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Familiar Story Of Gentrification Reaches Alexandria's West End

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The series of low slung garden apartments in Alexandria's West End are know as The Hamlets.
Michael Pope
The series of low slung garden apartments in Alexandria's West End are know as The Hamlets.

A low-slung cluster of garden apartments clings to the rolling hills on the West End of Alexandria, just short of the traffic gridlock at Mark Center. Thousands of low-income residents, mostly foreign born, live there in some of the last affordable units in the Alexandria. 

Many of those residents are now worried about being displaced as the city gentrifies. The Alexandria City Council is poised to vote on a high-end development in the West End that would replace some of the 2,500 affordable apartments there. 

Amine Ketani has lived in those apartments for six years.

"My opinion is that this is the cheapest neighborhood in Alexandria, one of the cheapest," he says. "So it's going to be hard to find, you know, somewhere that's cheaper than here."

But that price range could soon be increasing. Next month, members of the Alexandria City Council will consider a zoning change that would dramatically increase the number of housing units allowed in the West End to make way for a developer's plans for high-end housing. The people who live here now fear they'll will be removed as part of gentrification.

"I don't think it's right because if it's one of the last places that's still affordable to a lot of people, where are they going with this?" Ketani says. "The economy is going down. People are jobless. So all they are doing these days is taking from the people."

Currently, the area is made up of 2,500 units of market-rate affordable housing. Alexandria plans to set aside 800 units of dedicated affordable housing. But Aurora Vasquez, director of the advocacy group known as Tenants and Workers United, says that's not enough.

"We shouldn't be focused on units but rather the people who live in the units," she says. "Twenty-five hundred units means thousands and thousands of people. It means individuals. It means moms. It means dads. It means children. It means senior citizens."

Tenants and Workers United would like to see members of the Alexandria City Council require one-for-one replacement: 2,500 units of affordable housing to be included in future development when they consider the zoning change next month.

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