By Carla Branch
Relocating residents of public housing is never easy but moving families out of their homes at Christmas is even harder. Last week four families had to leave their homes in the James Bland development so that the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority can begin demolition there in January.
Doris Johnson has lived in public housing in Alexandria for more than 50 years. She is one of the 32 tenants who must move before Jan. 1. On Wednesday, Dec. 23, she got the keys to her new home on N. Patrick Street and was told she must move there by Dec. 31.
“I understand why we need to move,” Johnson said. “They have to disconnect all of the utilities and make sure that everything is cleaned out so that they can tear these houses down. I wish they could have given us more time and allowed us to stay until after the holidays but they have given me some extra time and ARHA has offered to send some people to help me move if I need them. Really, they have been very good to me and have been willing to work with me.”
In addition to the 32 families from James Bland, ARHA transferred several families who are “over housed” into appropriate units. “There are a number of residents who are living in two or three bedroom units but should be in a one bedroom home,” said ARHA Executive Director Roy Priest. “We had a real shortage of one-bedroom apartments until earlier this month when we opened the newly renovated units on Old Dominion. Many of those units are handicapped-accessible and all 24 of them are one-bedrooms. That has allowed us to move some of our families into those units.”
The 32 families from James Bland received 120 days notice that they were being relocated because of demolition. “This project has been in the works for more than three years and we have had more than 50 community meetings to discuss it,” Priest said. “Anyone who wished to remain in the Bland neighborhood was accommodated as were the people who requested a home in some other part of the City.
“People who are being transferred are a different matter. They received a minimum of 30 days notice and some received as much as 60 days. Unlike the people who are being relocated, however, the people who are being transferred are not entitled to moving costs,” Priest said.
Wallace Holmes and his wife are moving from James Bland to Chatham Square. Holmes’ sister, Annie, helped the couple with the move. “My brother is blind in one eye and his wife is in a wheelchair most of the time and is on dialysis. They needed a home that is all on one floor and that’s what the people at ARHA gave them.
“There was a little bit of confusion when we went to pick up the keys to the new place but we got that straightened out and everything is fine. My brother can walk to his job at the Safeway now and his wife can come home from the rehab facility as soon as we get them moved. Everyone at ARHA has been very helpful,” Annie Holmes said.
ARHA was criticized for forcing people to move during Christmas. “We tried to work with people to get everyone moved by Dec. 15, but that just wasn’t possible in some cases,” said Ed Lacey, the senior property manager for ARHA. “We had to make sure that the new places were ready and in some cases that meant waiting until tenants moved. In some cases, people at Bland said they would prefer to move Christmas week so they wouldn’t have to take any extra time off work.
“We also tried to place people in the area where they wanted to live. One elderly lady moved from Bland to the Ladrey Highrise, which is a secure building for the elderly. I believe that one of her daughters has complained about the move but there were other family members who requested she go there. Also, we don’t have any information that she requires a room for a full time caretaker,” Lacey said.
When it is completed, James Bland will be a community that is a mixture of public and market-rate housing, much like Chatham Square.