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City Council approves affordable housing plan

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City Council voted Monday night to accept recommendations included in the City of Athens Affordable Housing Plan, which lays a loose groundwork for the city to proceed in attempting to create economic opportunities in the city.

The plan, introduced for approval by Councilmember Sarah Grace, is the product of years of work by the Affordable Housing Task Force and the Affordable Housing Commission, groups assembled by the city to research local affordable housing opportunities.

“I ask that we adopt this to move forward with some really positive options for the city for affordable housing,” Grace said.

The plan includes several recommendations, such as working cooperatively with private enterprises and Ohio University to develop residential real estate to attract young people businesspeople to Athens.

Grace said it also outlines changes to city zoning and a variety of incentives to residential real estate developers, such as offering “tax incremental financing” — essentially a rebate offered on development investments.

This could include a portion of development taxing used to construct essential infrastructure like roads or water lines leading to residential properties.

The plan recommends establishing a housing and redevelopment department with a dedicated staff, perhaps within an existing city department that oversees housing, such as the Office of Code Enforcement and Community Development, Grace said.

She said the affordable housing property value range is between $125,000 and $250,000 on a home. She clarified that affordable housing is not the same as low-income housing, which falls under a different pricing or assessment threshold.

The median selling price of a home in Athens was $169,250 in 2018, according to ohio-realty.com.

Several members of the body commended the ordinance at length. Councilmembers Chris Fahl, Kent Butler and Pat McGee all took turns praising the bill, expressing gratitude toward Grace for introducing the legislation.

Butler said he was optimistic the plan would increase the prospects of young professionals following businesses looking to establish themselves in Athens as the economy of the city diversifies and more businesses enter the economic landscape.

Butler described the endeavor as another opportunity for the city and Ohio U to align their interests because the plan outlines The Ridges as a potential location for affordable housing, The Post reported.

“(There is a) need for housing that accommodates young professionals, people looking to call this home, and potentially also faculty members,” Butler said. “There is a need for housing that isn’t represented (in Athens).”

Chris Monday, a City Council at-large candidate, spoke up during the meeting and questioned the nature of the legislation.

Monday said he heard criticisms of the legislation from residents who believe it will do nothing for someone who works “40 to 60” hours per week. They believe the bill prioritizes encouraging young professionals to migrate to the city rather than lower-income residents, he said.

“So when there is something called affordable housing, it’s still so out of reach of many of the regular people of Athens,” Monday said. “It really hurts. When it’s to bring in young professionals from out of town to a university where attendance is declining, it hurts even more.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated the day of the City Council meeting.

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