Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Davidson sends RFP for newest Affordable Housing project

On March 31st, Davidson sent out an RFP for the latest effort out of the Town Affordable Housing department - selling off 2.3 acres of prime real estate in the Bailey Springs neighborhood.

aShortChronicle has obtained a copy of the RFP and the list of RFP recipients.  It's an eye opening read.

From the RFP (emphasis added)...

"The Bailey Springs affordable housing project is the first of its kind undertaken by the Town.  The project area, as shown on Exhibit A, encompasses approximately 2.3 acres and is located in the middle of the Bailey Springs neighborhood facing Bradford Park Drive. It is less than a mile from Hough High School and within two miles of Bailey Middle School.

The foremost objective of this project is to provide high quality and attractive homes targeting households with incomes that range from 50% to 120% of the area median income.

The original vision for this property was eight bungalows, with three apartments each, for a total of 24 units.  ... The project was not eligible for low income tax credits due to its contiguity to overhead power lines, lack of public transportation, and limited access to service centers. Although the property has infrastructure to support eight bungalows, or 24 apartments, this RFP is not limited to a particular number of homes."

Two things stand out in this description.  First is the size.  The project could be rather large with the area having been previously approved for up to 24 units.  This will be additional volume to the 306 home West Branch neighborhood in the same area.  Second, the conditions which killed the previous projects still exist - particularly the lack of mass transit or service centers in the area.

The project is apparently intended to be for sale units rather than rental.  In response to a question about that point  Affordable Housing Director Cindy Reid said "the Town prefers an ownership  model because it  will be more suitable to the neighborhood."  What's interesting about this response is that the town was just recently pushing for rental affordable housing in the Bradford neighborhood just across Davidson-Concord Road.  The plan moved to for purchase units only after strong pushback from the neighborhood.

While the town is saying it prefers owner occupied units, at the same time it has told developers who received the RFP that proposals containing rentals would not be considered a "non response".

That point is definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.

But maybe the most interesting thing about this project was the list of recipients.

This wasn't broadcast far and wide which might ensure the town gets the best offer.  Instead the list of RFP recipients includes several local names.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Two names stood out.

Jay Johnstone with Artisan Homes was on the list.  That’s interesting considering Johnstone was involved in the 2014 lawsuit challenging the town's affordable housing ordinance.

In this piece from the Lake Norman Citizen it said Johnstone's firm would “challenge the legality of the Town of Davidson’s Affordable Housing Ordinance” unless the town waives affordable housing requirements.  Other documentation related to that lawsuit would also appear to indicate the belief the ordinance lacked "enabling legislation to support it."

Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled before trial so there was no legal judgment one way or the other.

When asked about the somewhat ironic situation of being on the short list for this RFP after the lawsuit Johnstone replied with the following.

"The lawsuit with the town was never about legalities of affordable housing. It had more to do with expediting a fair agreement for both parties involved. Ultimately the Town of Davidson and Artisan/Knox LLC agreed amicably and have discussed future projects.

We have a good relationship with the town and actually gave suggestions during negotiations as to how the affordable housing component could be implemented better."

Johnson went on to say that his firm is still assessing the Bailey Springs situation, and if the numbers work they may submit a proposal.

The other interesting name was that of Davidson  Commissioner Rodney Graham.  Yes, a sitting Commissioner received a request to seek possible business developing town owned property.

When asked how he would handle the obvious conflict of interest questions that would come up in such a situation, Graham responded with...

"I don't plan to submit a proposal, so that's an easy one.  There were a number of builders who received the RFP who I think would be much more competitive than us for this type of housing.

I'm anxious to review the proposals based on my expertise in this area, but that is the extent of our involvement."

Responses to the RFP are due back by the end of May.  They will head to the town's Affordable Housing Committee and then to the Town Board.

Affordable Housing is always a hot topic when it comes down to the brass tacks of putting it in an existing neighborhood, and this instance likely won't be any different.

Stay tuned.

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