RALF regroups, plans Dec. 7 public meeting


— Affordable housing advocates who supported the failed excise tax are regrouping and holding a community meeting with opponents of the excise tax and the public.
"There were a lot of people who made promises out there, and we're going to hold them to it," said Regional Affordable Living Foundation board member Kathy Meyer during the RALF's first meeting since the election.
Meyer was talking about the opponents of Referendum 2A, who said publicly that there were better solutions to the affordable housing problem than an excise tax on new construction.
Community leaders are asking these same people to come to a public meeting on Dec. 7 to begin the process of finding affordable housing solutions.
"I'm going to push it," said County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who is also a RALF board member.
"We need to make it a community problem," she said.
RALF Executive Director Rob Dick said everyone needs to put the hotly contested election behind them.
"We need to solve the problem," Dick said. "We need to put our feelings aside."
The election referendum asked voters to approve a tax on new construction that would have been used primarily to help buy land for affordable housing.
A public campaign, funded in part by developers and the construction industry, helped defeat the excise tax.
Some opponents of 2A said a community meeting is a great way to start from scratch on affordable housing.
"I would love to be part of that," said Jim Gill, one of the leaders of "No on 2A."
"It's a community challenge and we need a community solution."
RALF members are eager to hear about ideas for affordable housing, but they may not hear exactly what they want.
Many opponents of the excise tax were worried about local government getting in the business of affordable housing.
"Whatever is done needs to be done in the private sector," said John Shively, who owns a local construction business.
"If you've got the government involved in affordable housing, they will be competing with small contractors who go out in the market place and try to build something at a reasonable cost," Shively said. "It will make it difficult for the small contractors to compete."
However, Shively did not rule out a tax, if it was fair.
"As far as I'm concerned, there's room for taxes if everyone participates," Shively said.
Shively said he felt 2A picked on the economic sector made up of those people who were building new homes or making new investments.
Retired businessman Ron Roundtree agreed.
"I'm very pleased with the public's vote. It's not an indictment against affordable housing, it was an indictment against how they were raising money," Roundtree said.
Businessman Jim Gill also said the first thing the community needs to do before finding solutions is to define the challenges.
"Is affordable housing for people who've been here a long time, or is it for newcomers? Is it for second homeowners, or people who live here?" Gill asked.
Meanwhile, Realtor Ken Gold said he believes the public needs to be educated on what affordable housing is already available.
Gold said he specifically brought in a developer four years ago who specialized in low-cost housing.
He said the developer built a 108-unit condominium complex at Walton Creek and Whistler roads, but only 15 local residents bought condos. The prices started at $129,000.
Gold said they had 100-percent financing available and even kept the association fees low.
"I honestly believe people's expectations are too high," Gold said.
The realtor said a few of those locals who originally bought into the complex could now sell their condos and take a 40- to 50-percent equity with them to a bigger home.
The first meeting is tentatively scheduled for the evening of Dec. 7. A meeting place has not yet been confirmed.

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208 or e-mail fhohl@amigo.net


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