Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hailey begins repeal of housing law

Authority looks elsewhere for future stock of affordable housing

Express Staff Writer

Hailey's five-year experiment in enforcing affordable housing laws is coming to an end.

At the request of City Attorney Ned Williamson, the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission took the first steps last week to repeal selected portions of the city's subdivision ordinance. The ordinance has required developers to build deed-restricted "community housing" when building five or more units.

"This is one tool that will no longer be available to the city to increase the amount of community housing," said Blaine County Housing Authority Executive Administrator Kathy Grotto.

However, she said the city needs to increase its stock of affordable dwellings.

Williamson initiated the repeal because several Idaho district courts have ruled that similar "inclusionary" community-housing requirements, as part of a subdivision ordinance, are illegal.

The community-housing requirements, put in place in 2005, called for 20 percent of housing units built in subdivisions with five or more units to be sold as deed-restricted community housing. Developers were given a 20 percent increase in density allowances to offset the requirement.

The city has 13 completed community-housing units. Seven are owned and six are being rented until they sell. Eight of the units are income-restricted. Five are workforce deed-restricted and limited to the local workforce.

The community-housing requirements were implemented against the protests of developers who said the law would decrease their ability to be profitable. Now that the housing bubble has burst, many people question whether affordability is still an issue in the housing market.

But community-housing advocates, including Grotto and Planning Director Beth Robrahn, say the need for deed-restricted housing still exists. Grotto said two opportunities remain for the city to use to achieve that—the planned-unit development process and annexations.

During the planned-unit development process, the city can grant developers increased densities and lot sizes, decreased parking requirements and other allowances in exchange for building community-housing units.

"Annexations are also important," Grotto said. "When the city annexes land, it can require anything it needs to from a developer, including community housing."

The nonprofit ARCH Community Housing Trust has two community-housing units underway in Hailey. ARCH relies on state and federal funding and grants to build community housing.

A recent request by ARCH to waive building permit fees associated with new community housing units in Hailey was denied by the Hailey City Council.

Tony Evans:

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