Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Fuller Discussion on “The Bricks” – Part 1

(Editorial Note: Debbie Campbell works for a financial network that funds affordable housing of various economic models throughout the country. Terry Cohen’s prior legislative advocacy efforts included programs focused on increasing economic self-sufficiency of women, families and lower income individuals.)

As noted in today’s Daily Times, we are presenting a full discussion on “The Bricks” since Op-Eds have been limited to 500 words. The discussion is multi-faceted, so we were only able to touch on a few highlights in the newspaper space allowed.

Our first post on “The Bricks,” a property located at 502 E. Isabella St. (intersection with Church Street) provides some earlier background and timeline information to help citizens understand the discussions about what to do with the property and the context for later events. Because the information is extensive, additional posts will follow either today, tomorrow, or both, to make for more digestible reading.

Both of us are committed to stimulating sustainable affordable housing efforts, as demonstrated in many council discussions, such as ensuring affordable housing needs are addressed in annexation agreements. Like growth, however, how and where affordable housing is developed is critical to its success.

For example, we asked questions about zoning standards in November 2007. The issue of parking for nine apartment units still has not been properly vetted.

Prior to November 2007 – Various discussions, including administration talks with then-property owner Gee Dunsten about property donation and Cathedral of Love about making the building affordable housing (discussions as noted by then-Mayor Tilghman at November 26, 2007 legislative meeting).

November 5, 2007 – Council discusses donation of the Bricks at its work session. General discussion about City’s role in ownership, working with developers and/or non-profit agencies, and zoning questions, including setbacks and parking.

November 26, 2007 – Council unanimously passes Resolution 1598 as amended. The amendment, moved by Campbell and seconded by Cohen, stated that the City “will endeavor to partner with a housing nonprofit for renovation, management and ownership."

The amendment, which opened up options for the City to put the Bricks into an ownership opportunity for a private entity, passed with votes of support from Campbell, Cohen and Smith. Campbell and Cohen raised possibilities of working with Salisbury Neighborhood Housing (SNHS) and/or Habitat for Humanity, either to create an “incubator” for home ownership in the Church Street area or placing it in their ownership for rental or ownership opportunities. (Editorial note: ownership opportunities would include, for example, owner-occupied condo units, with or without commercial space on the first floor.)

Shields and Comegys abstained from voting for the amendment. Shields raised concerns about SNHS, and Comegys said council was there to accept a donation, not discuss what was planned for the building.

April 11, 2008 – Appraisal puts value of the Bricks, now in City ownership, at $227,000.

October 6, 2008 – The Daily Times publishes pre-council work session article, stating that then-Mayor Tilghman said the building could serve as transitional homes for first-time homebuyers who might later move into Habitat for Humanity homes.

(Note: In an email dated September 29, 2009, Assistant City Administrator stated that Habitat does not have an active role in the project. Therefore, it is speculated that individuals from the project might be eligible for home ownership through Habitat or SNHS, but there is no current plan in place nor does there appear to be any meaningful discussions yet held for encouraging that to happen.)

In our next post, we’ll start with the October 6, 2008, work session discussion. Please feel free to call us or email us with any questions using the links and contact information on the right side of this web page.