Nearly 100 homes for Oxford’s workforce planned

Published 11:06 am Monday, August 21, 2017

A public-private partnership was recently awarded $15,000,000 in competitive funding to construct 96 new townhomes that will be reserved exclusively for the area’s workforce community.

The homes will be constructed both inside the city limits and immediately outside the city limits and are the result of years of work by city and county officials to address the difficulty of creating workforce and affordable housing due to high land prices.

LOU-HOME, Inc., a private housing advocacy nonprofit, is a lead developer of the planned communities, and its proposal overcame funding gaps by layering traditional bank lending with federal housing tax credits. The total investment into the community is ultimately expected to approach $20 million.

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In addition to the construction of new homes, the developments will also remove numerous blighted structures as part of a larger redevelopment and revitalization plan. Final engineering and pre-development activities are expected to occur over the next six months followed by a 12 to 18 construction period.

“Mayor Tannehill and (Lafayette County) Board President Jeff Busby have taken our mission to fill the housing needs in our community very seriously, and they have been extraordinarily supportive of our efforts to achieve this very ambitious goal,” said LOU-HOME, Inc. president Leroy Thompson said.

The housing tax credit component of the funding was made from a statewide pool of ultra-competitive applicants, and, historically, Oxford and Lafayette County have been at an insurmountable disadvantage due to disproportionately high land costs. But, recent efforts by local officials targeted these obstacles and paved the way for a successful bid.

The current proposal would call for a combination of townhomes, duplexes, and single-family detached homes, and all units would be reserved for people who earn at or below 60 percent of the area median income. Further, all homes would be 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.

According to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report, the median income for a household in Lafayette County is $41,343.

“Jeff Busby and I are committed to modernizing our community’s workforce and affordable housing portfolio, and these communities will be an enormous blessing to our citizens,” Tannehill said. “There is nothing we will enjoy more than seeing our residents move into brand new, high-quality homes. Combined with our successful relocation of Riverside residents into higher quality homes, this is a huge success for our community.”

LOU-HOME, Inc. has been developing housing in the Oxford area for over a decade and previously developed Community Green using repurposed salvage homes donated by the University of Mississippi and funded using a combination of HOME Funds and traditional debt.

Community Green currently boasts 24 homes and has been fully occupied since 2012.

LOU-HOME, Inc. partnered with a local development team led by Stewart Rutledge in its efforts to obtain this current funding. Rutledge has developed tax credit housing throughout the region but has always wanted to be able to develop in his hometown.

A New Albany native, Rutledge, 36, grew up in Rankin County but has lived in Oxford since 1998. He attended law school but decided to become a developer instead.

He has created Section 42 housing developments in Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida and Texas. The most recent development was in Holly Springs, where 92 units were constructed.

“Most local governments do everything in their power to eliminate workforce and affordable housing,” Rutledge said. “This often follows the form of bulldozing existing property while regulating away the possibility of new homes. The city of Oxford and Lafayette County, on the other hand, have worked from day one to find solutions to this need, and I give them full credit for their tireless efforts.”

Tannehill said the city and county have developed a strong team of housing leaders who are determined to work together to address the affordable housing challenge.

“There are a variety of viewpoints on how to address these complex needs, none perfect, but we are thrilled to work alongside those community leaders who are committed to improving housing in this area,” she said.