Monday, November 2, 2009

A Fuller Discussion on “The Bricks” – Part 2

(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.)

In our previous post (below) on “The Bricks,” the Church Street area property that the City accepted as a donation, we started a timeline of what was considered in making that acceptance. Although we are both strong supporters of affordable housing, we had a variety of concerns about what was proposed by the Tilghman administration.

This is a building in need of serious rehabilitation in a neighborhood desperately in need of the stability that comes from home ownership and business. What would be its most beneficial use and using what public-private model? What would be the best use of taxpayer dollars and should any be involved? How could we limit or eliminate liability for the City?

In this installment, our timeline picks up in October 2008:

October 6, 2008 – Daily Times pre-work session article

October 6, 2008 – Work session on how to move forward with the Bricks.

Assistant City Administrator Loré Chambers did the presentation and informed us she met with Homes for America, Inc., in May of 2008 for ideas on what to do with the building. (Homes for America, Inc., is a non-profit developer of affordable housing, which has done other projects in Salisbury.)

Mrs. Chambers presented three options to council:
1. Turnkey project turned over to a developer
2. Long-term lease for a company to manage
3. Combination of one and two, similar to Mitchell Landing (the only city-owned affordable housing complex, 24 units started as new construction about 20 years ago).

She covered specifics about the condition of the building and said that the administration wanted council to approve Option 3. (NOTE: Council took no action.)

Homes for America, Inc., provided cost estimates in the range of $1.8 million. Mrs. Chambers said that a representative from the Department of Housing and Community Development had visited the site and felt it was a $2 million project. The building would have to be reconfigured in order to accommodate about 10 units.

The council still had not reached consensus about how to proceed or what the best and highest use of the property would be.

While it was good to learn the costs and ideas associated with the concept the administration was pushing, it drove the focus away from a richer discussion about options for the Bricks. Instead of considering possibilities such as a mixed use of residential and commercial, government use rolling over into private sale, selling outright to a for-profit enterprise or non-profit, etc., the discussion centered around a long-term, city-owned affordable housing complex with a price tag of $1.8 million as if it were an actual proposal.

Although we raised important issues about liability and other logistical considerations, Council President Smith asked Mrs. Chambers if the matter was time-sensitive. Mrs. Chambers said “no” but that the administration wanted to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP).

Campbell said it would be helpful to see the RFP and lease being proposed.

Council President Smith typically takes a straw vote poll to establish if consensus was reached to take a next interim step or to move something forward.

That did not happen.

Smith closed by asking the administration to get the documents back to council and said, “That’ll push it right along.”

In our next post, we’ll pick up the timeline from this point since October 6, 2008 was the last time council met to discuss the Bricks until council learned in late September 2009 that a contract to move ahead with development of “The Bricks” and two change orders had been signed by Mrs. Smith in her capacity as council president.