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Submitted by on 1, August 5, 2008 – 7:45 amNo Comment

The furor over Warmington Homes’ request to move low-income housing it was supposed to build into its planned Grand Marina development to another site has exposed some sad and complicated truths about efforts to create developments that provide home ownership opportunities for all, regardless of income level.

To recap, the Planning Board agreed on June 23 to certify the former Island High site as a place where affordable housing could be built, the first step toward allowing Warmington to move five homes for low- and very-low income families out of Grand Marina in exchange for at least nine units of rental housing for school district employees at those income levels. Warmington’s architect subsequently floated the idea of putting as many as 36 rental units on the site, which didn’t sit too well with the neighbors.

Tonight the City Council and one of its alter egos, the Community Improvement Commission, are slated to take the next step in the process by okaying their affordable housing agreement with Warmington with the change in place – provided a whole list of other things, like getting the OK of the school district, take place.

City staff has argued for the switch, saying it would provide more affordable housing than the original plan (and Warmington is willing to pay for anything they can’t get grants for, which would save us a few bucks). And they say there’s no point creating for-sale homes for people at the lowest income levels because they won’t be able to get mortgages, and if they can, they won’t have the money to maintain the homes anyway.

To be honest, we were prepared to stomp all over these statements for their callousness alone. But the unfortunate reality is that there may be some truth to them. Even affordable housing advocates are saying that ownership can become a burden for lower-income people instead of a boon, due in large part to the costs of maintaining a home. For a variety of reasons, it’s not really the piggy bank that most of us hope our own homes will be. This is what folks were saying back in 2003. Five years down the line, we all know how much harder things have gotten.

All that said, we will admit some concern over the Pandora’s Box this agreement opens – if this is the deal we give every developer that doesn’t feel like building homes for lower-income people into their developments, then why endure the essentially false notion of an inclusionary housing ordinance?

Then again, we’re looking around and asking ourselves when the hell this thing has ever been used. Look at Bayport as an example. It’s got some homes for families with moderate incomes – or 80 percent of what is a pretty hefty area median – and then the lower-income housing is concentrated in the Breakers complex on the edge of the development.

In the meantime, the neighbors are all over this thing, and we’re hopeful that this will lead to a development that is appropriate both in scale and quality. If it happens.

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