Op Ed from the Ocean City Sentinel- Sharing the burden of affordable housing

Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2018 10:02 am | Updated: 10:13 am, Wed Dec 5, 2018

Island communities such as Ocean City have long struggled with making room for affordable housing because there is little available room, but this resort, like others, have the obligation to ensure at least a certain amount of available housing for those with limited incomes, including families and senior citizens.

To that end, the agreement the city is reaching with the Fair Share Housing Center, on its face, appears to make sense, as does increasing the fees on developers in certain circumstances.

The Fair Share Housing Center came about because of a state Supreme Court ruling and act of the state Legislature decades ago. It works to end discriminatory zoning patterns that limit or exclude any type of affordable housing. Plenty of communities adopt those patterns for a variety of reasons, but zoning is usually meant to be exclusionary in one way or another. Put more bluntly, many residents of wealthier communities don’t want what they consider people of a certain income ilk to be their neighbors.

It doesn’t take much sleuthing to see how many communities are separated along economic lines.

That is a problem in a wealthy community such as Ocean City, which is by its nature exclusionary by virtue of its expensive real estate. However, there is greater problem for a wealthy city on a barrier island; it is the fact there just isn’t room to build anything without knocking down something else that is expensive.

All the buildable land is expensive. Still, Ocean City has an obligation to include affordable housing so it does not discriminate against everyone who doesn’t have the financial means to live on the island.

People like to note that Ocean City was founded as a Christian retreat; it also was founded as a real estate gold rush. From the start, there have been two founding ideals – Christian values and making money by turning land into housing. The Ocean City Sentinel, which started publishing about a year after the resort was founded, was filled with real estate-related advertisements in the later 1800s. Values and priorities aren’t that much different almost 140 years later.

The community remains filled with religious institutions; real estate is still an economic driver.

Doing its fair share for housing should be acceptable based on the values that created this island, even if that comes into conflict with real estate that is increasingly unaffordable. Ocean City must address this. It is difficult given the boundaries of the sea, but there is always new construction taking place as new housing replaces older housing and single-family homes and properties get turned into duplexes, triplexes and quads. The resort can handle the agreement to create affordable housing, both by expanding the Housing Authority project and by requiring developers to set aside part of their projects for affordable housing.

It also makes sense to increase the development fee from 1 percent to 1.5 percent so they help kick in funding to pay for the affordable housing. This is not a burden. Council reluctantly approved the increase, 6-1. This doesn’t affect a homeowner who is rebuilding his one-family residence, but does affect the developer who buys a property with a one-family residence and turns in into four units.

Only Councilman Tony Wilson voted against the fee, saying it is burdensome on the developer. He noted that very situation and said if a single-family home was turned into four units and each sold for $500,000, the developer would be on the hook for more than $22,500 in fees. Wilson’s argument is that it is a detriment for developers who are creating new housing stock for tourists, which he views as important.

He notes that he is still wrestling with that fee, but we hope he comes around to realizing the developers can both afford it and should shoulder their part of the affordable housing burden along with the rest of the taxpayers.

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