Alexandria’s Wild, Wild West End: JBG Development Threatens to Displace Thousands

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“It’s disappointing. It’s disgusting. It’s a failure of government.” – Esteban Garces

Developer JBG and the city of Alexandria plan to demolish more than 2,000 units of affordable housing at Mark Center in the city’s West End in order to make way for the construction of 12.4 million square feet of new development, consisting mostly of luxury condos and apartments. The project will displace approximately ten thousand mostly Latino and African American residents.

“They’ll end up living in Prince William County or further out where they can afford it,” said Esteban Garces, who until recently worked as an organizer with the Alexandria-based Tenants and Workers United. Last week, Garces told WPFW 89.3 FM Pacifica Radio, “It happens all over the U.S.: working class folks get pushed out of cities to live further and further away from where they work.”

While gentrification’s impact has been acutely felt in the D.C. area, the scope and scale of what’s slated for the Beauregard area of Alexandria is unusual, and may provide a knockout blow for affordable housing in the diverse West End, the epicenter of Alexandria’s affordable housing.

Alexandria’s Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to vote on the plan May 3. If it passes, the City Council is likely to vote on the plan May 12. Both bodies are all but certain to approve the Beauregard Small Area Plan since the city routinely acts as a rubber stamp for development projects, said Garces.

Hector Pineda Martinez and his wife, Veronica Pineda Calzada, live with their two young sons in the Beauregard area. “I think we have a right to live in Alexandria,” he said in his home, which is slated to be demolished. “This community needs to be included in the decision making process.”

As a result of the Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) process, the Beauregard area’s value suddenly jumped when the Pentagon announced that 6,400 defense workers would be located adjacent to the property at Mark Center. (The Pentagon used faulty data from a 2008 study to justify moving so many jobs to an already traffic-congested area lacking in public transportation options.)

JBG purchased the Beauregard property in 2006, and shortly after that the trouble started, tenants report. Tenants said utility prices started to climb, even skyrocket, in an effort to get rid of them.

The city claims that the JBG project is a step in the right direction regarding affordable housing because it provides 800 units of dedicated affordable and workforce housing. The term “affordable,” however, may be misleading because it’s not based on the community’s average income but on the Area Median Income (AMI) of the D.C. metropolitan area, one the wealthiest in the country. Therefore, present Beauregard residents are likely to find the “affordable” housing unaffordable.

“I am just horrified at the idea of an exodus of a whole community,” longtime Alexandria resident Katy Cannady said at community meeting in February. “Under no circumstances should we consider any plan that makes us less diverse in income or in race.”

* The original post incorrectly spelled Hector and Veronica’s last name.

Listen to Esteban Garces on WPFW 89.3 FM

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