Housing Authority poised to move forward on affordable housing, redevelopment projects

Monday, August 20, 2012 | 10:30 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A plan to create an affordable housing development with support services for older residents and those with disabilities is working its way through the Columbia Housing Authority.

Meanwhile, the agency also is preparing for a second meeting with public housing residents to explain its plans for redeveloping some of its downtown apartments. Both projects are part of a larger effort by the Housing Authority to create more affordable housing in the central city.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the Housing Authority's board of commissioners will consider a resolution allowing it to convert up to 30 "tenant-based" housing vouchers to "project-based" vouchers. The move would tap a program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Conversion of the vouchers would represent a first step toward a project to develop affordable housing on the Deluxe Inn property at 2112 Business Loop 70 E.

Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus wrote in a report to commissioners that the agency has reached a preliminary agreement with New Horizons Community Support Services to work together on the project and to apply for tax credits through the Missouri Housing Development Commission to help finance it.

The project is intended to provide 52 two-story townhouses for single families at or below the median family income for the Boone County Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Cynthia Duffe is general counsel of ND Consulting Group, which is working with the authority on its affordable housing effort. She said at a July public hearing held by the authority's commissioners that the consulting group has worked with New Horizons in Jefferson City for the past five years.

Duffe said that the expertise of New Horizons and the management experience of the Housing Authority should make its application for state tax credits very competitive. Chi Cheung, executive director of New Horizons, agreed.

“We believe that New Horizons and CHA will complement each other’s strengths as we apply for funding and that those strengths will increase the likelihood of a successful application,” Cheung said in an email to the Missourian.

The Deluxe Inn property is about 4.2 acres and carries an appraised value of $234,500. It is owned by Poonam Inc., according to websites of the Boone County assessor. 

The Housing Authority commissioners are scheduled to hold a closed meeting Tuesday night to discuss the purchase of real estate.

Its application for the tax credits is due by Sept. 21. If approved, the credits would be issued over 10 years and would cover up to 70 percent of the project cost.

Redeveloping downtown apartments

Commissioners also were scheduled to hear an update Tuesday on the Housing Authority's overall progress toward creating more and better affordable housing. A significant part of that effort is the proposed rehabilitation of 68 public housing apartments on Lincoln and Unity drives.

The authority has scheduled a second meeting with public housing residents for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Columbia Labor Temple, 611 Sexton Road, to discuss the project. Steinhaus said in a report to commissioners that he intends to give a PowerPoint presentation outlining the condition of the apartments that would be renovated and showing some sample layouts for new floor plans.

Steinhaus also outlined the options that residents displaced by the four-phase renovation would have. The three options are:

  • Accept a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and move permanently. (Section 8 is a program that helps residents cover rental costs at homes that aren't owned by the Housing Authority.)
  • Accept a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and move temporarily until renovations are complete and they are able to move back into their public housing apartments.
  • Move temporarily to another authority-owned apartment until renovations are complete, then move back to their original apartments.

Residents who are relocated during the renovations also would be eligible for several forms of assistance to cover moving costs.

The cost of renovating each downtown apartment is estimated at $80,000.

The Housing Authority is considering whether to apply for another round of tax credits from the Missouri Housing Development Commission to help pay for the work. The application deadline is in March.

If the authority applies for the credit, it would learn in May or June if it is approved. If so, construction would begin about nine months later, Steinhaus said, starting with apartments on the south side of Unity Drive.

Missouri’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program started in 1990. The credits are allocated by the Internal Revenue Service based on states' populations.

Tax credits for the renovation, if approved, would cover 4 percent of the Housing Authority's annual renovation costs. The tax credits would be granted annually for 10 years, providing at least $1.7 million in financing.

A public-private partnership

The sale of tax credits to fund the redevelopment would create a public-private partnership and essentially make the Columbia Housing Authority a minority owner of the downtown properties. During a July 25 meeting called by Grass Roots Organizing and the Downtown Resident Association, residents and members of the public wondered whether the arrangement would make public housing vulnerable to a takeover by private investors.

Representatives of ND Consulting Group said such a takeover is highly unlikely.

Michele Duffe, also of the ND Consulting Group, confirmed the Housing Authority would become a "minority partner" in the project. That status would last for 15 years.

“We own, and we manage,” Michele Duffe said. “We are a small ownership for the 15-year compliance period. At the end of the 15 years, investors will go away, and the land can go back to the Housing Authority.”

Michele Duffe said at the July meeting that investors will, however, conduct annual inspections to ensure the project is complying with IRS rules.

“If you are doing the right thing, they are not going to take over your project,” Duffe said. “There is hardly any project that has been taken over.”

Steinhaus also said at the meeting that HUD holds a deed of trust on all Housing Authority properties that it will retain regardless of whether the tax credits are approved. HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said in an email that tax-credit investors generally have no interest in the underlying assets and that the Housing Authority's partnership agreement should guarantee that it retains possession of the properties.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Mike Martin August 21, 2012 | 9:55 a.m.

Here are two stories that cover the other side of this debate in some detail:

The Federal laws that guide all this, most notably the Uniform Acquisition and Relocation Act, provide few guarantees to anyone in their orbit, suggesting community leaders and their consultants be more circumspect about what they represent.

Add in state tax credit laws and other regulations, and you've got a bureaucratic soup public housing residents and their advocates are likely to have considerable trouble navigating as all this moves forward.

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