City of Oxford to explore expanding housing options

Oxford plans to help those at risk of homelessness by securing shelter space, rent and utility assistance.

Led by assistant city manager Jessica Greene, Oxford officials say the City stepping up efforts to increase housing.

Greene said housing has been a long-time priority for Oxford; it was one of the top goals for 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic sidetracked efforts. One of the biggest problems in their way was generating enough funds.

However, once cities started receiving federal funding from American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars, Greene said she felt there was an opportunity.

“It takes a lot of money to do housing development,” Greene said. “So how do we move the needle forward? What can we do? The availability of ARPA dollars gives us leverage that we haven’t had before.”

Greene’s proposal was presented to City Council on Nov. 1 and was unanimously approved, to work toward increasing the capacity of affordable housing.

Greene’s plan is two-pronged: a short-term solution until 2024, and a long-term one for 2024 and beyond.

This year and into 2023, Oxford plans to help those at risk of homelessness by working with a non-profit to secure shelter space, rent, and utility assistance.

In the past, that non-profit has mainly been the Family Resource Center (FRC) located in Oxford. However, an increase in cases and a decrease in available workers has made staying with them tough for Oxford.

Greene said the FRC is a “tremendous partner,” but being able to stabilize their organization would help further.

“Family Resource Center recently lost their director and then another case manager and so it takes humans to do this work,” Greene said. “...But they’re going through a leadership transition, and so we have to kind of get through that before we can do other things.”

Oxford plans on using $50,000 from ARPA money for housing case management, which includes 4 months of operating the Budget Inn hotel as a cold shelter and 8 months of working with local and county resources to help the homeless find housing. Oxford expects another $50,000 to be raised from various community groups.

Greene’s long-term solution is to build a mixed-income housing development.

“The other branch is to work in our communities to develop more affordable housing,” Greene said. “This is broader, developing more quantity of housing that our workforce in our community can live in. We really want people who work in Oxford to be able to live in Oxford.”

Currently, Greene said the city is in the early stages of research on this project.

“...We’re kind of in the early planning phases of what we hope we can achieve,” Greene said. “And the next step will be to identify locations and then see if we can invite a developer in to help us achieve these projects.”

While plans are subject to change, Greene’s plan includes building a permanent supportive housing project, which would include six units at a total estimated cost of $300,000, however, more research will be done to finalize a price. Each unit occupied will have a case manager who helps to check in and support residents, as well as help them find independent affordable housing.

Affordable housing will be considered in a mixed-income development, with a soft goal of creating 100 new units of affordable housing.

“It does feel like it’s time for us to start taking action and the benefit of the American Rescue Plan dollars, one of the most allowable uses and encouraged uses is affordable housing,” Greene said, “We feel like we have an opportunity to use those dollars to make an impact.”

Greene said ARPA funds will need to be used by 2026 at the latest.

“This is a once-in-a-generational opportunity with ARPA dollars to make an impact in our community and housing,” Greene said. “And we’re trying to do the most responsible long-term and most beneficial use of those dollars.

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