Your View: City must spread out low-income housing to stop violence

Your View: City must spread out low-income housing to stop violence

By Leslie Zupan, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
Earlier this month, the slaying of Pierre Clark, in broad daylight a block from the new Belle Pre building, marked the third homicide in less than 12 months to occur within blocks of the Braddock Road Metro station.

Residents ask why Alexandria tolerates this violence, especially since it appears the fix would be straightforward: offsite some of the area’s public housing into small clusters around town and end the projects’ magnetic appeal to drug dealers and cowboys with grudges and guns.

The West Old Town Citizens Association has dealt successfully with crime issues for decades. It was the WOTCA that analyzed crime data after another daylight killing in 2008 — a fugitive from Pennsylvania who was slain behind the low-income Pendleton Park apartments.

The data revealed that within census tract 16, violent crime rises the closer a block is to public housing. The WOTCA later demonstrated that Jefferson-Houston had more crime on its perimeters than any other elementary school in Alexandria.

Community policing was once effective here, but sadly it has been allowed to morph. Alexandria’s prosecutors and judges have weakened the enforcement of anti-loitering laws as well as ARHA’s barment list, problems the civic association and then-City Attorney Philip Sunderland addressed years ago.

The list of cold case homicides in the neighborhood grows stale, yet other neighborhoods quickly solve theirs. ARHA buys a new headquarters for $4 million, but publicly claims that it can’t afford security cameras.

Sadly, city leaders have made a calculated decision that it is more important to retain power than to protect citizens from violence. This comes despite the casualties, the criticism from ARHA’s own tenants about safety and the pleas of grieving mothers already voiced.

Not long ago, they subdivided a voting precinct thinking the remaining voter bloc would favor high density and a weakening of anti-crime measures, measures that were successful and race-neutral. The city just closes its eyes as ARHA acquires additional properties here.

Council as well as present and past mayors lack the commitment and skill involved in problem solving and consensus building. They allow an increasingly politicized planning staff to do their thinking for them. The city lacks the fortitude to stand up to ARHA, whose intransigence is well known to staff and citizens alike.

There are veteran Alexandria leaders who know how to restore the standards of the past. Before retiring, former Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel and police Captain Bill Johnson cited research about the danger of piling on more density in a neighborhood with “pockets of poverty.” Police Chief Earl Cook uncomfortably acknowledged these pockets of poverty at a recent community meeting.

It looks like the summer of 2016 will be even hotter than anticipated.