“Frederick approves financial support for affordable housing projects”

Nancy Lavin, Staff Writer (nlavin@newspost.com)
Frederick News Post www.fredericknewspost.com

” The city of Frederick is putting its money where its mouth is on affordable housing.

City elected officials on Thursday approved $300,000 in deferred loans for two projects that will provide 71 new affordable housing rental units for the city. The Board of Aldermen’s unanimous vote allows the transfer of $100,000 to Way Station Inc. and $200,000 to Sinclair Way through the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program.

A 2008 ordinance requires developers building 25 or more homes in the city to set aside 12.5 percent of those dwellings as moderately priced homes. Alternatively, developers can pay a fee instead of building the MPDUs, equivalent to $16,100 for each affordable home required but not included in the project.

CLARIFYING GOALS

Mike Spurrier, director of Frederick Community Action Agency, praised the financial support as the next step toward meeting the “desperate” need for affordable rental housing in the city.

“It’s great it’s moving forward,” he said. “There has been a lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through [to get here].”

For several aldermen, the discussion highlighted the need to create a city affordable housing policy. Various countywide organizations have their own strategic plans, but the city has no broad-scale equivalent.

Alderman Josh Bokee said a guiding document with a set of principal goals would help clarify the purpose of individual programs like the MPDU ordinance.

“The city needs a broader affordable housing policy … that we up here are able to reference and identify,” he said.

Alderman Michael O’Connor agreed. He referred to recent discussion of the city’s fee-in-lieu programs for parkland and school mitigation fees. Both of those policies fall within the city’s land management code, which outlines major principles and goals for planning and development.

“In a poverty-elimination context, we don’t have that same kind of overriding strategy document,” O’Connor said.

Until then, progress on several projects that meet those yet-to-be outlined goals can continue under the latest ordinance changes and loan transfers.

PROJECT DETAILS

The approved loan funding to the Way Station and Sinclair Way completes small but crucial pieces of the funding puzzle for each.

The Way Station contribution supports the $1.3 million project to help the nonprofit acquire and transform eight South Jefferson Street apartment units as special needs housing.

The loan to developer Conifer Realty for its Sinclair Way project, meanwhile, will work in tandem with changes to the MPDU ordinance approved in a separate vote Thursday to move the project forward.

The $20 million project to bring a seven-building apartment complex of primarily workforce housing to the city is funded through a variety of public and private sources — low-income tax credits from the Internal Revenue Service, state cash flow loans and private first mortgage payments. Several of those other loans and credits attach conditions to the project, some of which conflicted with the city requirements outlined in the existing ordinance.

“The city code assumes the city is the only income-regulations body for developers … but that’s not the case here,” said Jessica Zumiga, president of Conifer Realty.

The approved changes let the aldermen grant modifications to its MPDU ordinance requirements on a case-by-case basis to better accommodate the conditions of other funding sources.

The votes trigger the next steps for the 71-unit project slated for 1.9 acres between West South and West Patrick streets. Project plans already received approval from the Planning and Historic Preservation Commissions. The Board of Aldermen is set to approve the MPDU agreement at its next public hearing on Dec. 3.

Construction will start as early as next month, Zumiga said.

“I certainly think it will increase the production of MPDUs in the city,” she said.”