Columbia developer to move forward on cottages project

City lends a hand on affordable housing venture
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:15 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 20, 2010

COLUMBIA — After a long struggle with Columbia over his plans to build affordable cottage housing off Ridgeway Avenue, developer Amir Ziv plans to move forward with the project, but he'll get a helping hand from the city.

 “I would like to be able to break ground in a month,” Ziv said.

Last year, Ziv persuaded the City Council to rezone the vacant lot and allow him to build the cottages, but the new zoning carried some baggage. Ziv will have to meet city subdivision regulations as he redevelops the property. That means installing larger sewer lines and managing storm water. He might also have to build 100 feet of sidewalk.

The expense of meeting all those requirements had prevented Ziv from moving forward. But council members, who are interested in the cottages as a demonstration of an affordable housing development, decided earlier this month to contribute to his cause. Ziv will receive $7,000 from a city fund that's used for demolishing dilapidated houses to help cover the cost of the sewer lines, and he might also receive a $1,000 rebate for each cottage through the Energy Star program if they meet energy efficiency standards.

Ziv said the city money is enough to get him going on the project, but he still regrets that the subdivision rules are driving up the cost of building the cottages, which he now estimates will sell for about $100,000 apiece.

Ziv estimates that the storm-water requirements will cost him $3,000 to $4,000 and that the sidewalk would cost $1,000 to $3,000. He hopes the city will drop the sidewalk mandate, given that Ridgeway Avenue has no sidewalks on either side of the street now.

Ziv said the subdivision designation is undermining the purpose of building the cottages.

“I don’t fit in the box they put me in,” Ziv said. “I’m trying to build low-income housing, and all of this adds up.”

Ziv estimates it will cost $60 to $65 per square foot to build the cottages, which he has said before would be about 870 square feet. That's a total construction cost of up to $56,550 per cottage.

The cost of the entire development project would be $10,000 to $13,000 cheaper if he didn’t have to comply with the subdivision standards, he estimated.

Although he still has expenses he feels are unnecessary, Ziv has decided to begin the project. He has no plans for future meetings with the city. If he breaks ground within the month he hopes the cottages will be done by the end of the year.

“I’m gonna build them to the best of my ability, but it’s been a fight,” Ziv said. “I’ve been paying a mortgage on an empty lot, getting nothing in return, for almost two years.”

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Ray Shapiro June 30, 2009 | 1:05 a.m.

Low income Housing equals an increase in crime.
With all the homes throughout town currently up for sale, in the 125,000-150,000, encouraging low-income home purchases will bring property values down for home owners in that area.
The only people who benefit from this housing venture is the developer, the contractor and the poor for as long as they can hold on to their mortgage.
"Their goes the neighborhood!"

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 30, 2009 | 4:57 a.m.

ray shapiro that is already a low income neighborhood.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 30, 2009 | 8:35 a.m.

Actually these would be pretty pricey houses for the area. Existing housing of the same size (8-900 sf or so) typically goes for $50 - 80,000 depending on condition. I think he's going to have a hard time selling them.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 30, 2009 | 10:14 a.m.

I don't know Mark, the newness (for lack of a better word) of the cottages might make them sell OK at that price, but only for the first few units built in the area and for people who really want to buy into the concept. After those early-adopters are into a cottage, any future buildings might have a harder time competing with existing housing stock.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin June 30, 2009 | 11:36 a.m.

I think Mark, Ray, and the city exhibit the same tendency with respect to the central city: NEGATIVITY.

I know Amir Ziv personally. He's done more for central city housing stock -- by rehabbing existing dumps -- than just about anybody else I know.

He got into this cottage plan because he thought -- mistakenly, I believe -- that City Hall would strongly support a nice low-income housing project with unique, green features in a struggling part of town. His evidence for that conclusion: myriad panels and commissions the city has constituted over the years to study and press the need for low-income housing.

Now I could tease someone here and suggest that prices in his neighborhood would be higher -- and hence, support more new housing stock -- if certain folks would clean up and fix up their homes, removing things like junky cars and overgrown vegetation from the front yard and that sort of thing.

I could tease, but that would be negative, so I'll just be nice instead.

(Report Comment)
Maria Oropallo June 30, 2009 | 9:23 p.m.

I agree with Mark - $100,000 homes require a $36,000 income with a $10,000 down payment for a fixed rate mortgage. On $36,000 income, it's near impossible to save $10,000 unless one lives in their mother's basement.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of these cottage home--they are very successful in retirement communities, up and coming city neighborhoods etc. Can the same be said of Ridgeway? What other amenities are being proposed for the area?

What seems to happen in Columbia is we put the cart before the horse.

Start out with a master plan for the city, where everything, i.e., infrastructure, schools, amenities etc is taken into account, would perhaps provide the answers to whether this is a good place for these cottage homes. But, once again, Columbia is letting the developers, even good ones, call the shots on how Columbia should grow.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 1, 2009 | 9:18 a.m.

Trouble is, Mike, I don't agree that driving prices higher does anything for affordable housing. It makes existing landowners more money (if they sell), and allows landlords to charge more rent, but makes it more difficult for lower-income people to buy.

Personally, I like vegetation. It sucks up CO2, grows edibles, and provides shade and cover. I wasn't aware that there was a problem with my grapevines (or strawberries, or chard, or lettuce, or tomatoes, or...) with any of my neighbors. Actually I have one of the more sustainable homes in Columbia, and I know some people consider that a good thing. And the $90,000 house that you've made an example of before was bought with the grapevines, and solar panels, and woodpile all there right in plain sight. If any of my neighbors have a problem with it, I'd like to know about it, and I'll see what I can do about it.

The turnaround of my street was not begun by rehabbing, or building new housing. It was begun by one landlord in particular who bought several older rentals on the street. They were not immediately rehabbed, but she did start being picky about who she rented to, which we had not had a lot of before. Crime plummeted, and then we got other landlords that were similarly picky to purchase (and in some cases fix up) other problem houses. Some of them have since been sold to single families.

It's not the house. It's the people that live in them. By a landlord keeping out those people that are, or harbor, drug dealers, thieves, and thugs, the quality of the neighborhood goes up. Not necessarily the prices.


(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 1, 2009 | 9:36 p.m.


Few people want to live in a neighborhood with a bunch of junkie ramshackle houses. Getting good people into a such a neighborhood is almost impossible. I speak from 20 years experience in residential property management.

And I'm not sure your history of Alexander Street is all that on target, either. The landlord I believe you're talking about lost most if not all of her homes to financial problems and foreclosures. They were hardly in good condition at the time.

And I don't know what this means:

"...we got other landlords that were similarly picky to purchase (and in some cases fix up) other problem houses."

Who's "we?" Who got? You?

To the best of my knowledge, other than repeatedly attacking his intentions across more than one blog, you've barely interacted with Amir Ziv. And nobody from Alexander Street did anything to "get" him to purchase and fix up any of the houses he owns there.

I also had some friends do a couple of rehabs on Alexander and nobody approached them or "got" them to do anything either.

In fact, the one communication vehicle for that street -- the Alexander Avenue listerv -- was unceremoniously shut down back in late 2007. You can see how the message history trails off since that time:

Not much "getting" anybody to do anything going on there, I suspect.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 30, 2009 | 9:31 a.m.

Hadn't seen this before - this explains a lot...

"Getting good people into a such a neighborhood is almost impossible."

It happened here. Much of it had to do with factors other than gentrification, like a resident landlord who cared about her immediate environment. And you and your ilk can't take all the credit you'd like for it.

"The landlord I believe you're talking about lost most if not all of her homes to financial problems and foreclosures. They were hardly in good condition at the time."

But she got the ball rolling. She got much of the crime out of the area, and when she had to sell, you and your ilk took advantage of it (low prices and "poor" condition) and made quite a pretty penny for yourselves.

Landlords and developers think they're doing their tenants and customers the biggest favor in the world. You're not doing good, low income people a favor by driving up house prices. The only favor that gets done is to your personal bottom line.

A good number of residents that make Alex what it is (including me) are folks into what I like to call "simple living". This means small houses, old (or no) cars, food gardens rather than lawns and landscaping, wood heat, solar panels, and stuff like that. They often don't make a lot of money, because they are not materialistic in the conventional sense. They are here because the street was affordable yet safe and companionable, and their efforts continue to make it safe and desirable for those like us. Gentrification simply drives these good people to other places, some which are not so safe.

But it's hard for developers to make money in such as setting - witness Amir Ziv's failure to get his cottage projects started. Someone into simple living is not going to buy a 2000 sf house (like 306), or a $100,000 cottage, especially in that area. Of course, everyone isn't into simple living here, but they get along just fine with those that are. In fact, you and Ziv are the only ones that have complained about my grapevines, or anything else regarding my property.

If you want to worry about property values, worry about Glenwood's, not ours.

I will be putting a considerable share of my "simple living" dividend toward true "affordable housing" and the preservation of garden space in this area. I've already started, in fact, as you probably know. Once again, houses don't matter - the people that live in them do. The only ones that think houses matter are people to whom a house is just a pile of money.


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