Affordable housing: Plans for subsidized apartment complex draw opposition

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A community meeting to address Powell’s need for more affordable housing may have generated more questions than answers, as local rental property owners voiced their concerns over a proposed apartment project that would be subsidized with tax credits.

The nonprofit Wyoming Housing Network — owners of the Ironwood Apartments on East Seventh Street — hosted an informational meeting earlier this month to discuss tentative plans for a $2.7 million, 12-unit apartment building located near Absaroka Street and Seventh Street. About 20 residents attended the meeting at The Commons Sept. 14, including several area landlords who questioned the need for more housing.

On hand representing the WHN was Executive Director Jim Grenfell and Real Estate Development Director Jim Hatfield. Hatfield said the proposed project would be similar in conceptual design to the Ironwood Apartments. It would be located in what’s become known as the Cason Addition, a parcel of land recently annexed into the city.

“We’re still tweaking what the elevations will look like,” Hatfield said. “But it will be a two-story building with six units up and six units down. We think, from a location standpoint, it’s contextual with the buildings surrounding it. There’s an apartment complex directly to the south, one directly to the west and the college slightly to the northwest of the site.”

The building would consist of two three-bedroom units, six two-bedroom units and four one-bedroom units. Hatfield said that, like the Ironwood Apartments, the new building would be soundly built and aesthetically pleasing.

“Frankly, at the end of the day, it will be a place people will be proud to call home when they drive into the parking lot every day,” Hatfield said.

When the meeting was opened up to questions and comments, the feedback ranged from concern to incredulity. Some rental property owners questioned WHN’s data about the need for more affordable housing, saying their rentals currently sit unoccupied. One landlord said he was “shocked” to hear that someone thinks there’s a need for more affordable housing.

Grenfell said the WHN visited Powell about six months ago and spoke with city officials about the housing issue.

“The constant comment we heard is, ‘We need more housing; people are coming here to Powell,’” he explained. “That’s when we took our steps to start securing land and pay for a market study to get hard data to prove that there’s a need.”

For some rental owners, however, the numbers just don’t add up.

“Our rentals, from what we used to have two or three years ago since your units have gone into town, we used to be pretty full most of the time,” said rental owner Andrew Griffin. “But three months ago, everybody I know had three and four vacancies in their rentals. I don’t know how you derive your data or where it comes from, but from on the ground and seeing what it is, rentals are much harder to fill than they were before ... We’re competing with it, no matter how you lay it out. Our rents in Powell are not out of line. Believe me, if this was needed in Powell, it would already be done.”

Moving forward, Grenfell said the WHN will take the information gathered at the meeting and pair it with the market study. The WHN plans to submit an application to the Wyoming Community Development Alliance for tax credit funding this week. The WCDA Board of Directors would then vote on the tax credits in January, Grenfell said.

Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, said she thinks submitting an application at this time would be premature.

“I thought it was early in the process, so I was quite surprised to hear they were submitting an application Sept. 28 [Thursday],” Bekes said. “That part was disappointing to me, because ‘early in the process’ was a little misleading; submitting an application Sept. 28 did not feel early to me.”

Bekes said there’s room for more community conversation on the matter and the meeting just scratched the surface.

“There was nothing about the meeting that convinced me we need more low-income housing,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that we don’t, though, because we might. If there is a need, we need to make that happen. ... I just didn’t get that feel [at the meeting]. There wasn’t anything concrete I could hold on to. However, I absolutely support more community conversations around it. I think there needs to be a little more outreach.”

For his part, Hatfield said the meeting was a positive one. He was pleased with the turnout and the feedback.

“There were some concerns from a few residents who are looking out for their [businesses] and their investments and saw this as additional competition,” Hatfield said. “That is not an insignificant concern, and one that we certainly take seriously.”

He was encouraged that the location for the proposed project wasn’t a concern; rather most of the issues raised dealt with what is seen as unfair competition due to the subsidized nature of the project.

“There’s not much we can do about the unfair nature of it, that’s really a policy issue we can’t control,” Hatfield said. “We have our market study and our data, and we own a project in Powell today that has had great success. We have a wait list for a handful of units there. We take our data and they have theirs.”

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