To the editor:
Recently, a great many articles and letters have run in the Alexandria Times about the acquisition of the 530-unit Hunting Point apartment complex by the Laramar Group. These letters feature different points of view, but a few also include incorrect statements about the role of city government.
I would like to supply the facts and clarify the city’s involvement in this issue.
The conflict’s beginnings can be traced back to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s purchase of Hunting Point in 2001 in order to demolish one of its three buildings for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project. VDOT, by its admission, was not equipped to manage a large, older apartment complex and tenant relations.
The end result of 12 years of highway department ownership was a rental complex where sufficient reinvestment was not undertaken, largely causing today’s lengthy list of needed improvements.
VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration also looked to maximize Hunting Point’s selling price to help pay for the bridge project and would not work with the city to help keep the complex affordable for the future. With the $81 million purchase by Laramar, Hunting Point became a privately owned and managed complex. The city’s role — questioned and criticized by some letters in the Times — is limited under Virginia law, which prevents local governments from controlling rent increases.
However, that legal limitation has not prevented city council from adopting voluntary rent-increase guidelines, which landlords are encouraged to follow. Many follow these guidelines, which include a provision to recognize and take into account any unusual costs, capital improvements and major repairs to the property.
While the city has a limited role in dealing with rents, our laws and ordinances about building health and safety issues (including meeting building code standards) are paramount. The city will remain diligent in ensuring the Hunting Point renovations and improvements are completed safely and meet necessary standards.
The city’s other important role is facilitating communication between a landlord and its tenants. This is why Alexandria long ago created a landlord-tenant relations division — located in our office of housing — as well as a landlord-tenant relations board that serves as a forum for hearing tenant issues and providing advice to landlords.
The city also advocates that landlords establish clear and continuous communications with their tenants, something that Laramar has undertaken.
Finally, I think we all must realize that change is not easy, renovations of occupied apartments are challenging, and that issues are going to arise and will need to be worked out. From our experience to date, we believe that Laramar has been acting in good faith in planning its improvements and carrying them out.
All parties in this situation — the landlord and tenants — need to listen to each other, adjust and accommodate for the greater good of their community.
– Mildrilyn Davis
Director, Office of Housing