Housing report to be given

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2005

New zoning regulations and stronger incentives are vital to enticing developers to build more moderately priced homes, in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, in the city.

That’s the gist of a final draft report crafted by a task force that has spent the past six months studying affordable housing issues in Suffolk. The task force is expected to unveil its recommendations to the Suffolk City Council at its Aug. 17 work session.

Housing prices are skyrocketing in Suffolk, with the average new house costing $336,400 this year, according to Jeryl Phillips, the city’s plans and policy coordinator and staff coordinator for the task force. That cost has more than doubled since 1998, when the average house cost about $129,300.

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Recommendations in the task force’s report include:

*Creating new affordable housing overlay districts, specific areas where developers would receive incentives for building on vacant lots in existing neighborhoods or rehabilitating substandard housing.

This is particularly important in some of the city’s older communities, where existing infrastructure is barely used in some cases, said local developer Mickey Garcia, a member of the task force.

*Aggressively implementing the city’s affordable housing ordinance, a policy in the city’s Unified Development Ordinance that encourages developers to construct moderately-priced housing in exchange for letting them build more units than would normally be permitted in a subdivision.

If the city’s existing voluntary ordinance doesn’t begin drawing more affordable housing within the next two years, the council might consider making it mandatory, Phillips said.

&uot;The mechanism is in place,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;It’s a matter of using it.&uot;

City staffers need to be encouraging its use among developers at every stage of negotiation, Phillips said.

Task force members indicated that they would rather see it remain voluntary.

&uot;We want to do this in a way that will attract the good will of the development industry,&uot; said Councilwoman Linda T.

Johnson, who heads up the task force.

&uot;…We don’t want it to be punitive.&uot;

The city might need to go before the General Assembly to make some changes that would make it more lucrative for a developer to build more moderately-priced housing, Garcia said.

The task force’s draft report also calls for streamlining the building-permit process, making what now requires repeated trips to various city office become a &uot;one-stop shop,&uot; and limiting the resale prices on homes that are built to be affordable.