The above article appeared in the Lakeshore Times on October 18, 1918, and was written by Anny Sivilay. It's a pretty good article and describes pretty well the current status with Rowlett's Housing Finance Corporation and "cluster housing."
However, your local blog writer has much more space in which to write, and perhaps a bit more real estate knowledge to share. Also, I'm beginning to get some inquiries that essentially say, "What's going on?" Below might help you understand what's going on. There are some issues that need explaining.
First, the whole idea of a Housing Finance Corporation is to provide safe, clean, modern, and affordable housing for a group of citizens we now refer to as "workforce." You remember "workforce" don't you? It's where perhaps 90% of you came from. I know I did. My parents were neither wealthy nor poor. They worked for enough money to pay the bills, provide comfortable housing that we called "home," built a family they loved and valued more than their balance sheet. At the end of their working career, they had a loving family, a small little nest egg, a paid off house, and could live on their Social Security. I was most fortunate to grow up in such a family. Folks, they were "workforce," only we didn't have a word for it then. There is a high probability you came from a "workforce" family, also.
But, a funny thing happened while we were working to improve society, and making our world better than our parents had. Our demands of achieving better jobs, bigger houses, swimming pools, golf courses, bigger lots, stone countertops, copper sinks, and forever striving for higher wages to pay for such things, plus vacations to get away from it all, created a problem. The homes such behavior demanded priced "suitable housing" beyond the reach of the great people we now call "workforce." They are the ones with good manufacturing jobs, small business managers, policemen, firemen, etc. These are good people working in good jobs, and caring for their families.
It is absolutely imperative that we, as a responsible city, provide proper housing that these well meaning and deserving citizens can afford. By that, I don't mean cheap, unimaginative, and pedestrian housing designed for low income groups. That's a different story. I mean something that assures that the resale values of the homes are quite safe, because of their desirability. Success in providing such housing would establish Rowlett as a "great little town." It would be great for all Rowlett's real estate values. The whole town would benefit. To deprive our citizenry of such housing is nothing less than fictitious elitist snobbery. Snobbery doesn't sell well when people are shopping for a home.
Well, how do we do it? Well, it ain't easy. Of course the math is easy, but the creativity, upscale knowledge of new energy saving systems, innovative financing, and the ability to soften financing costs, great designs and upscale creature comforts all contribute to success. Perhaps most important of all is the support of city government and citizens. Without them, Rowlett deserves what it gets.
The HFC is a tax free entity, however it stands apart from the City. The HFC is not a branch of city government, although the city was needed to incorporate the HFC. Because of liability issues, the city and HFC are kept apart. Translated another way, The city is not responsible or liable for the debts or decisions made by the HFC. All you tax payers can breathe a sigh of relief. Furthermore, no tax payer checks are written for any HFC incurred costs. There was a small loan made by the city to the HFC during the formation period. It has already been repaid. The HFC has already concluded a multi-family project for Senior citizens. It is now under construction.
Anny Sivilay's article above presents a couple of facts, but allows no room to expand upon them. First is the request of "free land" from the city. That is accurate. However, there is more to the story than just the HFC is asking the city to donate the land. In fact, some cities donate land to their HFC as a matter of course. I believe Garland does.
Rick Sheffield, President of the HFC Board, and I, was given a preliminary list of locations around the city in which the city owned land. There were two or three dozen locations. Most were rights of way, parts of drainage easements, unusual shaped parcels or too small for typical development. After reviewing all the sites, it was determined that three or four might accommodate "cluster housing." I only liked three. Please be advised, these were not prime sites. They would be hard to sell. They were definitely not commercial sites. They were too small to attract a major developer. They had unusual shapes whereby typical subdivision design was very difficult. In short, they were not very marketable sites. Yet, the city was spending no small amounts of money each year keeping them mowed. An average cost to the city might be $1,000 to $1,500 per year. The city has owned them for years, but apparently no one was interested in buying them.
One of the good things about "cluster housing" is that the houses can be configured very acceptably on small and irregular shaped pieces of land. It's not magic. That benefit is derived mostly from the adaptability of smaller lots and the configuration of the smaller houses on the lots, all on smaller parcels of land. The HFC can use the land effectively that others can not. Can other developers do the same thing? Well, kinda.......except you can't get the big developers to do it, and a smaller developer would not have the free land, tax free material purchases, and the loan financing aids the HFC would have. They would not be able to meet the market demands that the HFC could. Their prices would be approximately $20K to $25K higher. Therefore, the proposal submitted to the city was that the HFC could take a few pieces of land that was only costing the city money each year; develop it and sell houses, then returning it back to the city in the form of TAX BASE. Then, the land was improved and provided revenue instead of expenses. It's conceivable that a 3 acre site that was costing the city $1,500 per year in mowing expense could now produce $18,000 per year in tax revenue. Folks, that a good business decision.
You can not build acceptable "affordable" housing with junk. The homes still have to be pretty, livable, and designed to maintain property values.
There is a misconception about the term "zero lot line" houses and "cluster houses." Many think "cluster houses" are attached housing. They are not......unless otherwise designated. Attached fee simple houses are nearly always defined as "townhomes," not "cluster houses." Condos are condos, and apartments are apartments. Another misconception is that zero lot line houses are attached. They are not. In fact, zero lot line houses and patio homes look identical from the street, to an untrained eye. However, a patio home is placed in the center of a lot and a zero lot line house is placed exactly on the deed line of one side of the lot. About the only way to tell the difference from the street is that the zero lot line house will have no windows on the side of the house that is on the deed line. Also, the fencing will follow that side of the house into the back yard. Driving down the street, they look much the same. Neither is attached to any other structures.
The market for the "cluster housing" is two fold. First, and foremost, the housing must be highly desirable, with excellent curb appeal. You can't save money on the specifications of the houses. You save in other areas.
By designing the homes to be very desirable, two markets are satisfied. One is for seniors who want to downsize. Many are trapped in their $500K house. They can sell that house, but there nothing desirable to buy in it's place. Therefore, they're stuck in their homes that require a lot of work for a senior citizen. When they "buy down" they don't want junk. The second market we've already talked about.......the "workforce" market.
The HFC is a good thing for Rowlett. I am solidly behind it. It serves many needs. It will make Rowlett a better place. Not only does the HFC provide superb housing, it also aids in preventing "slum lording" from getting a foothold.
Folks, don't tell stories until you know what you're talking about. It's okay to disagree, but you need to know why.