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Proposal considered for affordable village housing

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At their Oct. 4 meeting, Village Council members began a discussion on a proposal for a modest joint Village/Home, Inc., project for affordable housing. Three of the four Council members present expressed support for the project, as did several villagers who spoke.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that our schools are in trouble,” said Council Vice-President Lori Askeland. “One way to address that is to add houses that are affordable for young families.”

The proposal, from Askeland and Council President Judith Hempfling, was for an agreement between Council and Home, Inc. to “explore creation of community land trust housing” on about one acre of Village-owned land on Cemetery Street. The proposal suggests a “development of moderate cost starter homes, which are targeted to diverse young families.” The proposal further requests that the designs be energy efficient and “reflect thoughtful land use that will integrate well into the current neighborhood.” Given the amount of space involved, the development would be limited to a small number of homes. The proposal also included a Memorandum of Agreement, or MOA, that would clarify the roles of both the Village and Home, Inc.

The MOA as presented proposed only the broad outlines of the project, and did not specify whether the Village would sell the land at market price, at a reduced price or gift it to Home, Inc. Those are some of the questions that Council will need to address, Hempfling said.

The topic was discussion only, and Council agreed to continue the conversation at its next meeting, Oct. 18. At that point, Council may or may not vote on the proposal. Council member John Booth was absent from the Oct. 4 meeting.

Several questions were raised by Karen Wintrow, who stated that she found the language of the proposal confusing. An overall survey of Village housing needs should be completed before starting an affordable housing project, Wintrow said, stating that it would be inadvisable to move ahead “without knowing what the real problems are.”

Wintrow also questioned whether the Village should commit to a project with Home, Inc., without advertising the project to other developers.

Home, Inc. is the proposed developer because it’s a community land trust organization and private developers are not, Hempfling said, and the project specifies the community land trust model to ensure affordability. The community land trust model requires that the land on which homes are developed remain under the ownership of the land trust organization while the homes are owned by individuals.

Villager Christine Roberts stated that she did Internet research seeking objections to the land trust model, and found none.

“This is a model that has worked well,” Roberts said, stating that she supports the project because “affordable housing is important to maintain our schools.”

Villager Fritz Leighty, who identified himself as a consultant for Home, Inc., said that there’s no need to complete a housing survey before moving ahead with a small project.

“We’ve been screwing around for too long” regarding affordable housing, Leighty said, stating that, “We need a housing assessment like we need a hole in the head. We know there’s a problem.”

Sue Abendroth raised several concerns about the project, stating that affordability in Yellow Springs is not just a matter of housing but of overall cost of living.

“Unless we’re careful we’ll be subsidizing people who can’t afford to live here because they can’t afford the services and taxes,” she said, adding,“There’s a danger of setting a precedent. A small modest project can become a train moving forward with no stopping.”

Abendroth also pointed to the recent housing crisis as evidence of the problems inherent when people buy houses they can’t afford.

However, none of the homes owned by Home, Inc. owners have been foreclosed during the economic crisis, according to Greene County Housing Authority Director Susan Stiles. Home, Inc. works with buyers and “stands behind the families,” she said. “This kind of stewardship makes the land trust model unique.”

Other items of Oct. 4 Council business will be covered in next week’s paper.

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