The Alexandria city government plans to solicit proposals next week for the redevelopment of Cameron Valley, a dilapidated public housing project that has been a longstanding embarrassment to city housing officials.
City officials said that any proposal will have to include plans to build replacement housing for the 264 units that would be razed to make way for new development and could entail finding new sites for more than 150 units of public housing. The officials hope that 100 new public housing units will be built at Cameron Valley as part of the redevelopment plan.
Sandwiched between the expensive homes in the Janney's Lane area, the collection of frame and mud-brick buildings that is Cameron Valley looks like something that should have been torn down 20 years ago, or at least 10 years ago, as a city task force recommended in 1975.
Instead, the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority has used the project at 3131 Duke St. to house 230 families -- mostly single mothers and their children -- with an average annual income of $9,000.
"These are some of the poorest residents we have," said Angus T. Olson, executive director of the housing authority. "We have difficulty getting people on the waiting list for public housing to take units at Cameron Valley if they can afford a little more, so the poorest ones have ended up there."
Built during World War II as temporary military housing, many of the poorly constructed buildings gradually have slipped off their concrete-block foundations. Eighty of the units have been demolished and 34 of the 264 still standing are condemned and boarded.
The project, however, sits on one of the last remaining pieces of developable residential and commercial real estate in the 15-square-mile city. City housing officials are hoping they can find a developer who will buy the site from the housing agency and build some replacement public housing units as part of a redevelopment plan for the 36-acre parcel.
"It's a gem of a site, with lovely vistas and nice elevations," Olson said. "There's a lot of interest out there among the developers. We just need to find someone with a good concept plan, a track record and the financial clout to make this work."
Mark Looney, coordinator of the Alexandria Landlord-Tenant Relations office, said that the residents of Cameron Valley have been complaining for years about conditions and are pleased with the city's proposal. Several Cameron Valley residents, as well as other neighborhood representatives and city officials, worked together on a task force that recommended the redevelopment proposal to the Alexandria City Council several months ago.
Finding a developer willing to purchase the property is essential to the authority's plans, Olson said. The authority is required, under a resolution passed several years ago by the City Council, to maintain 1,150 units of public housing, no more and no less. Because of that resolution, the city will need proceeds from the sale of the Cameron Valley site to build new units to replace those that will be torn down there.
There are already 10 new units at Cameron Valley that will be retained, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded the city money to build 30 new public housing units. Over protests from some residents in the area around Cameron Valley, the City Council adopted a rezoning several weeks ago that will allow the authority to put those units on the site.
Olson said the agency also would require any redevelopment plan for the rest of the site to include about 60 additional public housing units.
"The issue is just how many low-income units can the site absorb before it reduces the value of the property," Olson said. The authority "needs to maximize its dollars on this parcel. We think the maximum we can ask is a total of 100 low-income units."
Olson said that the housing authority is working on a list of requirements that developers will have to meet to be awarded the development rights to the project and that those requirements should be released to developers next week.
Working from a resolution approved by the City Council three weeks ago, the authority said it intends to require that the developer build the 60 replacement public housing units on the site and help housing authority's Angus T. Olson the agency subsidize the rents in those units through profits on market-rate residential units and commercial development. The public housing at Cameron Valley has cost the agency $207,000 a year in subsidies, and Olson said a main objective of the redevelopment plan is to reduce that drain on its funds.
Olson said there are about 10 acres of land fronting on Duke Street that could be rezoned for commercial uses, while the remaining 26 acres, zoned residential, could accommodate about 450 market-rate housing units, in addition to the 60 low-income units. The land planned for commercial use was appraised last year at $3.4 million. Olson said a new appraisal that would include the residential portion would be done in the next few weeks.
Even if the agency finds a developer willing to build 60 replacement units at Cameron Valley, the housing authority must build or purchase another 164 units to stay in compliance with the public housing resolution passed several years ago, Olson said. The authority is considering purchasing inexpensive condominiums for 40 elderly residents at Cameron Valley and also will be looking for additional sites in the city to build new units.
Finding new sites could be difficult, however. Olson said that an effort to find four sites for a total of only 50 new public housing units in the 1970s took seven years.
"When you talk with residents, they say they support low-income housing in principle," Olson said. "But when you propose putting it in their backyard, they get very emotional."