Columbia developer Howard Hughes and the Columbia Downtown Housing Corp., the nonprofit acting as an affordable-housing watchdog on behalf of the County Council, have reached a set of recommendations for future downtown development that officials say could result in nearly 1,000 affordable units.
The plan follows months of discussion between the two groups, and beats a deadline imposed earlier this summer. Councilmembers asked for an agreement in time for their first meeting after the council's August recess.
Columbia is at the beginning of a substantial redevelopment that is expected to span decades, and the issue of affordable housing resurfaced in February, when a housing corporation report concluded current mechanisms for ensuring affordable housing downtown weren't working.
None of the 817 residential units approved for downtown Columbia so far are considered affordable to families with lower incomes.
The joint recommendations mostly adhere to a June outline proposed by Howard Hughes in response to the corporation's report.
Under the proposal, 3 percent to 5 percent of residential units in all future Howard Hughes projects — excluding the already built Metropolitan apartments and another development on an adjacent tract — would be rented to low-income residents who either receive federal Section 8 vouchers or make no more than 50 percent of Howard County's area median income.
Another 3 percent to 5 percent would be priced at a level affordable to those making 80 percent of the area median income.
The proposal also calls for six new mixed-income projects spread throughout downtown, to be funded by low-income housing tax credits.
The projects include an artists' residence next to Toby's Dinner Theater, apartments above the Banneker Fire Station and a development on land that has been reserved as an alternate fire station site. The Banneker project would require the station to move to a temporary site near Symphony Woods while the apartments are built. Once that development is complete, the temporary station would be torn down and redeveloped as housing.
Two of the projects might not be built for another decade. The plan envisions mixed-income housing on the site of the existing central library and above a future transit center, which would likely be between The Mall in Columbia and the Corporate Center office park. Both of those projects are likely in the longer term, officials said.
A final project, redevelopment of the Columbia Flier property across from Howard Community College, would locate some affordable units outside the boundaries of downtown Columbia.
The plan would eliminate fees that developers now pay for each residential unit they develop in downtown Columbia that is not considered affordable, and Howard Hughes would also receive a density bonus under the plan: none of the section 8 units or the units built as part of the low income tax credit projects would count toward the developer's 5,500-unit maximum for residential units.
One corporation member, Roy Appletree, voted against the recommendations. He said much of the plan could be accomplished without Howard Hughes, since many of the tax credit projects would be built on county-owned land. Appletree later resigned from the board, saying he wanted to focus on working with affordable housing advocacy groups in the county.
The recommendations will be reviewed by the county's Housing Commission, which meets Tuesday.