Council eyes housing incentives

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — A discussion of incentives available for housing development in Sidney was discussed during Sidney City Council’s workshop session Monday.

Revisions to the downtown Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) property abatement program’s boundaries and policy, as well as an overview of other housing development incentives available, were presented by Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth and Glenn T. Grisdale, principal of the consulting firm, Reveille. Grisdale worked with the city in 2016 to update Sidney’s comprehensive plan regarding downtown revitalization, neighborhoods, land use, parks and recreation, community services and facilities and transportation. Sidney City Council revisits the plan every five years.

Dulworth told council, the CRA is one of the primary incentives currently available for housing development in Sidney. The city has five CRAs, one of which is downtown. During her overview of other housing development incentives, Dulworth said, “most are targeted to provide housing to very low- and low-income households, as well as other disadvantaged groups.”

Grisdale said the CRA program, which has been in effect in Sidney since 1994, is a direct tax incentive program in the form of real property. It provides tax exemptions, he said, for property owners who renovate existing or construct new buildings in areas that have been under-served or show signs of deterioration or disinvestment.

The program provides 100 percent tax relief for 15 years for new investments and 100 percent abatement for up to 12 years for renovated properties, he explained.

“In your downtown, like most communities, should be your primary generator of form and function and of investment, of revitalization, of getting people to spontaneously combust when they bump into each in the downtown or the riverfront,” Grisdale told council.

Grisdale pointed out several reasons to update the current plan. He noted concerns that Sidney could lose residents, businesses, and jobs; has decaying infrastructure; and a decline in the downtown, housing maintenance and disinvestment. He also pointed out that the current program, especially in the downtown area, has not been utilized properly because currently the policy requires a minimum investment of $5 million or more, with an application fee of $750. All investments below that number are “pro-rated,” and when you do the math, he said, it “may not even be beneficial for property owners.”

He suggested the following new program terms:

• Fifteen years for residential renovation units with not more than two housing units, of which the remodeling cost is at least $2,500, as described in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC); the exemption being 100 percent for each of the 15 years.

• Fifteen years for the construction of residential dwellings, as described in ORC; the exemption being 100 percent for each of the 15 years.

• Up to 15 years and up to 100 percent for the remodeling of existing commercial (including residences with more than two units) and industrial structures and upon which the cost of remodeling is at least $5,000, as described in ORC; the term and percentage shall be negotiated with the Housing Council and approval of City Council on a case-by-case basis in advance of remodeling.

• Up to 15 years and up to 100 percent for construction of new commercial (including residential with more than two units) and industrial structures; the term and percentage shall be negotiated on a case-by-case basis in advance of construction.

• Sidney City Council can increase the abatement term another 10 years for certified historic structures subject to federal tax treatment when units within the structure have been leased to individual tenants for five consecutive years.

Gridale explained the abatement would be based on the total reassessed property value. He said the program still “makes schools whole” with the amount they are to receive.

Council member Ed Hamaker asked how long property owners have to complete the improvements to qualify for the abatement. Grisdale said, homeowners would want to complete the improvements at the same time they apply for the CRA, because once the county auditor captures the property value amount, the abatement starts. If a property owner does not complete the work for years down the road, he said the amount of time the tax relief is given will be wasted.

Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan asked how the program makes the schools whole if properties receive an abatement. Grisdale explained commercial properties would get a 100 percent abatement minus the school tax amount owed. She also asked what happens if property owners do not pay the school tax payment or comply other assessments. Grisdale said City Council can resend or nullify the abatement.

After Grisdale’s part of the presentation, Dulworth went over federal housing incentives “intended to give assistance to developers, with priorities given for geographic diversity, the ablity to undertake the activities in a timely manner, affordability, and merits it meeting state housing needs and leveraging of the non-federal funding sources.”

The state level incentives she outlined were through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. The state tax credits and bonds include the housing tax credit program, competitive and non-competitive; Band Gap Financing; Housing Development Gap Financing; multifamily bond only; and the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

The local incentives available for developers are to offset the cost of providing affordable housing units to build with increased density, give Tax Increment Financing, CRA, and the Community Housing Impact & Preservation grant.

Council members want further discussion before directing city staff to draw up legislation. The discussion will continue at the Oct. 8 meeting.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.