Redevelopment means growing pains for public housing residents


As north Old Town’s James Bland neighborhood edges closer to being redeveloped as a mixed-income, mixed-use district, the plan’s first phase, which includes relocating 32 households to elsewhere in the city, has caused  growing pains for some public housing residents. 

Reverend Duane Kay, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and 12-year resident Hattie Thompson, spoke at Saturday’s City Council public hearing, expressing concern for residents who have not been reimbursed for relocation expenses and who were not given sufficient notice of their new addresses before the December 12, 2009 move-out deadline.

“Frustration and anger … as well as helplessness is what’s going on now,” said Thompson, who has raised four children in the city and lived in public housing for three years. “We are trying to make ends meet but it’s not working.”

Thompson and Kay, who said they were not against the redevelopment project, spoke on behalf of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Enhancement, an organization that helps Northern Virginia residents network with one another and their governments “to make sure voices are heard,” Kay said.

Roy Priest, CEO of Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, also addressed elected officials and the public. He said ARHA’s hands are often bound by the flow of funding for initiatives under their purview. 

“One of the things that is not clearly understood sometimes is that a lot of the schedules that we operate under are driven by the source of the dollars we use,” Priest said, adding that the low-income tax dollars used for relocating residents happened to become available around the holidays.

“We believe Alexandria is a much better city than that and so VOICES is here to help represent residents of Bland, as well as Alexandria, to make sure voices are heard, even the least of them,” he said.

The 162 units yet to be relocated will likely experience smoother sailing, according to Priest, because there will be a surplus of newly completed housing scattered throughout the city.

“They just want somewhere to live other than under the bridge or in a parking garage.”