Summit County commissioners discuss ways to incentivize affordable housing developments
Proposed amendments to Summit County’s housing code could mean more affordable units for a wider range of the workforce.
County planners presented the amendments to commissioners during a work session meeting on Tuesday, April 5. The overarching goal of the changes are to diversify the county’s housing stock and incentivize affordable housing developers to build projects in Summit County.
Many of the changes are aimed at “low-hanging fruit,” Jessica Potter, senior planner, said. Currently, the county’s housing code limits rental rates for affordable housing units to 60% of the area median income, which amounts to a total $57,660 income for a family of four and a rent limit of $1,081 for a one-bedroom unit, according to the Summit Combined Housing Authority.
That policy allows for the county to incentivize units for very low-income people, but it does not provide much flexibility for affordable housing for middle-income people. The planners proposed increasing the limit to 100% of the area median income or $96,100 for a family of four and a rent limit of $1,802.50 per month for a one-bedroom unit.
County officials hope that increasing the income limit would incentivize developers to build more affordable housing in the county. Often developers can only afford to build units at 60% of the area median income if they are already funded by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, a federal program that gives developers tax credits for building affordable units.
“We’ve had real-life examples where private developers want to build workforce housing but the current code says they have to charge 60% (area median income) and it’s just completely untenable to do that,” Housing Director Jason Dietz said.
The commissioners would like to see that limit be raised even higher to ensure that people across the entire income spectrum benefit from affordable housing. The 100% limit includes many of the starting salaries for workforce positions, but it doesn’t give much leeway beyond that.
For example, Summit School District teachers start at 85% of the area median income, police officers with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office start at 105% of the area median income and firefighters start at 100% of the area median income. However, other professions, like nurses and paramedics, have starting salaries above the 100% and wouldn’t qualify for the housing, according to numbers presented by Commissioner Tamara Pogue. Yet they are also unlikely to be able to afford market-rate units.
“We have no upward mobility in Summit County anymore,” Pogue said. “You get into a deed-restricted home, you have to stay there because the next home is $2 million.”
The commissioners suggested increasing the limit to as high as 170% of the area median income for rental units. However, some county officials worry an area median income limit that is too high will discourage developers from building units on the lower end of the spectrum.
“If it says 170, the nature of trying to make a development and make as much of a profit out of that development is going to gear towards people doing 170 on every project proposal,” County Manager Scott Vargo said.
Vargo recommended that the commissioners and planners find a way to incentivize lower-income developments in the code. The commissioners floated the idea of having the area median income requirement be an average rather than a maximum, requiring developers to price their units so that they average out to the 100% area median income number.
The planners presented a number of other changes to the code that would add flexibility for affordable housing units. The amendments included changes to size requirements for units, streamlining the building permitting process, allowing caretaker units for affordable housing and changing parking requirements for developments.
The commissioners will continue to discuss the proposed changes and housing goals in future meetings. Pogue also asked that the planners perform another housing needs assessment to ensure that the county officials know exactly what local workers are experiencing.
“Nobody is feeling like there’s a surplus of housing,” Pogue said. “Whatever you guys come back with really needs to be framed in terms of helping developers build affordable housing for our workforce at any (area median income).”
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