Housing committee members review Census tracts

Real estate executive Bill Temple (left) and developer Walt Busby scan a map of five qualified Census tracts where American Rescue Plan Act funds definitely can be used.

Rome Housing Committee members gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a draft application form for residential developers seeking new construction incentives.

The city has earmarked $1 million from its American Rescue Plan Act grant for the incentives, aimed at boosting the stock of affordable housing. However, until the final rules are released, it’s still unclear what properties will qualify for use of the federal funds.

Community Development Director Bekki Fox said her reading of the preliminary rules indicates the money can be used only in five low-income Census tracts.

“The key to designating any additional areas outside of qualified Census tracts which have already preapproved is the ability to prove it is an area where the people who live there have been disproportionately affected by COVID,” Fox said.

She also said plans to offset the cost of running water and sewer lines to new homes may be off the table, unless it is in one of those Census tracts.

However, City Manager Sammy Rich said the initiative would still move forward.

“That may help us to focus on redevelopment or infill,” he said.

Committee members said they want to keep the application process as simple as possible.

Fox and Rich both made it clear that builders could only be reimbursed after a project is completed and sold.

Only homes sold for $250,000 or less, or rented at no more than $1,200 a month are eligible. Reimbursements range from $2,500 up to $6,000 per unit, depending on the project.

Applications for the incentives would be encumbered on a first come-first serve basis — which could lead to some juggling.

For example, a 100-lot single family home subdivision would eat up $600,000 in cash incentives, plus another $340,000 for waiving water and sewer tap fees. The one project would potentially eat up most of the $1 million earmark.

Still, the reimbursement would take place on a per unit basis as each home was sold. And the launch of the program will be a good gauge of interest.

“If it works, I don’t think it’s a big challenge to go back and ask for more money,” Rich said.

The city has already received $5.7 million from the ARPA and expects to receive a similar amount in 2022.

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