Housing hearing draws vocal opposition

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A housing development representative was unable to convince anervous and hostile crowd of Brookhaven residents to support a120-unit community housing project in their neighborhood Monday atthe Lincoln County-Brookhaven Multi-Purpose Building.

Jackson Place Ltd., a consortium of Alabama real estateinvestors and developers, intends to apply for housing tax creditsto construct 120 apartment units near the intersection ofIndustrial Park Road and North Jackson Street. Housing tax creditsare given to investors for money invested in public housingventures.

The proposed complex would consist of a mix of one-story andtwo-story housing units, a swimming pool and a clubhouse, whichincludes a kitchen, activities room and management staffoffice.

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“This is not a federal subsidy program,” said Peggy Messervy, aspokesman for Housing Investors, Inc., a member of the JacksonPlace Ltd. consortium.

Messervy said the development would not benefit from federalfunding in either the construction or operational stages. Althoughthe apartments are designed for low income families, renters wouldnot be able to apply for federal Housing and Urban Developmentsubsidies to lower their rent costs.

“They will be set. It will not vary from individual toindividual,” she said about rent amounts.

However, Messervy said rents could be lowered by the companybased on a formula that includes socioeconomic figures. Rents wouldbe set at 60 percent of the median income for the area.

The representative cited HUD figures from 2006 as placing thecounty’s median income at $39,400. Based on those figures, she saidthe rent for a two-person apartment would be approximately $472.50a month.

However, several of the approximately 150 people in attendancedisputed Messervy’s figures on the median income level forBrookhaven. The speakers claimed the level was much lower.

A resident also cited HUD regulations that stated in order toqualify for housing tax credits, 40 percent of the units must berented to low income families.

In many cases, a resident said, low income housing units tend toexpand well beyond their intended occupancy, with extended familymembers also moving into the unit.

Messervy said that would not happen because the complex wouldhave a site manager. A security officer would even be hired, ifnecessary.

Many of the residents questioned whether the investors wouldcontinue to operate the development through the years. Severalvoiced their concerns the complex would be sold in the near futureand the new owners would seek federal housing subsidies.

Messervy assured them that could not happen. Federal subsidiesare not allowed under the housing tax credit program andMississippi mandates a minimum compliance period of 30 years. Thatcontract is binding, even should the complex be sold.

“We have also opted for the additional 10-year period, so thatmeans we would be required to maintain it for 40 years,” shesaid.

In response to a question about whether she had visited otherhousing tax credit complexes in Brookhaven, Messervy said residentsshould not be worried about the appearance of the development.

“Some of the problems you see with other facilities, I wouldventure to guess, have to do with management,” she said.

However, if it remained a concern, the investors were open tosuggestions on how to landscape the exterior edges of the propertyto screen it from adjoining neighborhoods, Messervy said.

The investors have not committed to the project, she said, andlittle has been done other than contracting the land and hostingthe public hearing to gauge residents’ reactions.

Messervy’s comments failed to convert upset Brookhavenresidents, whose primary concern was how the development wouldimpact their property values in the neighborhood.

“I have seen many of these projects and in 10 years they’re alltrash,” said one resident, who added he intends to sell hisproperty in the near future and wants to get the most valuepossible from it.

Messervy admitted the project would likely not benefitlandowners, “but I don’t see that it would be a detriment,either.”

Other residents expressed concern that development at the sitewould have a negative effect on drainage, which is already an issuefor many. They said they didn’t want development at the site topush more water on their property.

“It drains that whole area up in there. It’s like a smallriver,” a resident said.

Another resident expected that assertion to be demonstrated inthe near future.

“It’s supposed to rain here Monday and Tuesday,” she said. “Whydon’t you come back Thursday and stand in your pool?”

The entrance to the complex would be built on Industrial ParkRoad, Messervy said, and developers would maintain both it and theroads in the development.

The statement drew more ire from some residents, who worriedabout traffic congestion.

“Am I hearing you would prefer it not be on Industrial (ParkRoad)?,” Messervy asked.

“No, we would prefer it be in Alabama,” a resident retorted.

Development opponent Helen Walters drew loud applause at theconclusion of the meeting when she said, “I think I can speak foreveryone when I say we don’t want this.”