbreaking -- see above), but I'll save a discussion of managing public and below market-rate housing more holistically (that is, something much better than Resolution 830) for another day. Let's just say the goal should be to improve the quality of life for residents of those properties and their neighbors, not to preserve ARHA's political power for its own sake.


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