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Sylva approves zoning request for workforce housing

Sylva approves zoning request for workforce housing

Conditional zoning districts are a zoning tool which can be utilized to create unique, site-specific districts for uses or developments that may have particular benefits or impacts on both the immediate area and the community as a whole. Applicants that wish to be approved for a conditional zoning district must provide an initial master plan for the site and a zoning proposal that includes all proposed uses and standards for the conditional zoning district being proposed.

After several Sylva residents spoke in the public hearing for the zoning map amendment, Catherine Connors provided some insight on the affordable housing project.

“Someone mentioned section 8, and this is really not a section 8 project,” said Conners. “It’s really a workforce housing, more for middle income folks, teachers, police officers, firefighters and that kind of thing — folks that live here and have jobs and will be responsible for their rent. The tax credits infuse equity into the overall financial scheme and that allows the rents to be lower because there is so much equity paid for the tax credits.”

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The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits are awarded annually to state agencies. Companies like the one Connors runs can apply to receive those funds through the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency for the acquisition, rehabilitation or new construction of rental housing targeted toward lower-income households. According to Connors, that application process is highly competitive with only one in five applications being awarded each year. Usually, those successful applications tend to be awarded in metro areas. This site in Sylva has been up for funding for a development four times already without success.

“It’s harder for smaller rural places like Sylva to get an award,” said Connors. “This is the fifth time up for this site. Developers clearly know that there is a need here. The state knows there’s a need.”

Even though this site in Sylva has been applied for several times to receive funding for development, Conners believes it has a much better chance this time around. This year, the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency ranked all 100 counties in North Carolina according to housing need. Jackson County came in ninth on that list. When project applications are being considered this time around, the tie breaker will be the county’s ranking on that list.

Sites like this one on Savannah Drive are hard to find for affordable housing projects. Per the application to NCHFA, the sites must be within a certain distance of a grocery store, pharmacy, library and other amenities that residents can use. This site in Sylva scores a perfect score on the application, but so do several other sites around the state.

“If everybody has the same score the county ranking is the tiebreaker,” said Conners. “The ones that are further up will get another point in order to automatically float to the top. The ranking is based on the need for affordable housing.”

If the project is approved for funding through NCHFA, the tax credit will provide about 75% of the equity for the project. This allows the owner to offer relatively low rent, at about 40% of the area median income. For this project specifically, the company is proposing rent of $460 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, $555 for a two-bedroom apartment and $635 for a three-bedroom.

“The goal is for folks not to spend more than 30% of their income on housing,” said Conners. “I think you guys have a great chance; I’m giving it my all.”

Five Sylva residents spoke during the public hearing for the zoning map amendment and while some had concerns about the proposed development — erosion, lighting, fire safety — almost all of them tempered their comments with the understanding that Sylva and Jackson County are in dire need of more housing opportunities.

“The number one need we see is housing, besides transportation and food,” said Jennifer Harr of Cornbread and Roses. “This would be huge for Jackson County to have something that’s in this location. We have the area around it, it’s a really good spot for it.”

The application for funding for the project went off to NCHFA shortly after the Sylva board approved the zoning map amendment approval on May 11. According to Conners, the results of that application process should be released in August. If the tax credits are awarded, Conners says she would like to start the construction process by March or April of next year. Construction for a project like this generally takes about one year and Conners said that the market study they did shows the development would be fully rented out within 3 months of completion.

“I think it’ll be even faster than that,” said Conners.

The Sylva Board of Commissioners passed the zoning map amendment request unanimously.

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