Let me offer my thanks once more to Jeanne Lay who allowed me to use her letter as the basis of yesterday's blog post. She reached out to me by email on Oct 22, at 4:26 PM, and not 24 hours later (October 23, at 7:45 am) I received an email from my councilman, Calvin Ball, sharing the following information from the County. Both were serendipitous and unrelated. Some times life just works that way.
It's a little long, but I think you'll find it's worth the read.
Verona at Oakland Mills FAQs
Q: What is happening at Verona at Oakland Mills?
A: Verona at Oakland Mills is a 251-unit apartment complex in Columbia that becameavailable for sale by current ownership in May. The Howard County Housing Commission entered into a contract to purchase and oversee operations of the complex, and completed the transaction in October 2013.
Q: Who will manage the property?
A: The Housing Commission intends to maintain the current management firm for at least a year. If it proves unsatisfactory, the Commission would reevaluate that decision and make changes as necessary.
Q: What is the current condition of apartments?
A: The units have been recently renovated, and the vacancy rate is low. The economic and physical condition of Verona is solid. However, there are some improvements that are needed, such as landscaping and exterior painting. The Commission will be making these improvements shortly.
Q: What are the immediate plans for the property?
A: The Housing Commission intends to manage and maintain the property for at leaset 10 years. The Commission intends to follow through on a capital improvement program, making improvements to landscaping, exterior paint and security. The Commission is a responsive, local property owner that is vested in making its properties and the immediate community better.
Q: What will happen to current residents? Will they be displaced so that others can move in?
A: There are no plans to displace current residents. Those who choose to remain in their apartments will do so. The Housing Commission policy is to strictly enforce leases so that problems and issues do not grow. The Commission is committed to protecting and enhancing the value of its asset, and maintaining and improving the quality of life for all residents.
Q: When did members of the public learn about this project?
A: Outreach to members of Oakland Mills Village Board leadership began in August and is continuing. Prior to that, the Commission was constrained by seller’s confidentiality and could not disclose the transaction.
Q: Is Commission ownership and management a good thing for the community?
A: The Howard County Housing Commission has a strong track record of effective management. Additionally, because it is a quasi-public entity, the Commission is responsive to the concerns of the community and its elected representatives. The Commission will follow through on a capital improvement plan, will improve security, and ownership will prevent an “absentee landlord” from taking over operations.
Q: Why does this project make sense for the Housing Commission?
A: In this case, the Commission would issue its own bonds for the purchase, andanticipates that the cash flow generated by Verona’s operations will not only support the repayment, but provide additional revenue for Howard County Housing’s other programs. As the federal government continues to cut back its housing programs, it becomes more critical for the Housing Commission to reduce its reliance on government funding.
Q: Are there other examples of similar projects in Howard County?
A: The Housing Commission owns and operates the 300-unit Columbia Landing project in Long Reach, a successful and viable development purchased and managed through the same mechanism being proposed for Verona. Columbia Landing is 80 percent market rate and 20 percent moderate income, as Verona would be, and has operated successfully and seamlessly in the community for the last six years. Other mixed-income Commission projects such as Monarch Mills and Burgess Mills Station have been widely praised for their quality, for their amenities, and for contributing to community redevelopment in Ellicott City and Columbia. Those would be the models if future redevelopment took place.
Q: What are the current rents and will they be maintained?
A: Verona is a market rate property, with rents averaging about $1,250 per month.Under Commission ownership, 80 percent of units in Verona will be at market rate, and the Commission is hopeful that those rents would rise over the next decade. The Commission is not interested in restricting rents. Some units will be designated as moderate income units, but it is important to note that “moderate income housing unit” rents are actually HIGHER than those charged currently at Verona. For example, a two-bedroom unit rents for $1,264 per month at Verona, but the MIHU price would be $1,349 per month. In short, it is expected that rents at Verona will rise over the next decade, not decrease.
Q: Are there future Housing Commission plans for the property?
A: The Commission plans to operate the property in its current configuration for at least 10 years, as per the requirements of the proposed financing that would be obtained by the Commission. After that, the Commission expects to refinance and either rehabilitate or redevelop the property as a high-quality, mixed-income community, similar to Monarch Mills or Burgess Mill Station. Such a plan would contribute to revitalization in Oakland Mills.
Here are images of Burgess Mill Station and Monarch Mills:
Burgess Mill Station
Q: If that happens, would more units be built? Would density be increased?
A: At other properties redeveloped by Howard County Housing, density has been increased to create the financial resources needed for quality units and amenities. If redevelopment occurs, as with Monarch Mills, 60 percent of the units would be at market rate, near-luxury; the remainder would have income limits. Significant amenities would also be included.
Q: Would there be an opportunity for public input before those plans are developed?
A: Yes. The Commission will work closely with the community in developing plans for either redevelopment or rehabilitation of Verona. It is the Commission’s practice to fully vet all plans with the community, through multiple community meetings, and there would be pre-submission meetings required through the Planning and Zoning process, and meetings before the County Council prior to obtaining state financing.
Q: Has this project received appropriate public notice?
A: The Housing Commission has the right and responsibility to maintain confidentiality as it seeks to acquire property. Potential sellers would be dissuaded from doing business with the Commission if negotiations and discussions took place in public.
Now that you have read a citizen's concerns, and the County's FAQ's, what do you think? Have your questions been answered?
Yes, I am going to offer a little home-grown analysis. Tomorrow.