SALISBURY – “The Bricks” apartment building on Church Street moved closer toward a renovation this week, despite concerns from a couple Salisbury City Council members on what the grant application will mean for taxpayers.
The City Council was presented on Monday night with a resolution to apply for a grant. Homes for America, the “turnkey” contractor for the city, is applying for a predevelopment grant on behalf of the city for the revitalization of the Richardson Apartment House, also known as “The Bricks.”
According to City Manager John Pick, this resolution supports a grant application that would be filed by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) by Homes for America.
Pick explained that the council voted in September of 2009 to adopt an identical resolution to support the grant funding for the 2010 funding round. Homes for America was not successful in that funding round because at the time it was not able to certify to the DHCD it had the financing to apply for the developing costs. Recently, Homes for America received a letter of support from the DHCD stating that it would support Homes for America’s application for the predevelopment grant because the DHCD is changing rental housing program partnership policies.
“So that it would compensate projects of this type,” Pick said. “Right now, they have an amount of money that they are willing to supply grant money for per unit, and for smaller projects like this that amount is not sufficient so they looking at raising that cost.”
The amount of the grant is $150,000 and it was indicated that there are no costs on the part of the city for this grant application. The original due date for the grant application is March 19. Pick explained that if the council was to approve the resolution it would be considered updated, changing the due date to April 19.
“This is coming to the council right before the deadline because Homes for America did not receive its letter of support from the DHCD until March 7,” Pick said.
Councilwoman Deborah Campbell said that the council has not seen the letter of support from the DHCD as well as other documents needed to make a decision.
“We now have a deadline of April 19. I would like to offer a motion that this be returned to a council work session for further discussion,” Campbell said.
Councilwoman Terry Cohen agreed with Campbell and said there were things in the previous grant application that the council had questions about.
“We have not really discussed the fact that … we are committing a taxpayer asset to this project that is $227,000 [appraisal amount of building],” Cohen said. “If we’re committing a $227,000 taxpayer asset, I think there is some procedural things we need to look at concerning the making of the contract.”
Campbell’s motion to move the resolution to a work session was denied in a 3-2 vote, with Council President Louise Smith, Vice President Gary Comegys, and Councilman Eugenie Shields in opposition.
“These questions have been asked and re-asked, and we’ve voted and re-voted, and every time it comes up it is the same deal,” Comegys said.
Comegys added the only way to get renovation projects like “The Bricks” done is through partnerships like with Homes for America.
“They’re too big of [projects] and there is not enough profit in it for the private sector to do these kinds of projects on its own and that is why the government does these kinds of projects,” Comegys said.
Campbell added an additional concern that was discussed during a previous work session. She said the developer for the project said the price tags of the units are around $200,000 per unit and the representatives for Homes of America said that development on a vacant piece of land would be significantly less.
“I don’t oppose taking grant money for things that the city needs,” Cohen said. “Affordable housing is a wonderful thing to get. Spending a couple hundred thousand dollars for an affordable housing unit is very much out of the market … that is a lot of money and you could buy a lot of affordable housing with that money.”
Despite Cohen’s and Campbell’s concerns, Council President Louise Smith called for the question and the resolution passed with a 3-2 vote, with Cohen and Campbell in opposition.
“If it moves forward, there is some very important protection issues for the taxpayers of Salisbury that need to be addressed,” Cohen said.