On May 2, 2016, I posted an article on the proposed 2016 housing levy expressing my concerns about the rationale used to determine the amount of the levy, which was double the expiring levy passed in 2009. The mayor’s proposal calls for $201 million vs. $104 million, which was the cost of the expiring 2009 levy. The proposed levy will only deliver 2,150 new units and 350 retrofitted units, which is less than the number of units delivered under the old levy (see table below). After discussions with Councilperson O’Brien and administrative aide of Councilperson Burgess, I still didn’t get satisfying answers to my concerns as to the rationale for determining the levy amount. At the end of my first article I promised that if my future conversations with city officials shed more light on this issue I would keep you posted. So after more investigation and discussion and interaction with city officials, I thought I would provide you with an update on this critical issue.
My main concerns with the proposed levy are as follows:
- What specific rationale was used to determine the amount of the proposed levy and why is it delivering less units than the previous levy?
- What amount of the new levy is earmarked for the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)?
About three weeks ago I attended a neighborhood meeting sponsored by the Yes For Housing group in the home of a local Wallingford resident. The purpose of the meeting was to inform Wallingford residents of the details of the proposed levy. Present were two individuals representing the city—the vice mayor and a consultant for the city who is focused on the passage of the levy. As you might guess I asked the two questions I just outlined. Here were the answers I heard.
What specific rationale was used to determine the amount of the proposed levy, and why is it delivering less units than the previous levy?
Once again, the city’s response was vague and the same. The answer centered around the increased cost of land, building materials, and labor. Based on my 50+ years in the construction industry, I never have and never will see the doubling of these cost factors. The consultant also added that the 2009 levy delivered more units than its original goals and the same will most likely happen with this levy. I used to play that game as well, its called “under promise and over deliver.”
What amount of the new levy is earmarked for the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)?
The answers to this question were widespread and confusing. First the group was told that “the housing levy is key to HALA.” Then, later, we were told that the levy really had nothing to do with HALA. These responses were extremely worrisome. Some immediate thoughts going through my mind were “Was I getting the runaround?” and “Are there hidden cards involved?”
What is the specific impact the levy will have in contributing to the mayor’s goal of housing affordability?
This was a question that was asked by another participant in the neighborhood. I thought that it was a good one. The answer was simply “We can’t answer that.” I found this answer kind of disturbing as it really didn’t exhibit a fiscal “grasp” as it relates to the large sum of property tax that is associated with the levy.
Something else that is important to share is what I heard during an April 15, 2016, meeting of the select committee for the housing levy. Central staff presented some options for use of the increased 2016 housing levy. These options included recommendations to add a new Rental Rehabilitation Loan Program, to add $30 million to the Acquisition and Preservation Program, to add funding to the Homeless Prevention Program, to add a new Foreclosure Prevention Program, and to add a new Affordable Housing Prevention Program. The biggest and most astonishing recommendation came from Councilperson O’Brien who wanted to increase the amount of the proposed levy by a minimum of $30 million! What I heard during this session was city officials looking for ways to spend the increased levy funding, which, to my mind, didn’t exhibit good fiscal responsibility.
So at the end of the day here is my bottom line—I still cannot support the proposed 2016 housing levy because the city officials and the mayor have not demonstrated to me that it is a solid business proposition based on facts and reality. I would also like to see some better fiscal management on the part of the city, as one only has to look at the Pronto fiasco, the extended time and cost of the seawall project, and the proposed spending of $160 million on a new north district police station. Maybe money does grow on trees!