Village Council— Fee waivers for Home, Inc.
- Published: February 13, 2020
In a split decision at its Feb. 3 regular meeting, Village Council granted Home, Inc. tap fee waivers for the group’s planned senior apartment building.
The incentive, estimated to cost the Village $40,500, passed on a 3–2 vote Monday night after a lengthy debate about its merits and disadvantages.
Council members Brian Housh, Marianne MacQueen and Kevin Stokes voted for the waiver; Lisa Kreeger and Laura Curliss opposed it.
The waivers cover Village labor and equipment costs at the building site and include electric meters ($13,750), a six-inch fire tap ($13,000), a three-inch water tap with meter ($13,000) and a sewer tap fee ($750).
In a presentation to Council, Home, Inc. Treasurer Kevin McGruder said the fee waivers would make it more likely the group would be successful in its next application for state tax credit financing, which would cover $8 million of the $10.5 million project cost. That’s because it would reduce per-unit costs and demonstrate local support for the project.
“The benefits of this [to the Village] will far exceed the costs,” McGruder argued.
Home, Inc. is reapplying for the financing next week after its application in 2019 was denied.
Stokes said he was in favor of granting the waiver because it would help the Village achieve its goals to increase housing.
Regarding the Village’s housing goals, which call for hundreds of units to be built over the next decade, Stokes said, “I don’t think we’ll get there without contributing something somewhere along the way.”
“If we’re serious about reaching toward these housing goals, we need to contribute something,” he said.
Kreeger, by contrast, said that while she voted to give Home, Inc. $60,000 of Village money over the last two years, she doesn’t think the Village can afford more.
“I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the finances of the Village,” she said. “I don’t think we can afford this,” she added.
Kreeger also said she was dismayed at the lateness of the request, which was made in a letter to Council dated Jan. 15, with a decision needed before the Feb. 15 tax credit financing application deadline.
The nonprofit and its development partner, St. Mary of Dayton, had tried to raise the “local leverage” from other sources, but came up short, Executive Director Emily Seibel told Council in response. That’s when they decided to return to ask for the fee waivers.
“We exhausted multiple other avenues,” she said.
The developers would still pay for other project costs, including $19,000 for an electric transformer and wires, and $27,000 to re-line a nearby sewer, project leaders added at the meeting.
Last year, Council approved a rezoning of the nearly two-acre property between East Herman and East Marshall streets to accommodate Home, Inc.’s 54-unit apartment building, which was later redesigned to three stories. Rental units at the complex are for those 55 and older and would range from market rate to extremely low-income.
In her comments, Council Vice President MacQueen, a founder and former director of Home, Inc., spoke highly of the project. She explained that efforts to build senior affordable housing have been underway for 20 years and that many of its advocates are getting up in age and may not see it come to fruition.
MacQueen also argued that the incentive was small compared to the significant investment in local affordable housing.
“If it were to be used to lower someone’s utility bill, it would be $10 per year per person in Yellow Springs,” MacQueen said of the waiver, in contrast to “a $10 million senior housing project that would serve 54 people.”
Curliss, however, spoke strongly against the waiver, and the entire project, which she said is too large for the site and with too little parking. She also criticized the “last minute nature” of the request for a higher local match, and cited municipal sewer capacity issues as a limit to development.
“I’m not sure we should be approving a popcorn stand if our sewer can’t handle it,” she said.
Also opposing the waiver were Village Manager Josué Salmerón and, from the floor, former Village Manager Patti Bates.
Salmerón argued against the waiver for financial reasons, highlighting his worries about the state of enterprise funds and the potential negative impact on ratepayers. Specifically, he cited the Village’s losses in its water operating fund in 2019, and its need to dip into reserves in both the water and sewer enterprise funds last year.
“I’m looking at my fiducial responsibility to those enterprises that will be forgoing money,” with the fee waiver, Salmerón said. “I have a duty to care for those municipal budgets,” he added.
Bates said that while she believes the village needs affordable housing, municipal infrastructure projects should take precedence.
“The Village cannot continue financially to give this money to Home, Inc.,” Bates said. “That $40,000 to me is two blocks of sewer re-lining that the EPA is telling the Village you need to do.”
Also from the floor, St. Mary construction manager John Haws argued that the project would have a positive impact on the village. Those impacts include housing that is affordable for at least 20 years, new utility customers and an improved sewer line.
Earlier, in his remarks, McGruder addressed the view that Home, Inc. is benefitting from “favoritism,” saying that it would be rare for a community as small as Yellow Springs to have more than one community development corporation building affordable housing.
“We are filling the affordability gaps where the market cannot,” he added of the group’s role.
Council President Housh said his perspective on the matter comes from Council’s “commitment to affordability” made two years ago and the fact that many municipalities are taking action on housing issues.
“While I share some of the concerns around timeliness,” he said, “I also have to balance that with the opportunities that we have.”
Before Housh called for a vote, the conversation shifted to where the funds for the fee waiver could come from. Housh said he preferred that they be taken from lodging tax revenues, which last year totaled $58,000 and which reside in the General Fund.
Kreeger was interested in that possibility, stating that her concerns are due to waiver funds coming from taxpayer dollars. She said she wasn’t comfortable voting yes, “unless I’m confident that it is not going to hurt our utility funds and that it is not coming from the General Fund.”
But Village Finance Director Colleen Harris said she did not think it was possible for the funds to come from lodging tax revenues.
“The General Fund is not supposed to go to the enterprise fund,” she said of the potential transfer to cover the waived fees. “That’s not the proper use of the General Fund.”
Those issues were left unresolved at Council’s meeting. While Council approved the waiver request, a full resolution on the matter will be considered at a future Council meeting.
Other items from Council’s Feb. 3 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.