The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority is running a sizable deficit and probably will have financial troubles for the next few years despite a recent bail-out by the City of Alexandria, according to housing authority officials.
Under an agreement adopted last spring by the Alexandria City Council, the city purchased the site of the former John Roberts Homes housing project for $5.1 million last month from the housing authority, but the infusion of funds is not expected to allieviate the long-range problems.
"The money from the sale of the John Roberts Homes site is a short-term, at best a mid-term, fix for the housing authority's financial problems," said Angus T. Olson, executive director of the Alexandria Housing Authority. "We will have to look at more innovative approaches in the future to find ways of raising money without reducing the number of public housing units available in the city."
Housing Authority officials originally thought that selling the John Roberts Homes property, rather than undertaking costly renovations on the aging project, could bolster their dwindling reserves. The 6 1/2-acre site is near the Braddock Road Metrorail stop, and property values all along the line had risen considerably in the past decade.
But that was before the recession.
"The coming of the subway could ultimately mean the difference between whether the Alexandria Housing Authority will make it or not, but the one-year delay on the Yellow Line and the recession hurt our hopes for selling the property," said Olson. "We could have sold it readily three years ago, but this spring we couldn't find a buyer willing to buy it for what we thought it was worth."
Vice Mayor James P. Moran said that he believes the city council will try to sell the land as soon as a buyer willing to pay $6 million for the site could be lined up. Housing authority officials had hoped to sell the land for $10 million, before the recession and the year-long Yellow Line delay dampened land values.
The families of John Roberts Homes were moved out months ago to other projects, including one new project on Pendleton Street, and the wrecking crews and bulldozers finished razing the 90-unit Alexandria housing project this week. The land is cleared and ready for development.
The Housing Authority still is working to find a developer interested in the site, and Olson said that his staff is planning a market study of the site in conjunction with The Carley Capital Group, one of the development firms originally interested in the land.
Olson said that, while federal subsidies for housing have remained at about the same level for the last five years, the housing authority's operating costs have doubled, due largely to rising utility and redevelopment costs. Sixteen of the housing authority's 66 positions were eliminated this spring despite the agreement by the city to buy the John Roberts Homes site.
"We're down to a bare-bones staff," said Olson. "The only expenditures we have any control over is staff and expenses. We had to do it to hold off future problems."
Last December, the housing authority was down to its last few nickels and was running a $100,000-a-month deficit. The deficit has been reduced to $85,000 a month and, with the reserve money coming to the authority from the sale of the John Roberts Homes property, the Alexandria housing authority has been taken off the critical list, said Olson.
"Many urban housing authorities are land-rich and cash-poor, like Alexandria," said Olson. "We have begun to think of ourselves as a private business would, finding new ways of raising cash."
He said that the goal of the Housing Authority is to maintain 1,150 units of public housing in Alexandria. To do that and still be able to sell sites that are more valuable as commercial land--as they tried to do with the John Roberts Homes property--the Housing Authority has to find other apartments to purchase or rehabilitate.
The Housing Authority is working on a plan to rehabilitate the George Parker housing project, a 111-unit complex in the heart of Old Town known as The Berg, Olson said.
Those plans include having the Housing Authority sell the project to a private investor and then issue tax-exempt, low-interest bonds to finance the renovations. The private investor then would agree to keep the project open to people receiving federal rent subsidies for 15 years, from the time the renovations are complete. The arrangement would provide tax advantages for the investors and have them pay for the $2.5 million renovations.
Olson said the authority is also considering selling parts of the Cameron Valley housing project on Duke Street to raise more money. He said that the housing project has been modernized as much as possible and that the authority hopes to be able eventually to move the Cameron Valley tenants into newer units elsewhere in the city.