VDOT close to selling Hunting Towers

By Derrick Perkins

Barring an unexpected turn of events, Hunting Towers will return to private hands Friday, say state transportation officials.

The Virginia Department of Transportation, which took control of the property in 2001 as part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project, is close to dealing the complex to the Chicago-based Laramar Group. The sale is expected to be finalized by the end of business Friday, said Richard Bennett, VDOT’s right-of-way and utilities director.

Residents learned of the pending deal from a flier distributed around the buildings Thursday morning. Though aware VDOT was hoping to unload the property as the bridge project wrapped up, the sudden news has left many anxious about the future.

While the buyer must honor existing leases, they could raise rents in the coming years, said longtime resident Chuck Benagh.

“If you’re threatened with perhaps having to move or being priced out of your apartment or your living space and your neighbors are in the same situation, it’s uncomfortable for everyone,” he said.

City officials are similarly concerned about the buildings’ fate. Affordable housing has dwindled in Alexandria, falling from 18,000 units in 2001 to just 5,600 in 2012. Hunting Towers represents one of the city’s last bastions of affordable units.

Mayor Bill Euille criticized VDOT in the fall for keeping the city – and Hunting Towers residents – in the dark about plans to sell the property. State officials announced their intention to sell the buildings nearly a year ago, but no one knew how close VDOT was to a deal until October, when a flier was distributed announcing inspections by a company interested in buying.

Local officials admitted there wasn’t much they could do to keep the buildings affordable, but they hoped to discuss their options with the prospective buyer, which VDOT declined to identify. On Thursday, Bennett said Laramar was the company interested in the property all along.

Without a deal, announcing a potential buyer would have been premature, he said. At several points during the negotiations, it seemed as though the sale would fall through.

“You have a contract that somebody can back out of for a hundred different reasons,” Bennett said. “VDOT elected to go toward … getting this into a firm contract before we provided any additional info to the tenants. We could have gone through two or three different companies in this same time.”

Despite the uncertainty of the future, Benagh remains hopeful Hunting Towers will continue being affordable for residents making less than the region’s average median income of $106,100.

“The city has indicated that they’re hoping this will stay as an affordable rental complex and the new owner, my understanding is that they’re sort of indicating that as well,” Benagh said. “But who knows where that goes and for how long. And that’s the concern that people have.”

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