Housing need is great and urgent

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 12, 2005

The price of an average new home in Suffolk has skyrocketed o $336,400 – far out of reach of many city residents. And with the housing market continuing to burn red hot, the market is providing builders with few incentives to build more moderately priced homes.

It’s an urgent problem and one that could put the brakes on economic development in Suffolk. Large companies need workers and workers need affordable places to live. In Suffolk today, such places are in short supply and its getting shorter.

A final draft report by the city’s affordable housing task force released Wednesday could ease the situation and we urge city council to move swiftly on implementing its recommendations when it is presented at the Aug. 17 meeting.

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In a nutshell, the report calls for new zoning regulations and stronger incentives to entice developers to build more moderately priced homes, those in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.

Among the report’s recommendations:

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

Aggressively implementing the city’s affordable housing ordinance, a policy in the 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 standard subdivision.

Task force members hinted that the city’s voluntary ordinance could be made mandatory if it doesn’t start attracting more affordable housing within two years.

While we understand the desire to stay on good terms with developers and applaud task force members for their recommendations, we fear two years could be too long to wait. The situation is such that it demands immediate action. Suffolk can’t afford to wait two years and hope for the best. The need is there now and any ordinance adopted needs to address it now.