Affordable Housing Needed

On Sept. 20, the Alexandria City Council discussed the Hunting Creek Area Plan, which also addresses the future of the Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace apartments. These 645 rental units are currently occupied by a number of our "work force" residents.

In 2001, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) bought the Hunting Towers/Hunting Terrace complex for $95.5 million. The complex consisted of two office buildings, three Hunting Towers buildings and eight Hunting Terrace buildings. A portion of the complex property was needed for the construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge; therefore, the two office buildings, one Hunting Towers building and three Hunting Terrace buildings were demolished. This left two Hunting Towers buildings and five Hunting Terrace buildings standing and under the management of VDOT, which had no experience as an apartment landlord.

The tenants have endured four years of noise, dust, fumes, collapsed ceilings and a vast number of other inconveniences. VDOT's compensation for making residents' lives miserable has been a yearly profit of $3.3 million. For these reasons, it is not out of the question that the governor be asked to deed these state-owned apartments to the city.

Affordable housing, now referred to as "work force housing," is of prime interest in Northern Virginia. With the ongoing conversion of rental units to condominiums in the region, a large number of our citizens are being forced to search for residences in the hinterlands.

The six buildings VDOT demolished for construction of the Wilson Bridge comprise about half the total original asset of 13 buildings. Therefore, the original investment for the remaining seven buildings changes from $95.5 million to about $47.7 million. Since VDOT is not in the real estate business, it would seem appropriate that the consumer price index be used to calculate the investment in 2005 dollars. If we do that, the current price of those buildings should be around $53.1 million -- a far cry from the $100 million price tag identified by the City Council at its most recent public hearing. This would make it more manageable for the city to work out a deal to keep the apartments affordable.

If the city gains ownership of the apartments, it might want to bring in a developer to rehabilitate the complex, with the proviso that the units be kept affordable. The residents of Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace deserve much better treatment than they have received over the last several years.

Townsend A. "Van" Van Fleet