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Despite snag, Northcott work on track

Northcott
Aug. 05, 2013 @ 11:36 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A wide-ranging plan to build modern affordable housing units in Huntington's Fairfield West neighborhood has suffered what officials are calling a minor setback.

The complication stems from the Housing Development Corp., a private, nonprofit organization that works with the Huntington Housing Authority, not getting housing tax credits to build a 40-unit senior townhouse complex known as Huntington Gardens in the 1600 block of Doulton Avenue. It is the second consecutive year that the West Virginia Housing Development Fund has turned down the Housing Development Corp. for low-income housing tax credits.

The townhouse project is part of a plan to replace the aging Northcott Court, a 129-unit, barracks-style complex built in the 1940s. Despite the delay with receiving tax credits, the Housing Authority hopes to move forward with demolishing the first 30 units at Northcott Court that face Hal Greer Boulevard this fall. Tenants in those units will have moving expenses paid for and will have the option of moving into other public-housing units or accepting a housing voucher and moving into a private unit.

"We want to show the city we are extremely serious about demolishing Northcott Court and giving low-income residents of this community better housing options," said Larry Ellis, director of development for the Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority appears to have finally received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to tear down Northcott Court. The application was submitted more than a year ago, Ellis said. The agency sent the Housing Authority an approval letter last week, but it contained incomplete information, he said.

"It was a form letter that mixed and matched information about us with a housing authority in Texas," Ellis said. "It was clerical errors more than anything. We've sent the letter back asking them to verify our approval, but it looks like we're in good shape."

The Housing Authority's plan is to build two, 40-unit senior townhouse complexes and 50 family-based units throughout Fairfield West to replace the units at Northcott Court. It originally planned to build the senior townhouse complexes on the Northcott property, but city officials convinced the Housing Authority to build them elsewhere. The four acres of Northcott property now will be used for commercial purposes. Residents have requested that the Housing Authority try to lure a grocery store to the property.

Officials say the redevelopment plan will redefine an area that has been plagued by crime and give a facelift to one of the main arteries into the downtown.

George Gannon, communications manager for the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, said 30 projects totaling $13.9 million were vying for $3.4 million in low-income housing tax credits this year. Gannon did not know the amount requested by the Housing Development Corp. to build the senior townhouse complex, but it would have generated about $4.5 million in equity for property costs.

"This is a very sought after, very competitive program," Gannon said.

The federal subsidy program spurs the private market to invest in affordable rental housing. Developers are awarded federal tax credits for qualified projects. The developers use the credits to raise capital by selling them to investors, which allows the developers to reduce their debts and offer units at more affordable rents.

David Plants, chairman of the Housing Authority, said low-income housing tax credits are the only way that the agency can build new affordable rental housing.

"It's not possible to do this project through conventional financing," he said. "We would have to come up with a lot of money up front and finance the rest over a long period of time, yet we would also have to worry about keeping rents low enough to serve the people that we're building them for. It just wouldn't cash flow."

Plants noted that the senior townhouse complex was initially approved for tax credits last year, but the West Virginia Housing Development Fund rescinded the tax credits after the Housing Development Corp. changed the location of the project to the 1600 block of Doulton Avenue.

"My understanding is we scored very high again this year and we didn't have any deficiencies with our application, but there were more proposals than normal this year and some of those scored higher than ours," Plants said. "They gave additional points to projects in counties that have never done a low-income housing tax credit project before as a way to spur development in those counties."

The Housing Development Fund approved eight family-and elderly-based projects in Gilmer, Kanawha, Marion, Mineral, Ohio, Putnam, Wayne and Wood counties. The project in Wayne County is for rehabilitation of the James H. Booton Memorial Apartments.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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