More action, not rhetoric, will save city’s affordable housing

More action, not rhetoric, will save city’s affordable housing

By Jim Mercury, Alexandria

To the editor:

The Alexandria Times published a story on the pending sale of Hunting Towers on October 11 (“Deal in the works for Hunting Towers”) in which Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks said: “It’s unlikely that 100 percent of the building can be kept affordable — that’s probably not likely at all. Clearly keeping some units affordable would be [our] goal.”

Some units? I find this surprisingly strange, given that it was just in May that city council passed a strongly worded resolution declaring its intention to do everything possible to save the towers as an important source of work force and affordable housing — which is a well-documented endangered species in Alexandria.

How is that worthy goal furthered when the deputy city manager is quoted as hoping to keep just “some units” affordable even before a final sales contract has been inked? What message does it send to the new owner? And does that reflect a changed mindset on the subject?

Or perhaps it’s not so strange after all. Consider the curious case of the Hunting Terrace garden apartments, another longtime source of work force housing. Declared to be past its useful life and used as a negotiating chip with the city council and planning commission in a 2008 proposal for redevelopment of both complexes, the owners subsequently closed the terrace, summarily evicting all residents, some of whom had lived there more than 40 years.

And then a year or two later, what do you know? A little capital investment and the terrace reopened for business — its useful life resurrected. Except that now, it’s on the sales block as well, with a glossy ad noting its profitability is on one side, the other side celebrating its potential for demolition and rebirth as a five-story upscale project.

And there’s not a word from the city about it that I’ve heard — no resolutions and no declarations of good intent. Not a word.

Or perhaps none of this is strange at all, given the slow-motion assault on the largest enclave of working-class housing in the city, personified by the Beauregard plan. Not to mention the vision of a new-and-improved, scenic and historic public waterfront that to date is centered on new hotels.

All of which is something I hope voters kept in mind as they headed to the polls Tuesday.