Affordable housing incentives proposed

Sunday, July 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:33 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Columbia- Rapidly increasing land costs coupled with a much slower rate of income growth, has created a significant gap when it comes to affordable housing in Columbia, said Jeff MacLellan, chair of the Affordable Housing Policy Committee.

After a year of work, the committee has developed a list of suggestions for Columbia’s city government to address the problem.

Mommittee proposals for city action

* Offer additional incentives for building energy efficient homes that qualify for the federal Energy Star program’s $2,000 tax credit. * Explore new forms of housing, such as: Tandem: two single-family detached houses on one lot; Cottage: many small, single-family detached houses arranged around a common open space; * Encourage building homes accessible to a wide range of people; * Encourage redevelopment of older properties by streamlining the building permit process for “non-conforming lots”; * Provide regulatory incentives for maintaining a certain percentage of affordable housing for 10 years in new developments, redevelopments and designated affordable housing developments; * Create a fast-track proposal review for “affordable” projects; * Give developers who commit to building a certain percentage of affordable housing a break on zoning requirements.

“There’s no magic wand, here,” said MacLellan, who is also chairman of the board for First National Bank. “But we do think there are some things we can do to increase the stock of work-force housing.”

The Affordable Housing Policy Committee consists of 19 citizen volunteers in a variety of fields, such as construction, real estate and community activism.

The committee’s two goals were to come up with a definition of “affordable housing” and then to put together a report with possible incentives, regulations and other methods to remedy the lack of affordable housing in Columbia.

The committee submitted its report on July 12 at a Columbia City Council work session.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said he thought the group did good work, but he had some concerns.

“They took on that sizeable task. I think that some of the solutions are good ones, but I’m still looking for some guidance in terms of incentives to encourage some of the mainstream developers in taking on the challenge,” he said.

He also said he had concerns about lower-income residents being evicted as land values increase.

“(It) suggests a social problem that we need to start thinking about,” Skala said. “The truly low-income folks and how they are being displaced is not something that was discussed by this group.”

First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton said that getting things done for affordable housing will take a lot of collaboration.

“It sounds like the developers won’t deal and the city won’t deal. We need to find out who we need to tackle to get it done,” she said. “Everybody is going to have to be included at the table.”

MacLellan said he thinks the council will need to take serious action if they want citizens to continue to help out.

“I was surprised by the City Council. They seemed to embrace it, but I don’t know what they’ll actually do,” MacLellan said. “You’d like to think that what you’ve worked on is worthwhile.”

The Affordable Housing Policy Committee will meet again on Aug. 14, MacLellan said, to discuss some more concrete strategies and will bring its ideas to the council soon after.

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