Listen to West End resident Hector Pineda debate Alexandria Planning Commission’s Donna Fossum on Voice of Russia Radio
Interview by Pete Tucker, written report by Chris Lewis (@Chris_Lewis_)
Hold on to your houses.
In northern Virginia, some residents are trying to do just that. On May 12th, Alexandria’s City Council will vote on a plan put forth by five area real estate companies to redevelop the city’s Beauregard area in the West End, a pocket of Alexandria with a reputation for diversity and affordability. Some residents fear losing their homes—the plan, led by Maryland-based developer JBG , calls for demolishing 2,475 units of housing and replacing them with denser and pricier apartments.
As the Council prepares to vote debate has flared over the merits of the proposal. In a Sunday feature, the Washington Post reported: “The stakes are high not only because the plan would make over the neighborhood but also, some argue, because it would more broadly influence who can afford to live in this increasingly affluent inside-the-Beltway city.” Last week on Capital Correspondent, TheFightBack’s Pete Tucker hosted a discussion on the development plan.
“This plan, it’s a mess,” said Hector Pineda, a resident of the area and president of the Beauregard Tenants Association. If the plan passes in its present form, Pineda’s home is slated to be demolished.
According to Pineda, the project is proceeding without needed familiarity with the area’s current residents. “To many people, it’s not a plan unless it includes the survey that we need to have of this area,” Pineda said, referring to a demographic study of residents and their incomes that had been promised by the city.
“A lot of the planning that’s going on is an effort to preserve affordable housing,” she said. Until now, the area “was just affordable because the rents were cheap. And the owners have now discovered in many of those places that they can remodel them—they have to remodel them. And the rents are doubling. So in order to get some control over what’s going on out there, the plan is trying to get dedicated affordable housing.”
Rent in the West End has been rising steadily. Right now, there are 1,100 market-rate units that are considered affordable to a family making 60 percent of Washington DC’s Area Median Income (AMI). That equals about $60,000 per year. The proposed redevelopment would include 800 units fixed at this affordable rate.
Indeed, much of the controversy over the project stems from the question of what “affordable” means. “For who?” Pineda asked. “That’s my big concern: for who?”
He claimed that many families in Beauregard live on no more than $40,000 per year. Fossum replied that the 1,100 units currently deemed affordable are evaluated according to the 60 percent AMI measure.
Chances are good that City Council will approve the redevelopment. “[The owners] have rights to develop the land right now,” she said. The current plan calls for more density than is allowed by right and therefore the city has been able to wrangle some concessions on affordability. Critics like Pineda say it’s not enough.
But for Fossum, the proposal is about pragmatism. “If we don’t take this opportunity to freeze some affordable housing that’s dedicated there, we’re going to lose all of our wonderful friends and neighbors,” she said.
Alexandria’s Wild, Wild West End: JBG Development Threatens to Displace Thousands, April 17, 2012
Tenants Fight Displacement at JBG’s Mark Center Apartments, May 18, 2011