Affordable housing has been a conversation in this community for as long as anyone can remember. We are victims of our success in many ways, and that shows up glaringly in real estate prices. Over the years people have decided that they want the charm of a small town without having to sacrifice hip restaurants, cool coffee shops and lively streets of a bigger city. This is when Oxford’s affordability began to fade. This has been good for business – more hotels and restaurants means more jobs – but now our hometown is facing the same issues facing urban centers around the world. Our goal is to foster smart growth in the city without pushing the workforce to the fringes.
Knowing it would require creative, progressive policies to address affordable workforce housing, we formed a bipartisan coalition, including developers, corporations, advocacy groups, and community members, to work together on several fronts to address the need for more affordable housing. The Oxford Housing Commission has worked to make affordable housing a reality since the formation of its executive committee in February 2019. In May of last year, the Commission held an Affordable Housing Summit to get community input.
As elected public servants, it is a top priority to enact policies which are sustainable for the City but which also result in creating a healthy and safe place to live for our citizenry. I pushed to get an Affordable Housing Incentive Ordinance passed in 2019. This ordinance provides incentives including waiver of city development review fees, waiver of bonding requirements, waiver of tree mitigation fees, wavier of building permit fees and waiver of utility connection fees to name a few. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to make the affordable housing a realistic possibility for developers. Incentives are based on the number of affordable units developed. Oxford is the first community in Mississippi to adopt an affordable housing incentive ordinance.
As a result of these efforts, and the initiative of a local developer of affordable housing, support equaling $15 million in funding via federal tax credits was granted to support the construction of 96 new rental homes at zero direct cost to local government. All units were reserved for people who earn at or below 60 percent of the area median income. Further, all homes were offered to the public as “lease to own” with the developers committing to counting every dollar paid toward the lease as an eventual down payment toward the home.
Incentives, primarily in the form of reduced city fees contributed to this effort. Public-Private partnerships are a key to progress in this community.
In 2017, as our Board made plans for annexation, we focused on annexing undeveloped property in order to make affordable development – residential and commercial – a possibility in Oxford. Before our annexation, the City of Oxford was approximately 16 square miles and 22,000 residents. We annexed an additional 10 square miles but only 3,000 additional residents.
In 2020, we have had to be creative and flexible to produce results, particular in affordable housing, but we are going to have to be even more so in 2021. As Mayor, I will continue to try to foster a service-oriented government where development is facilitated to the maximum extent limited City budgets will allow, and, as the private sector struggles as it is now, City staff will have to remember that all the more.