A developer seeking to build low-income apartments in West Mobile will not get support from the Mobile County Commission, the result of a special meeting March 7.
Commissioner Merceria Ludgood moved to consider a preliminary award of $1.1 million to Arbours at McFarland in support of its application for low-income tax credits through the Alabama Housing Finance Authority. But the motion failed due to lack of a second.
The funds were to be awarded in conjunction with a grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a 70-unit housing development on McFarland Road, south of Cottage Hill Road, but a number of residents opposed it.
Immediately, Mobile County Director of Grants Nayyer Mahdi was asked to dispel rumors the apartments would operate through Section 8 vouchers. She said the units would be affordable housing units.
“Section 8 rent is subsidized, whereas affordable housing rent is not subsidized,” she said. “We provide funding for construction costs and the developer keeps [rent] affordable.”
The rent charged per unit is based on the percentage of income earned by the resident and the area median income, or AMI, she said. For Mobile County, renters would pay between $437 and $733 per month. The units would come with income eligibility requirements as well, ranging from $29,900 for a single-person household to $56,300 for a family of eight, Mahdi said. The eligibility is based on 30 percent to 50 percent of Mobile County’s AMI.
Sam Johnston, co-owner of Arbour Valley Development, also tried to reassure neighbors opposed to the $13 million project. He called the scale of the development “small,” saying similar projects average about 200 units. Johnston said the developers would follow city subdivision requirements, which include setbacks and buffers.
Johnston said the county currently has 48 developments financed through federal tax credits, which was originally an initiative of President Ronald Reagan.
“It’s been around a very, very long time and you rarely hear about it,” Johnston said. “That speaks to its success.”
As for the demographics, Johnston said, the target area in the southwest portion of the county would attract younger renters with jobs. He added the apartments would have no impact on home values in the area.
In total, 10 residents spoke against the proposed 15-acre complex with concerns ranging from traffic to a “difference in culture.”
Resident Felicia Hester said the people of West Mobile are hardworking and dedicated to the community and the school system. They are heavily invested in the community, she said.
“The culture of the people living in subsidized housing is not the same as the culture of West Mobile,” she said.
As an example, Hester said, the rent being proposed at the complex was similar to the amount paid by homeowners in the area for monthly power bills. She said renters don’t contribute to property taxes, but do contribute to the overcrowding of schools.
Ludgood said she was troubled by comments about the “culture” of low-income renters.
“What does that even mean?” she asked. “They’re doing what they can. It’s unfortunate when we label them as undesirable because of their income level.”
John Vallas, a real estate broker representing the siblings selling the land to Arbour Valley, said it’s unfair to negatively characterize low-income renters.
“Just because they need assistance doesn’t mean they’re not hard working,” Vallas said.
Jessica Allday, who serves on the county’s animal shelter board, told commissioners her primary concern was the effect a 70-unit apartment complex would have on existing heavy traffic. She said she takes her son to school nearby and has to leave 40 minutes early just to make it on time.
Mobile County Board of Education member Bill Foster said a new apartment complex would further stress already overcrowded schools in the area. Foster, speaking on behalf of the students and parents he represents, said schools in the area have already seen an increase of more than 1,000 students over the years. In addition, the proposed complex would be less than a mile from Causey Middle School and no bus transportation would be available.
“There are no sidewalks,” Foster said. “The children will have to walk … My issue is the numbers and the impact it’s having and is going to have on schools in the area. Take this under serious consideration.”
Ludgood told Foster that “growth is going to happen” whether it comes in the form of 70 apartment units or single-family homes. Foster called single-family homes “normal growth” and said apartments caused faster growth because it happened in a smaller area.
Vallas, a member of the Mobile Planning Commission, argued that the apartments fit into the city’s smart growth model and would be similar to the number of bedrooms created by a 60-lot subdivision, which could fit on the same 15 acres.
Foster argued other subdivisions aren’t near that density, using a 19-acre, 48-lot subdivision as an example.
As a positive, Johnston said the apartments would be self-managed by Arbour Valley. Resident Jesse Pettis read aloud the first Internet review he found of Arbour Valley’s Magnolia Court Apartments in Birmingham. He said they were called “horrific,” with people “urinating” and “selling drugs” in the breezeways.
“Are we inviting that into our neighborhoods?” he asked.
Area resident Cole Kennedy questioned developers about drainage and sewage plans for the development. Commissioner Jerry Carl said the area has many drainage issues.
Developers said the apartments would be tied into a sewer line from the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, and that they also plan to purchase six acres adjacent to the property in question for a detention pond.
In addition, Vallas said the Planning Commission will require sidewalks and a plan for drainage before granting approval.
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