April 08, 2020

Belfast panel to explore affordable-housing issue

BELFAST – With city real estate prices on the rise and finding an affordable place to live becoming more difficult, the City Council on Tuesday voted to create an affordable-housing committee to assess the situation.

The vote to form the panel was unanimous, and council members and other city officials will nominate a slate of appointees when the council meets again in two weeks.

City Manager Terry St. Peter recommended the formation of the committee in this week’s manager’s report to the council.

“For some time now, there has been occasional chatter about the need of work force affordable housing and whether the city should establish a committee to look at that,” St. Peter informed the council. “I have not thought there was much the city could do, but I have been rethinking that matter.”

St. Peter said the housing issue was one of many topics of discussion he engaged in when he attended a city managers conference in Texas last month. He said he began to think of the issue “more creatively” after discussing the matter with managers from around the country.

He suggested that Planning Director Wayne Marshall should play a key role in the formation of the committee as well as work closely with it once it begins holding meetings.

He said the committee should attempt to determine whether there is a need for affordable work force housing, where the need is the greatest, what kind of housing would best respond to the city’s demographics, how to establish income guidelines and where the housing should be located.

St. Peter said the committee would need to decide whether singles, couples -with or without children – or middle-aged professionals were the population that needed to be addressed. He also said the committee would need to focus on whether the investments should be made in one-bedroom, two-bedroom, multiunit apartment houses or duplexes. It also should consider zoning changes and grant programs to encourage new housing in the city.

“This methodical approach, of course, would lay the foundation to address housing needs more appropriately than simply seeking housing developers to submit proposals,” he said. “There are also possibilities for some grant money, if the city approached the matter with serious planning.”

St. Peter recommended that the committee consist of seven to nine people, including representatives from the planning board, comprehensive plan committee and council as well as real estate professionals, landlords and perhaps low-income agency representatives.

“If you are interested in pursuing this, we should embark on it fairly soon, however, since at least one known grant opportunity deadline is around the first of next year,” St. Peter advised the council.

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