- Infill and redevelopment of the Housing Authority property.
- Relocation of Housing Authority residences into the neighborhood units.
- More efficient and effective utilization of waterfront property.
- Restored natural functions where possible.
The Crisfield Housing Authority (CHA) operates a large public housing project that was built between the 1960s and the 1980s to provide housing for the seafood industry work force. The project’s residential units and administrative facilities occupy 55 acres of land within the City (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Crisfield Housing Authority (in blue). [Click on figure for a larger image.]
The housing project provides much-needed subsidized housing for the local population, however the facilities are old and in need of maintenance and modernization. The outmoded design and dense concentration of these housing units are problems for the City, because they require extensive maintenance and public services from an already overloaded municipal system, yet provide minimal property tax return. The large number of public housing units is far higher than a city of Crisfield’s size can support. The Crisfield Housing Authority manages 330 units, which represents 24 percent of all housing units and 28 percent of all occupied housing units in the City.
The current conditions in the Housing Authority project do not adequately serve the needs of the residents and the City. All of the following conditions in public housing do not necessarily describe the Crisfield Housing Authority situation, but many do and the danger that more will apply in time is a real concern for City officials.
“Public housing was originally intended to provide decent and affordable accommodations for low-wage workers and other families for whom market rents were out of reach. But by the end of the 1980s, public housing was widely viewed as a failure. Although many local housing agencies maintained and operated high-quality programs, living conditions in the nation’s most dilapidated public housing developments were deplorable, and a complex layering of problems left these developments mired in the most destructive kind of poverty (Blank 1997). These problems included extreme racial and economic segregation and inadequate public services, particularly police, schools, and sanitation. Most residents were unemployed, depending on public assistance or the underground economy (Popkin, Gwiasda et al. 2000). Ineffective housing authority management and inadequate federal funding had left these developments with huge backlogs of repairs, creating hazardous conditions that placed residents at risk for injury or disease. Exacerbating these problems, violent criminals and drug dealers dominated many distressed developments, and residents lived in constant fear. These developments had become dangerous and destructive communities in which to live, undermining the welfare of families and children. Moreover, their profound poverty, distress, and disorder blighted surrounding neighborhoods, which though typically less poor than the public housing, still had very high rates of poverty, unemployment, high school dropouts, crime, and other social ills, few services or stores, and even fewer jobs.” (A DECADE OF HOPE VI: Research Findings and Policy Challenges, Susan J. Popkin, Bruce Katz, Mary K. Cunningham, Karen D. Brown, Jeremy Gustafson, and Margery A. Turner, The Urban Institute, The Brookings Institution May 2004)
The Housing Authority units form an isolated enclave within the City. “A grid system is largely in place except for the Crisfield Housing Authority property. The public housing community appears to be physically detached from the City at large.” (Pg 24, City of Crisfield Comprehensive Plan 2006)
Concept Master Plan
Considering the size and location of the Housing Authority properties relative to Uptown, Downtown and Somers Cove Marina, the Housing Authority land presents opportunities for redevelopment that could benefit both the Authority’s clients and the City’s economy. Capitalizing on these opportunities will require changes in the way the City addresses affordable housing issues.
Figure 2 Crisfield Housing Authority Redevelopment Concept [Click on figure of a larger image]
In future housing planning, The Comprehensive Plan recommends that the CHA, the City, and developers avoid creating concentrations of poverty by mixing housing units together across the spectrum of affordability. (pg 43, City of Crisfield Comprehensive Plan 2006) The Comprehensive Plan recommendation follows on the U.S. Congress’s model for public housing projects. In 1992, Congress authorized a new program called Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE VI. Through HOPE VI, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) called for the rebuilding of severely distressed public housing with some specific goals:
- Lessen isolation and reduce the concentration of very low-income families.
- Build mixed-income communities.
- Revitalize the sites of severely distressed public housing and, as a result, improve the surrounding neighborhood.
- Provide coordinated, comprehensive community and supportive services that help residents to achieve self-sufficiency, young people to attain educational excellence, and the community to secure a desirable quality of life.
The SRP recommendations reflect the design principles for accomplishing these community-building goals from the HOPE VI program. Principles for inner-city design in HOPE VI projects that are illustrated in the SRP include:
- Diversity: A broad range of housing types and prices will bring people of diverse ages, races and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.
- Safety and civic engagement: The relationship of buildings and streets should enable neighbors to create a safe neighborhood by providing “eyes on the street” and should encourage interaction and community identity.
- Neighborhoods: Neighborhoods should be compact, with shops, schools, parks and other activities of daily life available within walking distance.
- Local architectural character: The image and character of new development should respond to the best architectural traditions in the area.
- Streets and public open space: Neighborhoods should have an interconnected network of streets and public open spaces to provide opportunities for recreation and appropriate settings for civic activities.
Short-Term Actions (Present – 2 Years)
- Expand the role of the CHA as the lead agency for affordable housing programs such as those described in Task 4.11 Affordable Housing.
- Develop and issue an RFQ/RFP to redevelop the CHA property with a combination of market rate and subsidized housing units before demolition occurs.
- 50-70 percent of existing public housing units should be replaced with new units and renovated housing in the community. This will improve the quality and condition of subsidized units and at the same time prevent clustering and isolation of public housing.
- Form a partnership with a developer and redevelop the CHA property to generate funds for the replacement units.
The Crisfield Housing Authority will have primary responsibility to
- Reduce total number of units through attrition.
- Shift some tenants to Section 8 program in “voluntary conversion” from public housing to tenant-based vouchers.
- Create an RFP and find a developer to build new replacement units.
The situation is complicated and the solution will probably involve some combination of several different financial tools.
Although the developer would pay market price for the site, some of the sales proceeds would probably need to be put into the replacement housing to cover any gap between what is covered by tax credits and replacement housing factor funds. Since replacement housing factor funds are paid in over 10 years, the CHA would need to borrow against them through a Capital Fund Financing Program, also through HUD, or CHA could bridge them with sales proceeds. The developer could then develop market rate housing on the site and some of the new units could be sold or rented to qualified public housing residents. Their mortgages would be based on their incomes (not more than 35% generally), and sales proceeds would be used to write down the market price, with the authority taking back a “silent second mortgage”.
HUD replacement housing funds: HUD has some funds to replace public housing units but they would probably represent just a fraction (20-30%) of the replacement cost. When a Housing Authority takes units “out of service”, (i.e., out from under an Annual Contributions Contract (“ACC”)), HUD will make payments called replacement housing factor funds, annually for five years, roughly equivalent to capital funds (even though the units are no longer there). The authority may request an additional five years of funding, and would have to meet certain tests, such as having already spent the first funds, and meeting a match (approximately 20%). If the CHA were to seek these funds for all 330 units, and with a maximum RFF payment of $1,500 per unit per year for 10 years, this would yield about $5 million. Assuming a per unit construction cost of $140,000 for each new unit, the $5 million
would support construction of roughly 36 units.
Section 8 vouchers: under this program housing owners sign a Housing Payment Assistance contract with the local Housing Authority. The CHA would pay the difference between market rent and 30% of tenant income. There are two ways to use the Section 8 program:
HUD will provide vouchers for disposed units that are occupied, on a one-for-one basis. However, there must be acceptable rental units available in the area. The process can be “voluntary” or “mandatory.”
“Project-based Section 8 vouchers:” a Housing Authority can take up to 25% of its housing vouchers (of its 23 it could use 5 or 6) and attach that value to the cost of a new development; for elderly housing, the percentage can go up to 100%.
Tax credits: this IRS program operates through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). It is “complicated but generous,” and can be combined with other programs and subsidies. There are two levels of credit. The 4% program is available by right, provided that the applicant meets threshold point requirements. The 9% program is very competitive.