Craig City Council considers code revision to support affordable housing projects
Craig is poised to update several municipal building codes with local official hoping to secure more grant money to incentivize a local affordable housing project.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, City Council members approved on first reading a series of proposed building code changes that would codify details about secondary dwelling units and affordable housing projects not currently addressed in the city’s building codes.
The city’s planning department worked with Ayers and Associates — which was contracted to conduct an audit of the city building codes — to identify code revisions that would incentivize affordable housing, while still allowing for functional building regulations that are acceptable for the community.
The city is looking to secure a $1.5 million Department of Local Affairs grant that could be applied to infrastructure improvements for affordable housing. The city plans to combine the DOLA funding with other grant money that’s already been received.
There are certain qualifying strategies the city must meet in order to be eligible for the DOLA grant including incorporating language in the land-use code that outlines affordable housing strategies. One of the specific criteria is to have codes in place that add flexibility for affordable housing.
“We are trying to facilitate a fairly wide range on (eligible) incomes, but mostly trying to target the workforce demographic at this time,” Building Official Marlin Eckhoff explained in a memo to City Council.
The proposed revisions define the target income as 80% of the area median income for affordable rental units and 140% of the area median income for affordable sale units. Incomes would be adjusted according to family size, and a rent or mortgage payment should represent less than 30% of the family’s gross income.
The updates also define an affordable housing project as having 75% of the gross acreage to be developed as residential dwelling units or mobile home spaces, and at least 10% of the units should be available for affordable housing.
Some council members were concerned that the income and rent restrictions would put projects in a low-income housing category, but City Manager Peter Brixius assured them that the projects the city is working on are workforce housing.
“They won’t accommodate a 30% AMI because you would need too much gap funding to actually fund a project like that,” Brixius said. “We need to have AMIs that are approaching 80% for rentals in order to pay for the project and cover potential debt service. You won’t get that if you drop the AMI down.”
According to Brixius, the accounting wouldn’t work for affordable housing projects to serve low-income or Section 8 Housing residents, as the rental revenue wouldn’t sustain the project cost.
Depending on the funding that comes in, the projects the city is looking to support would produce houses that families in the 120-140% AMI range could qualify to purchase.
If a developer were interested in building a low-income or Section 8 housing project that would serve families with 30% AMI, the project would require a partnership with the City Housing Authority or a local public agency.
In addition to updating definitions of affordable housing projects and income ranges, the city’s changes also include affordable housing as a qualifying benefit for a planned development project. This would allow City Council to consider whether an affordable housing project is enough of a benefit to the city to grant some flexibility on certain codes such as parking, lot size or setbacks.
Eckhoff explained that allowing some flexibility on affordable housing projects doesn’t set a precedent for other developers. Rather, he said it helps ensure that future affordable housing projects are high quality and appealing.
The code revisions include definitions for what constitutes a secondary dwelling unit and where those units are allowed. The city has historically allowed secondary units in medium- and high-density residential zones — or anywhere that duplexes are allowed — but the code didn’t have any written guidelines. With the revisions, City Council could also grant a conditional-use permit for a secondary dwelling unit in a low density zone.
Eckhoff said the department gets interest in secondary dwelling units from time to time but he doesn’t know how common they are going to be. However, secondary dwelling units were one of the criteria for affordable housing, and other communities have used the units as a part of their affordable housing plans.
Craig will need an invitation to apply for the DOLA grant, which would come in January. City officials anticipate the efforts will open up opportunities for additional funding sources.
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