alexandrianews Editorial 

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority announced that it is terminating its selected developer for the Andrew Adkins redevelopment project, Alexandria Opportunity Housing, LLC. Over the past four years, this redevelopment has been the subject of many discussions with the community and redesigns. When AOH requested further financial modifications, ARHA decided it could not live with them and ended its partnership with AOH, a division of CRC. AOH, however, remains ARHA’s selected partner for the Samuel Madden redevelopment.

While details on the financial differences have not been made public, the Adkins redevelopment project presents serious challenges. While the 3.7-acre site contains only 90 units, they are ARHA’s largest homes with three, four or even five bedrooms each. They are mostly townhouse style with a large amount of open space. The site is adjacent to the Braddock Road Metro Station which makes the land extremely valuable.

AHRA wanted all 90 units replaced on the site. AOH initially offered 60. A compromise brokered by members of City Council lead to an agreement for 76 replacement public housing units and 14 affordable workforce units. AOH purchased some of the private housing units on West Street to add another 0.7 acre to the redevelopment to increase economic viability.

AHRA planned the mixed-income redevelopment of all of its sites for two reasons: to provide modern replacement public housing units; and to generate cash to assist with other redevelopments and maintenance of existing housing stock. ARHA owns 1150 public housing units, which must be replaced on a one-to-one basis per Resolution 830, in agreement between ARHA and Alexandria City Council dating back to the 1980s.

ARHA faces growing financial pressure from the declining federal grants for maintenance of public housing properties and from proposed declining federal monies for the Housing Voucher Program, which subsidizes low income rentals. If federal funds are not available, ARHA must find or generate monies to make up the difference or the City must step forward and provide financing. The price tag could be steep.  If the City had to pay just $100 per month per unit to help maintain all 1150 units, we would be looking at nearly $1.5 million per year.

Given the general situation with public housing nationwide, ARHA and the City are reviewing implications of Resolution 830 in the current environment. This review could have major impacts on ARHA’s public housing units no matter whether the City agrees to keep providing 1150 units or whether the number is reduced. Given this very complicated situation, here is what we think we know.

For ARHA to remain financially viable all the redevelopment projects including Andrew Adkins must move forward. Trying to maintain or upgrade old worn out housing to today’s standards is very costly.

It would make sense for Council to decide on the number of public housing units it wants to keep before the redevelopments move forward. If there are fewer than 1150 units there could be less pressure on the redevelopments.  

It is not clear that the “compromise” solution for Andrew Adkins was in the best financial interest of AOH or ARHA. Resolution 830 would have still required AHRA to provide 14 new units of public housing to replace the 14 lost unless the City is prepared to modify Resolution 830. It saddled the developer with 14 “affordable” units that do not fully contribute to the financial viability of the project. It sounded good but it clearly did not work out to the satisfaction of AOH or ARHA. Trying to make modifications “on the fly” usually does not work.

While ARHA had interest in Adkins from other potential redevelopment partners, the length of time that has passed and the potential changes in the public housing landscape since the original solicitation seem to argue for reoffering the property. The fact that the original partner could not make it work is also a cautionary tale.

There is an “art” to making public housing redevelopments work. AOH may not have had the experience or skills necessary to properly evaluate the project. If this is true AHRA must screen it redevelopment partners more carefully.

We must learn from this setback. The City cannot be all things to all people. We must make sure that we can follow through on our commitments. ARHA has had a successful track record with its project redevelopments to date and there is no reason for this success not to continue.