Despite moving residents out of Roger Williams Homes and beginning the demolition process on the complex, developers have begun leasing replacement housing for other properties still being occupied.
Pennrose Properties Regional Vice President Mark Straub told Mobile Housing Board commissioners at a meeting Wednesday, July 6, the replacement housing in question at Cottage Hill Place would count against public housing units at Thomas James Place and not Roger Williams, despite the fact residents still live in Thomas James apartments.
Commissioners seemed upset by the revelation during a presentation meant to update them on south-side redevelopment.
“I don’t see us putting residents first with this,” President Kimberly Pettway said. “Cottage Hill Place will be filled by the time the south side is redeveloped.”
Pettway and Commissioner Breanne Zarzour also questioned why the new development was linked to the south side at all, given there was no relocation need.
“How is it linked when no south side residents need to be relocated?” Pettway asked. “I don’t get it.”
Straub explained there is a difference between replacement housing and relocation housing. The 88 units at Cottage Hill Place will count against the total units needed to be replaced at Thomas James Place when the site is redeveloped in the future. This means the proposed mixed-use, mixed-income development won’t need as many public units to satisfy United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Alabama Housing Finance Authority guidelines.
There are “off-site plans” for Roger Williams as well, Straub said, but the south-side plans moved faster.
“We planned to be aggressive and proceeded with off-site plans for Thomas James,” he said. “Now, with Roger Williams as the focal point, the authority’s priorities have changed.”
Housing authority leadership did not reach out to former Roger Williams residents to let them know Cottage Hill Place was available, Executive Director Akinola Popoola told commissioners.
“It is an open application,” Popoola said of Cottage Hill Place. “Roger Williams residents have housing either at another complex or with Section 8. Roger Williams residents have first right to return to Roger Williams, or Roger Williams replacement housing.”
As for former Roger Williams residents currently on Housing Choice vouchers, Straub said there is land available for a second phase of Cottage Hill Place. The second phase would have “70 or so” units.
Zarzour argued that a second phase of Cottage Hill Place would only be a “portion” of the 287 units at Roger Williams.
There are also plans to build “more than 100” replacement units on Charles Street, but the property would have to be acquired for about $500,000. The building currently has tenants as well, as “some [units] are occupied, some are vacant,” Straub said.
Pettway asked if there was a “parallel” plan in case the Charles Street property couldn’t be acquired.
“Yes, there’s probably an A, B, C and D,” Straub said. “We’ll probably look to develop off-site projects elsewhere, including Cottage Hill phase two.”
At $74 million, it would be important for the replacement project to receive 9 percent tax credits, Straub said.
Straub also gave commissioners an update on the progress of redevelopment plans along the Michigan Avenue corridor. A demolition application for Thomas James and R.V. Taylor would have to be resubmitted, he said.
“There are a lot of things to be decided,” Straub said. “We’ll keep communication open with the city and Brookley.”
As for the redevelopment of the site, Straub said Pennrose Properties has had “a lot of discussions” with the Mobile Airport Authority over expectations for growth at Brookley.
Roger Williams redevelopment
Also at issue for the Roger Williams site is the denial from AHFA for 9 percent tax credits for a senior living complex onsite. Straub said the denial came because of a problem with the contractor’s environmental testing. Specifically, the testing was found to be insufficient.
Commissioner Norman Hill, a vice president at Volkert, was unhappy with the scope of work given to the contractor.
“The scope was, in my mind, it was limited,” he said. “I had some questions from the very beginning.”
Straub said the contractor did a large amount of testing.
“There was more than one test,” he said. “We’ve asked for additional testing to be performed.”
Hill lamented the additional testing because of an added cost to the project. He asked if there would be a financial responsibility from the board. Straub said there would be “from all of us.”
Pettway asked if the developer discussed the level of scrutiny of the testing with AHFA before it was submitted. Straub said “no.”
“At the time it wasn’t expected to be a problem,” he said.
The plan is to reapply for the competitive 9 percent tax credits in 2019, Straub said.
“I’m no less disappointed than you are that we didn’t get approved last year,” he said. “What’s important to us is to move forward and get several tax credits and make significant investment in the community.”