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Government help sought to upgrade Hopewell Manor Apartments

January 05, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • The Hopewell Manor Apartments complex in Halfway is seen Thursday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HALFWAY — A nonprofit affordable housing developer is seeking government help to renovate and possibly expand the Hopewell Manor Apartments complex in Halfway.

Kathy Ebner, development director for Annapolis, Md.-based Homes for America, asked the Washington County Board of Commissioners last month if the county would provide a local contribution, such as a waiver of excise tax or permit fees, to support a renovation or expansion project at Hopewell Manor.

Homes for America would like to apply to the state for tax-credit financing for the project, and a local government contribution is an eligibility requirement for that type of financing, Ebner said.

The commissioners said at that Dec. 13 meeting that they wanted to review dollar amounts for the project and a potential county contribution before agreeing to help.

The apartment complex, off Old Hopewell Road near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81, consists of 64 one- and two-bedroom units built about 25 years ago, Ebner said.

The apartments are owned and managed by The Severn Companies. Arthur W. “Jib” Edwards Jr., president of The Severn Companies, was with Ebner as she made her presentation to the commissioners.

“What we would like to do is partner with The Severn Companies to rehab the existing units,” Ebner said.

Homes for America would spend about $20,000 to $25,000 per unit to upgrade the existing apartments with new, energy-efficient features, and updated kitchens and fixtures, she said.

The developer is also considering building additional units on vacant, neighboring land owned by The Severn Companies, she said. That land could be used either to build about 50 additional, similar-style apartment units, or to build townhouses for a lease-purchase program in which renters could purchase their homes for “a very, very low price” after 15 years of renting, Ebner said.

The current apartments are rented at $526 per month for one-bedroom units and $557 per month for two-bedroom units, she said. After the upgrade, the rents would remain “basically the same,” and would be restricted to renters with workforce-housing income levels, about $21,500 to $43,000 per year for a family of four, Ebner said.

The project would also involve constructing a community building with a management office, a lounge area, a library, a computer room and a large community space, Ebner said.

Homes for America would work with the property manager to partner with community groups that would provide programs for residents such as a summer day camp for children, employment-readiness programs and social events, she said.

Impact questioned
Ebner asked for the commissioners’ feedback on the idea of adding additional housing, and a letter of support and commitment to provide a local contribution.

“Those contributions can vary in magnitude and scope,” she said, noting that payment in lieu of taxes, and waiving building permit fees and excise taxes are among the forms of local government contributions made in other projects.

The commissioners would need to provide that support by September, when the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has its next application round for Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which are federal income tax credits offered to investors in qualified affordable housing projects. In Maryland, they are awarded by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Ebner stressed that the project would benefit the county by creating jobs, both during construction and afterward, and if new units are added, increasing property tax revenue to the county.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham asked whether the company’s 2008 market study had taken into consideration the effect of the Cortland Manor Apartments on the market for additional units. She urged the developer to conduct an updated study before proceeding, and Ebner said that would be done.

The commissioners also asked whether nearby schools had the necessary student capacity.

Ebner said the apartments are in the districts for Williamsport Elementary, Springfield Middle and Williamsport High schools.

“We do understand that there is some concern over capacity for all three schools, and we do understand that, should that become an issue, we would have to work with the county on a mitigation plan.”

Commissioner William B. McKinley said he was willing to move forward with a letter of support, but not necessarily with a county contribution.

Commissioners President Terry Baker said he wanted to know the financial impact to the county of the additional units and any proposed contribution before moving forward.

“We just need to get some hard numbers,” Callaham said.
Ebner and Edwards agreed to return at a future meeting to provide those figures.

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