Responsible Redevelopment: Protecting Renters in Changing Neighborhoods

By Margery Turner :: April 16th, 2013

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The Washington Post’s in-depth story about an Alexandria redevelopment project did a great job of highlighting the challenges facing working families in our region’s high-cost housing market. Efforts to protect residents of the Beauregard community from displacement and hardship build on five important lessons about responsible redevelopment—lessons learned through experimentation and research.

  1. Most low- and moderate-income renters live in privately owned apartments, not publicly subsidized projects. And for a growing share, market rents are unaffordable. Often, the properties with the most affordable rents are older, outdated, and run-down. But when they’re demolished and replaced with new, higher-quality properties, affordable options for families with modest paychecks disappear.
  2. So it makes sense to preserve as many of these moderately priced apartments as possible, by helping landlords get affordable financing for upgrades or by including low-cost apartments in the mix when obsolete properties are replaced or renovated.
  3. At a time when public funds are scarce, cities can exercise their regulatory powers to help make this kind of deal happen, as Alexandria is doing. The Beauregard redevelopment will be denser—with more income-producing units allowed on the site—in exchange for including some moderately priced apartments in the mix.
  4. That deal might not have happened without effective community organizing. It sounds as if Tenants and Workers United has been putting pressure on both public officials and private investors to make sure the interests of the low- and moderate-income working families who live in the Beauregard area aren’t forgotten.
  5. Finally, a new affordable apartment in the same community might not be possible for all of today’s residents, but hands-on help with relocation can make a big difference. Done right, housing counseling and search assistance can enable families to find new homes in good neighborhoods.

I’m not suggesting that Alexandria has achieved the best possible deal for its residents; there’s probably still a lot of deal-making to be done. But the work to preserve affordable housing as part of an ambitious, private-sector redevelopment project exemplifies smart public policy in tough circumstances.

Image by Flickr user UIC Digital Collections used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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