Harrison house loses city $27K

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January 22, 2008

2:40 PM

p. It appears that the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority will lose at least $27,000 on the sale of a home at 110 Harrison Avenue in an effort to convert the former rental property into an owner-occupied residence.

p. The reportedly dilapidated property was purchased in March of last year by the WRHA after chemistry professor David Kranbuehl notified the city of its availability. According to Sharon Scruggs, chairman of the WRHA, city loans funded the purchase and subsequent renovations of the property, totaling $416,000 in costs.

p. The house re-entered the market at $425,000 under the stipulation that the new owners live in the house, and not rent it out to anyone else. Eventually, the listing price dropped down to $389,000 — $27,000 less than what the WRHA spent on the property. Nationwide, housing prices have been falling.

p. 110 Harrison Avenue is one of several residences that the city and the WRHA have purchased and renovated in an effort to re-establish home ownership in Williamsburg neighborhoods.
Information on the purchasing and renovation costs of other properties owned by the city through the WRHA was not made available as public disclosure may inhibit the WRHA’s ability to sell the house.

p. Rental units currently comprise a majority of the residences in West Williamsburg Heights, a fact that the city council and the WRHA are trying to change.

p. “The statistic that one neighborhood is over 50 percent rental … is not healthy for the city,” Mayor Jeanne Zeidler said.
She added that the city neither desires to eliminate rentals nor keep students from living in the city, only to balance the ratio of rentals to owner-occupied homes at the benefit of the community.

p. According to Zeidler, the city allocates $300,000 to $500,000 of its budget to housing each year.

p. The WRHA uses these funds to purchase and renovate properties. These properties are then resold, sometimes at a small profit and sometimes at a loss.

p. The house on Harrison Avenue and homes on Braxton Court are among several properties the WRHA has purchased.
According to Scruggs, the current goal of the WRHA is to provide affordable home ownership opportunities to the working class employed in the many service industry jobs in and around the city.
However, some at the College consider the owner-occupancy clause as well as the WRHA’s willingness to take a loss on individual properties as an indication that the city may be trying to impact the availability of off-campus housing to students.

p. “It’s premature to predict how [the transformation of rental units into owner-occupied residences] will affect ResLife,” Deb Boykin, director of Residence Life, said, “It may increase the demand for student housing in the future.”

p. Mayor Zeidler dismissed the concern over mandatory owner-occupancy in residential properties sold by the city as negligible as it only pertains to a “handful of houses,” adding that the city does not desire to keep College students out of local neighborhoods.

p. Scruggs admitted that the owner-occupancy clause may not be the best tool in creating home ownership opportunities, but added that the WRHA is not building homes for people to “flip” after purchasing.

p. Furthermore, he said, the WRHA is not designed to make profits; according to Scruggs, its purpose is to provide affordable housing and hopefully break even marginally from property to property.

p. According to Andrew Hungerman, interim executive director of the WRHA, affordable housing is a relative term and depends heavily on the earnings of an individual or family.

p. While $389,000 may seem out of the price range for many families, it may be a price that attracts middle class families to Williamsburg.

p. Scruggs conceded that the WRHA does not consider specifically how the purchase and redevelopment of rental units may impact student housing, although it recognizes such concerns.
Citing a lack of available land and current zoning restrictions, Scruggs laid out the difficulties faced in creating more readily available student housing in Williamsburg.

p. “It’s a real issue [of] which I’m well-aware,” Scruggs said. “I grew up in this town, it wasn’t a big deal until recently.”
Currently, the influx of retirees in the Williamsburg area has hampered the WRHA’s ability to create affordable housing.
The Stop-22 movement kept zoning ordinances from allowing any more than 14 residents per acre.

p. As a result, fewer and fewer young families can afford to live in Williamsburg, which in turn forces the WRHA to sell renovated former rental units, like 110 Harrison Avenue, at a loss.
This decreases the supply of off-campus housing for students.
Scruggs went on to say that if there were more cooperation between the College and town regarding housing, she would be on board.

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