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January 9, 2013

Could funds boost home ownership in New Albany?

Duggins named redevelopment head, Malysz to focus on housing strategy

NEW ALBANY — In addition to his role as the city’s economic development director, David Duggins was named New Albany redevelopment director by Mayor Jeff Gahan on Tuesday.

Duggins was hired by Gahan last year, and he also serves on the New Albany Urban Enterprise Zone Board.

Community Housing Initiatives Director Carl Malysz had served in a temporary capacity as the administration’s liaison to the New Albany Redevelopment Commission.

During Tuesday’s redevelopment meeting, Malysz said Gahan had stressed to him he wants Malysz to focus primarily on community housing issues this year. Later in the meeting, Malysz detailed some of what he’s working on including representing the administration’s positions to the New Albany Housing Authority as it proceeds with plans to revamp and rebuild some of its units.

On an even larger scale, Malysz introduced preliminary suggestions to incorporate federal Community Development Block Grant funding into housing efforts. According to Malysz, a sizable percentage of New Albany residents are considered “extremely low income” as they earn 30 percent or less of the area median income, or AMI. Considered the threshold to qualify for public housing, a single person in the 30 percent AMI bracket earns $12,750 annually, and a family of four makes $18,200.

At 4 percent of its housing stock, Malysz said New Albany ranks behind only East Chicago and Gary in the state among second-class cities when it comes to Section 8 and public housing.

There are about 1,800 “heavily [government] subsidized” housing units in the city, Malysz said, as he added those living quarters are primarily occupied by residents that fall within the 30 percent AMI bracket.

There are 322 housing units in New Albany that were government-subsidized during their construction through tax credits, he continued. Malysz said those units typically house families that earn 30 to 60 percent of the AMI.

But when it comes to the 60 to 90 percent AMI families, Malysz said there haven’t been ample subsidies for affordable housing available in New Albany.

“We have a significant amount for the extremely poor, but we really don’t have that much for people in the 60 to 90 percent category,” he said.

Malysz defined the category as “work force employees.” A single person earning 80 percent of the AMI in New Albany would make $34,000 a year, and a family of four would garner $48,550 annually.

Redevelopment member and New Albany City Councilman Dan Coffey agreed that subsidies would help “work force employees” garner housing, but he said stabilizing neighborhoods is about home ownership, not adding more rental properties. He added that many families that fall within the 60 to 90 percent AMI category can make the mortgage payments on a house in New Albany, but they struggle with finding the funds for down payments.

Providing matching CDBG funds to such families or individuals so they can make down payments, or working in partnership with local banks to help usher deals is one way for the city to fill empty houses with homeowners, Coffey said.

“If we’re going to look at housing in New Albany, we’ve got a lot of affordable housing,” Coffey said.

To qualify for the federal assistance, families or individuals have to make 80 percent or less of the AMI, and be located within the CDBG boundary in New Albany.

Malysz said he supports home ownership, but that it’s unlikely people that fall within the 50 percent AMI and lower category can afford to purchase their own house.

Gahan wants to see a comprehensive housing strategy, and affordable housing, rental properties and public housing are all components of the big picture, Malysz continued.

For example, he said there’s interest within the administration to provide incentives to develop more housing units downtown. The downtown area is vibrant with new businesses and restaurants, and helping with furnishing housing options will only complement what’s already begun there, Malysz said.

But not just affordable housing; Malysz said Gahan would like to see more market-rate housing spawn downtown.

However Coffey objected strongly to focusing on downtown, though Malysz said the area is only one portion of New Albany’s housing system.

Coffey said there a tremendous amount of vacancies in neighborhoods throughout the city that should be addressed. The city’s neighborhoods must be vibrant before downtown can succeed, he continued.

“New Albany just isn’t about downtown,” Coffey said. “Our neighborhoods have been neglected for so long.”

Malysz stressed that he was only providing introductory information and insight Tuesday, and that there will be several discussions and planning opportunities in the coming months as it pertains to New Albany housing.

He proposed — and the commission verbally agreed — that a housing market study be commissioned this year. Malysz added that homeowner assistance has been administered through the city in the past, and that it’s certainly an option to consider for the future.

“Down payment assistance is an eligible CDBG activity,” he said.

The theme moving forward should be to look not just at one area or one type of housing, but to consider strategies that will improve New Albany’s housing sector as a whole, he said.

The administration is approaching the housing situation with one general question, Malysz said.

“What do we need to do to accomplish an outcome that we think is right for the community?” he said.

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