State College

State College council opts not to change affordable housing ordinance

Borough Council voted Monday to take no action to amend a previously discussed inclusionary housing requirement despite considerable debate among council members.

The ordinance under discussion states that inclusionary units must be mixed with market-rate units, according to borough planning staff, and not clustered or segregated in any way.

The borough planning commission was directed to review the requirement in January after council discussion on the Rise, a proposed multi-story dwelling unit that seeks to replace 532 and 538 E. College Ave. Council in December showed concern with the idea of mixing families with children and students on the same floor.

According to a briefing prepared for the council, staff reviewed other communities’ inclusionary housing ordinances, saying half the requirements indicated affordable units should be scattered throughout the development.

One-quarter of the ordinances were silent on the matter, the briefing said, saying the distribution was up to the developer/owner to decide. The remaining ordinances said distribution was negotiated between the municipality and the developer.

The borough defines inclusionary housing as housing with a sales price or rental amount within the means of a household that may occupy very low-, moderate- and middle-income housing

While the distribution of the units was seen as a public good, the brief said, staff was concerned that developers could locate the units in such a way that families would not want to live in them. Saying they could not be rented as affordable housing, the units would then be rented to students.

Ultimately, planning staff recommended that council take no action.

Currently, the borough has no buildings in which inclusionary units are distributed among the market units, Planning Director Ed LeClear said. To date, all developers have paid the fee in lieu of building affordable units or built them off-site.

It’s about preserving council’s and the municipality’s ability to make a decision later as opposed to making one now before the building has gone up.

Planning Director Ed LeClear

“It’s about preserving council’s and the municipality’s ability to make a decision later as opposed to making one now before the building has gone up,” LeClear said. “And we simply don’t know how it’s going to be managed or work.”

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said she sees a dual problem with not taking action. If someone builds units off-site, they all count as inclusionary, which doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of keeping them mixed with market units. Also, mixing the units among all the floors struck her as unrealistic and unfair to those who end up in the units.

“Putting them spread out on three floors with the professional housing and the inclusionary housing integrated amongst each other, and the students with the partying on their floor strikes me as a more reasonable thing,” she said.

Councilman Evan Myers said the main reason the planning commission discussed mixing units was to avoid stigmatizing residents who lived in the affordable units. If the idea is encouraging mixed use buildings, the borough should get rid of the fee in lieu provision, he said.

Highlands Civic Association President Susan Venegoni suggested to council that they accept the recommendation to take no action, saying many ordinances have already been adjusted in regard to this one project.

“Can’t anything stand?” she said.

Resident David Stone said there were many good reasons to not take action now, saying that the ordinance could be changed later once the project was complete. The requirement could be changed later during comprehensive rezoning within the borough.

“Let’s get a few of these buildings built and see what happens,” Myers said.

The motion to accept the planning staff’s recomendation and take no action was passed 6-2.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews