Tell me I’m not the only person to have donated something to the PTA Thrift Shop, then a month later bought it back.

Town Council members know the feeling. They are asked to give away affordable housing as they vote to approve redevelopment projects, then scrounge for town resources to buy affordable housing somewhere else to replace what they’ve given up. And that inefficiency makes Matt Czajkowski, for one, angry.

At last Wednesday’s council meeting, Donna Bell and Sally Greene presented the recommendations of the Mayor’s Affordable Rental Housing Task Force. One of their proposals was to donate about $4 million of town-owned land, several as-yet-unused acres of the town cemetery near the Blue Cross Blue Shield building, to a developer to build low-income apartments on. The rentals would reduce the affordable rental deficit brought about by the redevelopment of the Ephesus Church/Fordham area that would erase the 300 low-income rentals of Colony Apartments. The new owners of the 100-plus acres of which Colony Apartments is a part have stopped accepting Section 8 vouchers toward rent, and from the way town staff and the urban design consultant, and even some council members, have been heralding the massive urban renewal project, the annihilation of Colony Apartments appears to be a done deal.

Politicians can’t appear to be against affordable housing or “progress” in the form of urban renewal, so of course the affordability report was very well received by many of those on the dais. Developers will load their projects with high-end features to charge the maximum rent the market will bear, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt noted, and the report recommendations included incentives to entice developers to preserve some organically affordable rentals. Laurin Easthom asked how the town could ensure that those units would stay affordable after the town gave incentives. State law prohibits landowners from “buying” favorable zoning in exchange for providing reduced-rent housing.

When a member of the newly formed Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition charged that new owners of aging apartment complexes were taking away affordable units, Czajkowski countered that the town has allowed that to happen with every rezoning it approves that will replace affordable rentals with luxury apartments or expensive student housing.

The discussion grew impassioned as tenants and nonprofits threw in their opinions. Beneath the drama, the exchanges revealed thought-provoking questions.

If you think there are surefire easy answers, chances are your bias is showing. But the robust discussion at last week’s council meeting was a good start to seeking solutions.

Watch it at Click on Discussion Item 6: Recommendations from the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing.
– Nancy Oates

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