"It was an unusual request for me," says El-Amin of asking the authority to stop. "I would have thought that they would have given me the courtesy of making my case. Here's a city agency that has no respect for City Council."
Valena Dixon with RRHA calls the project "comprehensive," insisting that the authority has received proper approval for each phase of the project, even from numerous historic associations. And she says some of the historic houses will be preserved.
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources had approved the demolition as the next phase of the $27 million Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) project. Affordable housing units are slated for construction on the property.
"It is all part of an approved plan," Dixon emphasizes.
But El-Amin and Tom Robinson, a real-estate developer who has worked for years to spark economic growth along Hull Street, each say the plan should have been changed.
Why? When HOPE VI began more than two years ago, Hull Street didn't show the promise it does now, they say.
"In the last eight months there's been immediate progress in turning around an area that was moribund, dead," El-Amin says. He and Robinson maintain the houses were historic, structurally sound and could have been rehabbed, fetching more money for the city and providing a residential base in an ailing district. Plus, they insist, the redeveloped homes would have provided a "buffer" between Hull Street and HOPE VI.
RRHA says it will press on with HOPE VI's approved plans.
Such news riles Robinson. "Before you were tearing down projects. Now you're tearing down history," he says of RRHA's presence in Blackwell. "Hopefully some heads will roll." B.W.