The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority has given preliminary approval to a second proposal for renovation of the Abingdon Apartments, a plan that is virtually identical to one dropped two weeks ago by the National Corporation for Housing Partnerships.
Angus T. Olson, the authority's executive director, said yesterday that developer John Freeman of The Investment Group had a contract on the property, off the George Washington Parkway south of National Airport, and had agreed to match the terms of Housing Partnerships plan. That includes controversial rent increases that city and congressional officials have charged will force nearly 90 percent of the residents to seek housing elsewhere.
Housing Partnerships, which was chartered by Congress in 1968 to encourage private investment in low- and moderate-income housing, first proposed rehabilitating the 243-unit garden apartment complex last year. It withdrew from the project last month after Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of a House housing subcommittee, criticized the Washington-based group for proposing a project that would displace the individuals it was supposed to help.
Olson -- whose authority would reap $100,000 in fees from the $11.5 million in tax-exempt bonds used to finance the renovation -- said the agency was pleased to have found another developer willing to maintain the Abingdon as rental property.
"There were many people, some condominium converters, in the running for the Abingdon, and it was difficult to get a developer who would agree to these terms," said Olson. "We spent a lot of staff time on the Housing Partnerships proposal and when it fell through, we didn't get anything. This will let us recover some of that."
Under federal law, a developer receiving tax-exempt financing must set aside 20 percent of the units to house low- and moderate-income tenants at rents that are affordable for families that make 80 percent of an area's median income.
Because the median income in the Washington area is so high, however, Housing Partnerships was able to propose a rate structure for the complex that nearly doubled the current rents and still met the federal rules.
Rents at the Abingdon are $375 for a one-bedroom unit and $400 for two bedrooms. Housing Partnerships has proposed setting the rents for the low- and moderate-income units at $536 and $635.
After negotiations with the city, Housing Partnerships agreed to lower them to $436 and $535 the first year, with a $25 yearly increase. The other 80 percent of the units would have rented for $625 and $725. Freeman has proposed the same rents as those Housing Partnerships negotiated with the city and also has agreed, as Housing Partnerships did, to keep the complex rental for 15 years.
Tenants at the complex said yesterday they were shocked at the new proposal and some city officials said they will renew efforts to have the proposed rents for the Abingdon lowered. "We were so happy when Housing Partnerships decided not to go ahead with their plan and now we feel just terrible," said tenant Naomi Brickhouse. "We're just hoping that it doesn't go through again this time. There's no place for us to go if we can't stay at the Abingdon."
The plan would have to be approved by the Alexandria City Council before the bonds could be issued.