Members of the executive board of the Alexandria branch of the NAACP believe there’s a disconnect between parts of Alexandria’s strategic plan and the realities of working-class life in the city.
In a conversation with Patch on the eve of the branch’s 80th annual Life Membership and Awards Banquet, branch officers and other committee members discussed embracing the banquet’s theme—“The Time is NOW”—as they head toward a new calendar year.
“It’s a call to action,” said LaDonna Sanders, branch president. “It’s about what we can do to address the issues that impact people in this city.”
During an hour-long conversation with the committee, Rev. Tai Smith, a branch vice president, said the city is “shunning” some of its residents through massive redevelopment projects, from James Bland public housing in Braddock East to plans for the Beauregard area in the West End.
“The city is chasing development—an extra subway station, a dog park here, this new, global town and city. But in doing so the city is neglecting the voices of people who have lived here their whole lives,” he said. “It’s good to go after these things, but not at the expense of people living here.”
Rising real estate prices and new developments with higher rents and limited work-rate affordable units have pushed many people out of the city, committee members said.
Committee member Anteneh Demelash said many of his neighbors in the West End have uprooted to Woodbridge, Manassas and Prince George’s County, Md., because they simply cannot afford to live in Alexandria.
Alexandria’s City Council will consider a new housing master plan in June, which aims to combat the decline in committed and market affordable rental units in the city, as well as create opportunities for homeownership for families who earn between 60 and 80 percent of the region’s median income.
Committee members said the relocation of public housing residents through redevelopment has been promblematic and that they’ve had a hard time gripping the rules and regulations dictated by the Alexandria and Redevelopment and Housing Authority for people moving back into the city to promised renovated units.
ARHA administers the public housing, Housing Choice Voucher and Moderate Rehabilitation programs in the city.
Members said they plan to continue advocating for a reliable stable of affordable, work-rate housing in the city to ensure longtime residents, police, teachers, city employees and longtime residents can stay.
Dawud Rawlings, another branch vice president, said improving the housing situation would help stabilize the lives of some low-income, minority students in city schools.
“It’s hard to succeed [in the classroom] when a kid has to move around,” he said. “That stability also keeps kids from falling into crime.”
Rawlings added that the growing cost of youth sports and programs at city recreation centers have impacted the well-being of latchkey kids, who have to bide their time until their parents come home from work.
Outside of housing, Sanders said the branch will continue to devote time and energy into initiatives to combat childhood obesity and HIV and AIDS through health fairs and partnerships with city departments.
The branch’s 80th annual Life Membership and Awards Banquet will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (5000 Seminary Rd.).
Benjamin Jealous, the outgoing president and CEO of the NAACP, will be the evening’s featured speaker.
For more information on the Alexandria branch of the NAACP and Sunday’s banquet, check out the branch’s website.