Monday, September 15, 2014

Davidson Affordable Housing: A Program in Need of Reform.

When the Town of Davidson's mandatory affordable housing ordinance comes up in conversation at town hall, it is usually accompanied by numerous self-administered pats on the back and all-knowing head nods by the program's staunch supporters. To hear some people talk, one would think this single program more than just about anything else makes Davidson, well..."Davidson".  Those same supporters are quick to its defense if anyone suggests otherwise.

An example of that defense occurred last year when the Town's Affordable Housing Coordinator, Cindy Reid, announced a series of meetings to address a program that isn't working.  At the time...
  • there was no waiting list for the mandated for-purchase units in the program, but there was one for rental - a situation the overall program currently does not effectively address.
  • the town had also been dealing with ongoing issues from the county revaluation regarding affordable housing. 
  • many houses in the program went unsold and were eligible to people not meeting the income requirements for the population the program is meant to serve.  According to data provided to aShortChronicle by the town, this number was as high as 1/3 of the all the units sold through  the program.  In the Davidson Bay development which is highly praised for its integration of the affordable housing units, only 3 of 7 for-sale affordable units had been purchased by buyers qualified by the Davidson Housing Coalition.

Still, in light of all this at that May 2013 meeting, Commissioner Connie Wessner voiced concerns about opening up discussion on the topic.   The expectation was that even talking about changes to the program would upset some in town.

In the 15 months since the announcement of the working groups, much has changed:
  • Commissioner Wessner is now former Commissioner Wessner after last fall's elections.  She was the existing program's staunchest supporter on the Town Board.
  • The town has seen its first developer-built affordable housing rental building opened.  Ironically, this building is also at Davidson Bay and has a waiting list - solid proof that rental close to transit and in town is in demand. 
  • The town is staring down a potential lawsuit over the program in general by Artisan Homes - a Davidson based developer whose very own Jay Johnstone was listed as a participant in the working groups started least  year. 

Still, facing a changed political and economic reality is difficult for some to accept.  Planning Board members Brunson Russum and John Kennedy spoke passionately at the September 9th Town Board meeting encouraging the Board to stand strong against potential legal challenges.  They followed this up with some rather aggressive comments on  They are part of a core group of affordable housing supporters who appear willing to accept just about any cost to preserve the mandatory aspects of the program.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is common sense.  At the most recent Board meeting several possible alternatives were discussed that would make the program less rigid.  They would provide alternatives the current program does not - making it more user friendly and flexible for developers.  Many of the proposed changes would also make the program more attractive to buyers.  In short, they would address the program's issues.  Here is the link to the presentation.  In general, these changes make the program less "mandatory" - for both the developers and the homeowners.

As Davidson's Affordable Housing program moves forward, the question is will common sense reforms win the day, or will those who would rather circle the wagons around a failing program prevail?

To help a program with a long history of issues, let's hope those who want to actually solve problems win out.

Bonus Observation:  aShortChronicle has received information that indicates there could eventually be multiple developers involved in future legal action against the Town - a situation that would raise the stakes even further.  If this case does eventually go to court, expect it to take the same course as the APFO litigation in recent years which eventually resulted in the Davidson ordinance being repealed.  The courts determined that the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) was essentially a tax that the Legislature did not authorize municipalities to implement.  The exact same logic could apply to Davidson's Affordable Housing ordinance which is one of only 2 mandatory ordinances in the state.  Making the program more voluntary or at least providing more options may be the only way to actually save it.  Trying to shame developers into going along with an ordinance that may eventually be determined to be illegal certainly would seem to be a less-good option. 

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