Oxford’s affordable housing plan moves forward with purchase of properties

$318K in COVID-19 pandemic relief funds used to buy real estate.

Oxford’s first properties being used toward its affordable housing goal were purchased during a recent city council meeting.

Sitting since Dec. 6 was an ordinance that would authorize the purchase of real estate on 603 and 607 W. Chestnut St. in Oxford for a price of $318,000. The location includes just more than 2 acres of land and two housing units.

The resolution was passed unanimously by the three present council members as well as Mayor Bill Snavely.

During their brief discussion of the resolution, city council member David Prytherch noted how the resolution marks the beginning of Oxford’s development of affordable housing.

“This is a really big step for the city of Oxford, I mean for many years in Oxford, we’ve been talking about how important affordable housing was,” Prytherch said. “But functionally, the city was in a kind of laissez-faire strategy, we didn’t really have a strategy to make a meaningful difference in our housing market.”

Snavely agreed on the importance of the resolution.

“We talked last time about how this meets a central goal of council, which we’ve determined in addition to climate action, is economic development and housing for everybody,” Snavely said. “And these are directly related to exactly those high priorities.”

The money being used is Oxford’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package raised during the COVID-19 pandemic to help entities recover from the economic effects. Greene said Oxford’s remaining ARPA dollars must be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026.

During the city’s research on affordable housing, Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said the one option that stood out was leveraging city property and developing it into a community land trust. In doing so, the city would maintain ownership over the land and have a private developer build upon it, reducing the cost of housing to those in need. Greene described the project as a long-term goal, but one that has high potential, during the Dec. 6 City Council meeting.

“Using city-owned land to then bring in developers to develop housing is the model we’re trying to do,” Greene said. “And when you develop something called a community land trust, you can assure affordability into the future.”

While the location and the funding of the land are settled, more decisions remain. When asked about the future of the property, Greene was non-committal, stating there are “no concrete plans at this time” on what development might look like.

During the meeting, Greene was asked whether the two existing housing units on the West Chestnut Street properties would stay, Greene responded that they “may or may not be used for rental in partnership with [a] nonprofit partner that we’re going to work with.”

“In the future, we imagined that we would develop a higher density project on these two acres, but it’s going to require a lot of funding and time to kind of get that together,” Greene said. “I imagined it would be a planned development process.”

Using the community land trust ideas, Greene laid out a potential plan for the project, including a non-profit organization leading the charge on any additional funding and private development.

“There would be applications for low-income tax credits, trying to attract a private developer, looking at certain HOME funds and loans that could be used,” Greene said. “So often, to build this capital stack takes a number of years and rigorous scoring to see if you’re eligible, but our non-profit partner that we’re working on a contract with is very adept at this, this is what they do in the county, they’ve had a lot of success, and so we’re very excited to be working with them.”

In a separate interview, Greene said that the unidentified non-profit still negotiating a contract with the city wouldn’t be allowed to be unveiled for at least another month.

“I have great confidence that we will come to an agreement and have a really strong non-profit partner to help us develop this plan,” Greene said.

Also announced during the meeting was the first reading of a resolution to purchase real estate located at 100 South Elm Street and 102 South Elm Street for the price of $600,000. Since it is the first reading, councilors must wait until the next meeting to be able to vote on it.

Greene noted that the purchase of the property on South Elm Street directly adjacent to the College@Elm project would help to increase economic growth in the city.

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