Opinion Your Views — 15 August 2013
City and state officials have failed Hunting Point residents

To the editor:

Thank you to the Alexandria Times for its coverage of the ever-deteriorating situation at Hunting Point in Julia Brouillette’s July 25 article, “Hunting Point residents see few signs of progress.” The facts as reported are dispiriting enough, but they are just the beginning of the story.

A little historical perspective: The rents of longtime residents were not frozen by the Virginia Department of Transportation as an act of charity, but to maintain the highest occupancy rates possible during the construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. This was a challenge given the proximity of the towers to the many disruptive elements of that project, including the demolition of nearby asbestos-laden buildings and years of pile driving so intense that it left cracks in the walls.

And it worked. While ignoring the many recommended repairs detailed by its inspectors, VDOT pocketed perhaps as much as $30 million in profits while letting the infrastructure of the 60-year-old buildings slide steadily downhill.

And as if those facts — and the outright demolition of more than 300 units of affordable housing — were not enough, VDOT refused all entreaties to find an economically viable way to preserve the remaining 500-plus apartments at the towers and 100-plus units at Hunting Terrace as affordable in a city losing such units at a rapid rate.

Instead, it chose to sell Hunting Point to the highest bidder from the private sector. In the case of the towers, that was the Laramar Group and its majority partner, Lubert Adler real estate, with predictable results.

The belief of Mayor Bill Euille — as quoted in the article — that Laramar is interested in maintaining the property as affordable is beyond bizarre. It is interested in what private-sector companies are interested in: maximizing profits, period. Given the profitability of the towers, there were financially feasible possibilities for a different outcome, but the city and state failed abjectly to act on those possibilities.

For it’s not just the frozen rents of longtime residents that will be increasing at yearly double-digit rates, but everybody’s rents are increasing. Indeed, the upper range of the rents for new residents at the complex has increased 20 percent this year, and that’s prior to any of the many necessary repairs to the buildings being made.

Where is the outreach to longtime residents to see if the city can assist in some way?

Equally abysmal is the state of communications between Laramar and tenants, which has worsened since the mayor’s recent conversation with top company officials. Just a few examples:

• Residents of around 20 units were informed to clear their kitchens, baths and adjoining walls in preparation for plumbing work, which Laramar did not even request a permit for until one working day prior to the scheduled start of renovation. That work, of course, was subsequently postponed. Notice of the change was given to residents the day that work was scheduled to start.

• Coincidentally (or not), with the first wave of lease renewals, biweekly renovation updates invited residents to visit apartment models to view the new planned kitchens, baths and amenities. Not stated is the fact that the renovations will only be done on vacated units for new residents — not existing tenants, although the latter will still face rent increases, eventually to the same market rates as new residents.

• The new leases are routinely marked as requiring $150,000 in insurance, which is an added cost for residents, despite the fact that the insurance is actually just recommended, not required.

Both complexes at Hunting Point are well on the way to joining JBG’s Beauregard properties and other city locales as housing sites formerly known as affordable, with relentless hardships for the residents in the process.

And the city’s reaction? Yet another commission on affordable housing, its final report destined to gather dust next to the final report completed by a similar commission just a few years ago, as the loss of affordable units just keeps rolling along.

- Jim Mercury
Alexandria

(Photo/File Photo)

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