Gray wants housing bill tabled to save it Affordable stock is at issue

October 29, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, will attempt to save his affordable housing bills Monday by asking the County Council to table them for another month.

The three-bill package seeks to increase the county's stock of affordable housing by 250 units a year.

"This may be our last opportunity to provide affordable housing" in the county, Mr. Gray said. "I hope we can make it work. We should be able to reach all income levels and address the diverse needs of all people within the county."

As written, the legislation would require builders of a development with 10 or more units to reserve 10 percent of those units for households having 75 percent or less of the county's median income.

The units would be sold at cost to eligible buyers. In return, builders could increase the number of units in their developments by 20 percent.

Council members Shane Pendergrass, D-1st; Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, think that's wrong. They say many residential developers will seek density increases during comprehensive rezoning, and that to offer an affordable housing bonus on top of that would be too much.

What they want instead, is for the county to require affordable housing to be built on any residential property that receives higher density zoning as a result of comprehensive or piecemeal zoning.

Ms. Pendergrass has sent a memo to the county's law office asking whether such a requirement is legally permissible. "Trading single-family detached [houses] for town houses is more than I'm willing to do," Ms. Pendergrass said.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said he is unwilling to subsidize households earning $43,000 a year -- the maximum now allowed under Mr. Gray's bill.

Mr. Gray said he sees bonus density as similar to tax credit incentives offered in federal housing programs. "If we require affordable housing without incentives, the bill may not pass," he said. "This bill holds developers harmless, does not increase the cost for homebuyers, and does not pass the cost on to taxpayers.

"The real issue is whether local government wants to encourage the building of affordable housing. I would hope people would scrutinize the bill, and if they support it, offer ways to improve it.

"We have to again take a position that we want MPDUs -- moderately priced housing [units] and see how we can make it work. If we don't want it, then we don't see how we can make it work. That's what it comes down to in the final analysis."

"I see it a little differently," Ms. Pendergrass said. "I see it like life. If you want it, you've got to decide who pays for it and how much you want it and how much you're willing to pay. I think it's more than do you want it or don't you want it."

The legislation calls for cumulative density changes that favor developers, Ms. Pendergrass said. "It's a question of who pays [for affordable housing] -- citizens or the builders."

In an effort to salvage the legislation, Mr. Gray asked a 13-member affordable housing task force to meet again Nov. 9 to repond to objections raised at an Oct. 20 hearing on the proposal. Mr. Gray also invited 11 other people who testified at the hearing to join the task force and help refine the proposal in time for council action Dec. 7.

The legislation does more than offer a bonus density to developers who build affordable housing. It allows builders of 39 or fewer units in a single development to contribute to a county housing fund rather than include moderately priced units in their development. The housing fund would be used to increase the county's affordable housing stock.

Builders of 40 or more units in a single development could contribute to the fund in lieu of building affordable units there or they could build affordable units elsewhere if they are unable to build them at their primary site.

Houses built under the program would cost about $70,000 to $92,000, and would have to be aesthetically similar in appearance to market-rate homes.

Although the program would cover households with incomes up to $43,000, priority would be given households with the lowest qualifying incomes. Priority would also be given first-time homebuyers, persons who work in the county, and people who already live in the county.

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