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Jun
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2024
Housing

Presenting at both Village Council and school board meetings — held Monday, May 20, and Tuesday, May 21, respectively — and amid intense villagewide debate, Home, Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel unveiled a 50-unit, low-income housing proposal. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Elected bodies weigh low-income housing proposal on school land

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For the first time in public meetings, local nonprofit YS Home, Inc. unveiled a new, large-scale affordable housing proposal: the development of a 50-unit, low-income rental complex that may one day be sited on three acres of school district-owned land.

Presenting at both Village Council and school board meetings — held Monday, May 20, and Tuesday, May 21, respectively — and amid intense villagewide debate, Home, Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel spoke to, as she told Council, “clarify the process, where we’re at and where we’re going.”

The proposal, as previously reported in the News, entails the pursuit of $15 million in federal low-income housing tax credits to help finance the creation of a large development that could one day house around 50 low-income families in Yellow Springs.

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However, as Seibel reminded both elected bodies, what must occur first — before Home, Inc. can apply for those funds — is the assurance that some local land will be made available for such a development.

Up for consideration are, among other locations, three district-owned acres north of the middle and high schools on East Enon Road, where several athletic fields are located.

Following a three-hour-long heated discussion on Tuesday, May 21, the school board voted to adopt two resolutions that bring Home, Inc. closer to concretizing its development concept.

By a 3–2 vote on each measure, the school board approved both “the exploration of the request from Home, Inc. to sell three acres of school district property for a 50-unit affordable family housing project” as well as “the exploration of land relative to [that] request from Home, Inc. to buy three acres of school district property.”

In other words, following that majority decision, the board will now pursue — with Home, Inc. and other local stakeholders — a logistical investigation into the soccer fields’ viability in accommodating such a development, the district’s capacities to divest from and sell the land, as well as the possibility of eventually securing additional land to relocate the soccer fields.

“This is a very unusual and wonderful opportunity, which is why we’re asking about it,” Board President Judith Hempfling said at the outset of Tuesday’s board meeting.

That “unusual” circumstance of Home, Inc. asking the board to consider siting an affordable housing complex on district property stems from several factors.

Released last year, the statewide 2024-2025 “opportunity index” from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, or OHFA, ranked several tracts of land around and slightly within Yellow Springs municipal limits as “very high,” insofar as those tracts could accommodate new, multifamily developments. Because of such a high score — in addition to other variables, including access to utilities, proximity to employment and zoning status — development organizations like Home, Inc. are positioned to receive substantial subsidies for their housing projects.

Whereas much of Yellow Springs — that is, the entirety of the village east of East Enon Road — scored 80 on the opportunity index map, the surrounding rural land as well as the school-owned property received a score of 94.

“From a scoring standpoint, this is probably a one-in-a-30-year opportunity,” Tim Bete of St. Mary Development Corporation, told Council on Monday. “We certainly believe there are better sites [in Yellow Springs], just sites that the state isn’t willing to award.”

As Seibel clarified at Tuesday’s school board meeting, the Dayton-based St. Mary Development Corporation has worked with Home, Inc. on a volunteer basis for eight years to help the local organization pursue large-scale housing opportunities.

“What we want is a win-win for everyone,” Seibel said of Home, Inc. and St. Mary’s goals. “This could result in affordable, work-force housing — one-, two-, three-bedroom apartments for families, for children who could attend our schools.”

Regarding the soccer fields that would make way for the proposed development, Seibel said: “We love our local soccer program. We’re proud of it. What we want is to bring more kids to play soccer in Yellow Springs.”

Despite the alleged opportunity for more housing outlined by Seibel, Bete and Hempfling, several school board members, some district leaders and a number of community members who attended the meeting remained skeptical and, in some cases, contemptuous of the suggestion that the school sell its land.

Before the meeting, the board received over two dozen letters from locals — many of which, as Vice President Rebecca Potter noted, were written by people “not categorically opposed” to the proposal, so long as the soccer fields are secure. Others called into question the correspondences between Hempfling and other stakeholders leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, citing concerns of transparency and “back-door dealings,” as board member Amy Bailey also alleged at the meeting.

Resident, parent and girls soccer coach Jonina Kelley beseeched the board before their vote to “take affordable housing off the table” altogether and to preserve the soccer fields as they are now.

“Housing is not the role of this board,” Kelley said. “Your job is to think about the district. Those fields have had extensive time and money poured into them. They have value.”

Speaking in support of Home, Inc.’s proposal was villager and parent Jessica Thomas, who told board members that she knows of a number of local families who feel threatened by a lack of housing opportunities in Yellow Springs.

“We say we want affordability, but for who?” Thomas asked. “My daughter just started the youth soccer program and she is one of the few Brown kids. If we’re trying to make Yellow Springs equitable, who is that for?”

Following those and other community comments, the debate among board members intensified. Noting that a collateral lien has been placed on the district-owned Morgan Fields land against the bond issue for the district’s track and athletic stadium  improvements project, board members discussed the fact that they would need to consult with legal counsel on the possibility of removing that lien to move forward. Consulting with legal counsel would require the district to pay a fee of around $10,000, Treasurer Jacob McGrath said. Board members Dorothée Bouquet, Potter and Bailey, as well as the treasurer, insisted that under no circumstances should the district spend its money on any exploration into the viability of Home, Inc.’s proposal or any attendant legal fees.

“School districts cannot spend funds on noneducational items,” Superintendent Terri Holden reminded the board.

At the same time, the board acknowledged that, if it were to sell the three-acre portion of the Morgan Fields and purchase additional land on which to site soccer programs moving forward, more funds would be needed to make that land usable for those programs.

“So, where is this money going to come from?” McGrath asked.

Hempfling suggested that the Village’s affordable housing fund — which currently has over $100,000 in it — would be the ideal source of funding, and expressed an intention to ask Village Council to commit to funding the legal exploration, but said she was unable to confirm that night whether Council would agree to the request.

Despite marked confusion and frustration from the board at large over their discussion, Hempfling insisted that the board come to a vote; the two “exploratory” resolutions each passed by a vote of 3–2, with board members Amy Magnus, Potter and Hempfling voting in favor, and Bouquet and Bailey against.

CBE still on the table

At the Monday, May 20, Village Council meeting, Council member Brian Housh told his colleagues and those in attendance that the Village-owned, 35-acre land known as the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, is still an option for the proposed 50-unit development.

Like the school property, the CBE received a 94 on OHFA’s opportunity index, and as such, positions Home, Inc. to subsidize a housing development on that land.

Over the course of several meetings last fall, several Council members and community members balked at the possibility of siting the development on the CBE — thus spurring Home, Inc. and other stakeholders to consider other options, such as the Morgan Soccer Fields and some privately owned farmland beyond municipal limits.

After a contentious meeting last December, Council seemingly agreed to table the CBE option owing to the restrictive qualities of the property.

As previously reported in the News, in order to accommodate housing of any kind, the CBE land would not only need to be rezoned from industrial to a planned unit development, but it is also subject to restrictive covenants that allow for only commercial uses. Presently, residential uses are contractually prohibited on the CBE.

To amend those covenants, all three occupants of the CBE land — that is, the Village of Yellow Springs, cannabis growing and processing facility Cresco Labs and Antioch University Midwest — must all be in consensus. An additional obstacle to developing housing on the CBE is utility access: the Village would need to build out electric and water lines for any residential project.

At present, approximately 20 acres on the CBE are for sale at an asking price of $2.5 million, or $125,000 per acre. While the land has been on sale for the last 10 years, local commercial Realtor Allison Moody recently became Realtor on the Village’s behalf, focusing on commercial development.

However, despite all those obstacles, Housh maintained that the CBE ought to be left in consideration for Home, Inc.’s project.

“It is not off the table,” he insisted. “It never has been. Still, we understand that there are major challenges with changing the covenants, and that not everyone likes the site because it was originally meant for commercial development.”

To overcome those covenants, Housh recommended that Council formally pen a letter to Cresco and Antioch Midwest administrations, asking them to rethink the CBE’s land restrictions.

“The ‘ask’ is already in,” Housh said of those Cresco/Antioch negotiations. “But we need to do something more formal — to get a yay or nay.”

Housh also suggested that Council authorize the maneuvering of some money from the Village’s affordable housing fund as a signal to Home, Inc. that the Village supports the 50-unit project.

Following some pushback from Council member Carmen Brown, as well as a recommendation from President Kevin Stokes to delay Council activity until a request from the school board is made, neither of Housh’s calls-to-action were adopted.

Nevertheless, Housh said that conversations between both Antioch University and Cresco are ongoing.

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