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Blessed Are the Poor
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Blessed Are the Poor

Alfred Street Baptist Church outlines relocation plan for affordable housing residents displaced by church expansion.

Model display for the expanded Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Model display for the expanded Alfred Street Baptist Church. Photo by Vernon Miles.

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Deacon James Garrett outlines changes made to the Alfred Street Baptist Church design following feedback from the public and the Board of Architectural Review (BAR). The BAR directed project developers for ASBC to increase the site’s physical and visual porosity, ensuring that each of the brick buildings look more distinct. The brick buildings of the new ASBC are now separated by transparent glass corridors. The parking entrances along Wolf Street were also modified to blend in with the surrounding buildings.

While the Church of the Resurrection and Fairlington Presbyterian Church are selling portions of their church property to be developed as affordable housing, ASBC is removing affordable housing to expand the church. Alexandria’s historic Alfred Street Baptist Church (ASBC) is poised to undergo an expansion that will make it larger than City Hall or the Courthouse, but expansion will come at the cost of 22 affordable housing units. At a public meeting on June 29 in the church basement, ASBC leadership reassured residents that church will continue working to find new housing for the displaced residents.

The project will remove 22 of ASBC’s 77 affordable housing units. Those 22 will be demolished to have the church built over them. Currently, ASBC leadership is working with the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation to help place the 22 affordable housing residents into other sites. At the June 29 meeting, church leaders assured residents that the homes they were relocated to would be equal to or better than their current units.

Eight of the tenants have already been moved into vacant units on-site. Those that moved into the four units afterwards were notified before they moved in about the impending relocation. While more units that open up in the remaining 55 at ASBC will be reserved for residents of the 22 demolished units, the church has begin putting together plans for three other locations.

The first is Lacy Court, a housing complex in Del Ray with 44 units currently undergoing extensive renovations. Of the three options, Lacy Court is the only one currently built. The other two, the Carpenter Shelter and Gateway locations, are both currently in early stages of development. The Carpenter Shelter site will have 98 units, mainly two and three bedrooms, that will be new and affordable. The Gateway contains 74 units of affordable housing in a three building, mixed use complex.

At earlier meetings, residents from the affordable housing set to be razed had expressed support for the plans and thanked the church for their years of maintaining the affordable housing. On June 29, however, the mood was one of more concern. Some residents questioned the promise that the new units would be as good as their current ones, saying they would be downgrading from a townhouse to an apartment. Catherine Ward, a resident of one of the 22 units, is 85 and says she’d prefer to stay where she is. She was uncertain about the public transit accessibility at the other locations. Deacon James Garrett said the church was familiar with her situation and was going to take care of her.

Bridget Ponnetta’s son is one of the residents of the 22 units being removed and, together with other residents, expressed her concerns about the church’s plans for the affordable housing relocation.

“These people were promised something really nice,” said Ponnetta. “I’ve seen [Lacy Court]. I know Alexandria like the back of my hand. It’s sad that you’re taking people out of their homes and downsizing them to these small places … No apartment will measure up to a townhouse. I think this is a terrible idea. This is the worst idea any church could come up with.”

Garrett told residents that the apartments they would be moving to were being renovated or newly built, that they didn’t look like the affordable housing units the residents probably had in mind.

“As we get closer to the move, you’ll see,” said Garrett. “Some of these units haven’t even been built yet.”

Garrett also said that if the residents are dissatisfied with the housing options, they can receive a tenant protection voucher to allow them to shop around and look for additional options. As the community began to express frustrations, Garrett reminded residents that the church didn’t have to help them at all. The lease for the affordable housing expires in 2019 for all 77 units.

“After 2019, we don’t have to do anything,” said James McNeil, chair of the board of trustees. “We want to help. We could just give you a notice that says ‘you’re out’, but we’re trying to work with the city to make sure everything is as nice as possible.”

For the remaining 55 units not being demolished, McNeil said that their continuing affordability is still in question. Once the lease expires in 2019, if the church does not renew the lease on the property as affordable housing, the church could begin renting those apartments as market rate housing. Garrett says whether the church renews the apartments as affordable depends on whether there are Housing and Urban Development funds available. Given that the federal administration has projected major cuts to HUD, the status of the other housing units remains in jeopardy.

James Berry, a trustee with the church, emphasized that the main takeaway should be that the church is working to help relocate the affected residents. Among the residents, though, there is still skepticism.

“As a mother, I’m here to keep [my son] protected,” said Ponnetta. “We are all neighbors. We are all like a family.”