Monday, October 29, 2007

Tejada: Affordable Housing is Key

Democratic county board member and candidate Walter Tejada interview with Steve Thurston (of the HeraldTrib) on Oct. 26, 2007. The interview questions were edited for length and clarity, the responses were edited for length, interruptions or unnecessary asides. All words are quoted. –Steve Thurston

HeraldTrib: Looking back over the four years, what are you happiest about, what are you most proud about?
Walter Tejada: Probably the variety of people that now are more familiar, who understand more how to engage in civic life in the county….There are different ways for volunteering in a your local neighborhood like the Buckingham community, you know, the Buckingham Volunteers for example, helping them, and plugging them in different things. Working with the Buckingham Youth Brigade, the Latin-American Student Association from Washington Lee [High School], Latinos in Accion at Wakefield [High School], and working with the…community redevelopment center to see what resources we can identify for them. Then, of course the Community Role Models…what started out…with a handful of people is now over 1,000 strong today…. What we’ve found is what people wanted is like sort of a hit-and-run. They want to have a choice where you come some place and if you didn’t like it you leave, and you never ever have to come back. Fine. But what’s happened is a lot people have come to events, like a fundraiser for a non-profit,… and they end up being regular volunteers….That’s exactly what we wanted to do. You sort of get people’s feet wet so that they can then on their own make a choice of whether they’d like to be involved…I have some who’ve already asked me, “What do you need to do to be on a [county-wide] commission?”…
Looking back, you’re not going to see a headline on the things I’m most proud of, you’re not going to see it in the newspaper….A county board member needs to have more, responsibility, more self-responsibility is how I would put it, to strengthen the community infrastructure.

HT: The Buckingham reconstruction was expensive, and from what I understand the money has made it very difficult to do this sort of thing in the near future. I know you were very involved in the negotiations. But given the expense and that kind of thing, I was curious if you would still do it again or in the same way?
WT: Well, I would always be open to try something different if it will meet the criteria I set out in this order, particular to me. One, preserve the community, the people. Two, preserve affordable housing because it might not be one with the other sometimes. Three, preserve historical designation. And fourth, affordable home ownership. Those are the four components that I set out to do….I had gotten involved even more deeper in this community as a result of something called Arna Valley where literally thousands of Arlingtonians were kicked out from south Arlington near [Interstate] 395. I was one of the rabble-rousers at the time, trying to keep that from happening….I vowed then that someday I would do something about it. So I was fighting then from the outside, now I’m fighting from the inside, but I’m still fighting….

If there was another way to reach that where we preserve the community, bring it to the table, let me look at it, fine, we’ll evaluate it.…The one thing to remember here is these things are not easy…you bring people together, and you look at options, and you form them, and you hammer out what’s really within our reach and see if there’s something that we all can win and come out of it….I brought the developer [Paradigm Development Co.] to the table, and Chris Zimmerman also worked very hard along side….Regrettably, we’re in a position where we have to be able to find incentives for the developer to work with us in order to protect the community, and I don’t like it. It’s a fact of Virginia law….

I said, if we’re going to lose something where those luxury townhouses are going to go up, and if we’re preserving the community, and we’re keeping Buckingham Village 3 and we’re keeping most of Buckingham Village 1, and this development will take awhile before that happens, and the community will be there, you know, that’s not a bad deal.

Now, is it cheap? Of course not. It’s going to cost, and anytime that we wait for more time to go by, I don’t see anything that’s going down in price, do you?

HT: No, but what I was curious about though, let’s say next week we get news that there’s another developer who’s saying I’m going to go and redevelop another low- or moderate-income housing project, the county’s not really in a position to take that on, is it?
WT: We have limited options, but we have options….We don’t have public housing in Arlington. It has been discussed before. There’s talk about a possible housing authority. I’m open to the conversation.

HT: You’re probably the most open to that idea of a housing authority on the board.
WT: Steve, if there’s a silver bullet for the affordable housing crisis, I want to find it. There isn’t such a thing so far….I’m not a fan of public housing, having lived in Brooklyn and seeing what the projects were like….I actually like non-profit management when it’s done effectively. We have some successes. Virginia Gardens is one. AHC does a terrific job in that project. I’m not sure they’re doing quite as well in other projects.

Like the Gates [of Ballston]?
Correct….I will point out where things need to be done better, and I’ll give credit where it’s due.

HT: Let me take you off the affordable housing track for a second. At the corner of N. Glebe and Pershing, men wait to get jobs, and some get drunk, vomit, urinate and defecate outside. The question always comes back to me, do we need more day-laborer sites in Arlington? We have the SEEC (Shirlington Employment and Education Center) on Four-Mile-Run. Do we need something more “up county”?
WT: Right now, I’m not convinced of that. I’m the one that led the way for the Shirlington Employment Education Center, before I came to the board. I was a founding chairman of SEEC….Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve put the pavilion there to give it more resources and keep it within that area as well. I think that’s the place where everyone should be going….First of all, we’re going to do a lot of things here [referring to the reconstruction of the corner at N. Glebe Road and N. Pershing Drive]. With that will come some adjustments in outreach to encourage folks to go.

HT: Will there? Is there county money for this?

WT: Some of these things can be done informally….I have encouraged always the Buckingham Volunteers [based in the Buckingham Outreach Center on N. 4th Street] to help with this kind of thing. This is the kind of thing that they can be…empowered to help their own community by tackling this kind of situation.

So should they [the men waiting for the jobs] be doing all this terrible allegations of quality of life thing? No they should not.

HT: It’s probably 40 guys who get jobs from that corner. What are the chances that even during reconstruction of the corner they’re suddenly going to say, “We should be going to the SEEC center.”?
WT: Well, I’m one that doesn’t believe in giving up….I think that now that we’re going to do the renovations is a great opportunity to tell them that this [SEEC] is where you ought to be….There’s a whole range of stuff that goes on at SEEC….There needs to be more education on that. If they’re just standing on the corner here, whereas over there they might get job leads and self-empowering skills, people need to understand that.

HT: Change of subject again, over to the Lubber Center. It’s not ADA compliant. It has senior citizens programs housed on the second floor of a building with no elevator, yet it never makes it up to the top of the CIP to get funding. Does something need to be done there?
WT: Of course. The answer’s yes. Having been there multiple times, I’m very familiar with Lubber Run Community Center. And I’m aware of all the ADA issues; I’m aware of no elevator….At Lubber Run, we need to redo it, the whole thing needs to be redone.…[T]here isn’t any proposal on the table, so don’t get scared that somehow the county’s concocting something, there’s nothing, and that’s part of the regrettable part of it….I would like to at some point, put it in the CIP track, but to be honest, I don’t know when that would be....There’s a big discussion about Wakefield High School, the Career Center, Thomas Jefferson which is not far from here, and of course we’ve got a multitude of roads projects and neighborhood conservation issues, water management….We’re doing a whole lot already….$565 million to renovate our water pollution control plant, for example, that’s not chump change, that’s seriously investing.

HT: That was part of a court order, though, right?
WT: Well, we’re under a court decree, yeah, right.

HT: It’s semantics there.
WT: For all intents and purposes, indeed it is a court order. We’d much rather do this than have it forced upon us, and the possibility of 23,000 households in the Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church area affected, adversely affected. So we need to do it now. So Lubber Run, it will be something that we will continue to see if it will be done. I think the people who are interested in making that happen will need to speak up in the future. In particular, prior to the CIP productions.

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