by Christy Goodman for The Washington Post

September 30, 2010

Current and former James Bland housing residents thanked the Alexandria City Council and the city's housing authority for resolving their relocation issues after a year of protests and meetings.

The residents, along with Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, or VOICE, stood before the council at its meeting Saturday and declared a victory for the 180 residents of the 8.5-acre public housing community in the Braddock East area, which is being developed into a $55 million mixed-use property with market-rate and affordable homes.

The group has worked with the city and housing authority in sometimes contentious meetings for the past year to get a list of 10 demands answered. The demands included better communication to understand the five-phased relocation plan; reimbursement for moving costs; and more notice to plan moves.

"I'm proud our team was able to get a resolution," said Charlene Walker, a 30-year Alexandria resident who was forced to move over Thanksgiving last year. She was given a check for $500 this month to help with her moving expenses. "It was late, but it goes a long way to give me closure on my move," she said.

Like several Bland residents, Walker said that although she was given the option to move into the new community, she would rather receive a voucher and find somewhere else to live.

"We've come a long way to be able to talk to them today," Walker said.

Barbara Prowder, who was to move during the third phase of the relocation, said she got a housing voucher and is looking for place to live in Woodbridge for herself and her daughter and granddaughter. She told the council that she looks forward to becoming a community leader in her new neighborhood.

The group worked to keep Martha Holmes, a Bland resident with Alzheimer's disease, in the neighborhood with which she is familiar.

"She is very happy," said daughter Martha Crump.

Crump said she was pleased with the community's work with VOICE and the city. She said the way city representatives deal with people has changed for the better.

City Council member Rob Krupicka (D) said, "I'm pleased that in Alexandria, when people thoughtfully and carefully raise an issue, all the bodies take time to listen and meet."

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley (D) said quarterly meetings between the council and housing authority will continue to ensure smooth transitions for the remaining Bland relocations and to encourage responsiveness.

"We recognized that there was an injustice. We recognized that the people were suffering," said the Rev. Duane T. Kay of Ebenezer Baptist Church. On the work VOICE and community members did for the Bland residents, he said, "What makes Alexandria truly great are the [people] who reside within the city boundaries."

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