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December 12, 2005

  No new apartment projects have been approved, nor even submitted for approval, since the Uniform Development Code was enacted eight years ago. Councilman John Cartier sees that as undeniable evidence that New Castle County is failing to provide housing for a significant number of its citizens.

"Only two types of [housing] products are being built -- 'mc-mansions' and 55-and-over. We're not looking at entry-level housing at all," he said.

With a booming real estate market and continuing demand for houses in the $400,000-and-up price range, it is hardly unexpected that developers will focus on that most profitable segment of the business. To the extent that they do to the exclusion of buyers of considerably more modest means, Cartier is determined to bring county government into the picture to redress the balance.

He told Delaforum he is looking for "profound change" in the development code. "The U.D.C. is the biggest enemy of working families," he said.

To bring that about he is organizing what he expects to be a year-long effort to come up with an pro-active policy to encourage -- and, to some extent, mandate -- 'affordable housing' as a routine part of the development process. He plans to form a taskforce of persons with interests in the topic, including civic representatives, to craft 'inclusionary zoning' legislation.

While the term 'affordable housing' itself tends to provoke opposition, Cartier doesn't believe public opinion will be an impediment. There are relatively nearby county jurisdictions, with affluence comparable to New Castle, where inclusion of such housing is accepted practice, he said. Specifically, he cited Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax and Arlington Counties in Virginia, which are part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

In his own district, he said, there has been a not-widely-noted agreement which could signal the same thing can happen here. As part of the evolving arrangement for redeveloping the Brookview Apartments complex, the Commonwealth Group-Setting Properties joint venture has agreed that 10% of the units in the new community will be 'affordable' and to provide an equal number of such units in the vicinity. Cartier said that could be done by acquiring scattered properties in the Claymont area and rehabilitating or replacing existing substandard housing.

The councilman said his interest in the topic was sparked by his involvement with the Brookview proposal and the issue of relocating present tenants of the complex. "This is not just about Brookview. It goes well beyond Brookview [and is] something we have to address countywide," he said.

The changes he hopes to bring about are not anti-Unified Development Code, he added. The model code effectively removed politics -- and potential for corruption --  from the land-use approval process while guaranteeing that proposed developments meet all the technical requirements before being approved, he said.

Cartier agreed that the biggest hurdle in the way of public acceptance is to disassociate 'affordable' housing from public housing or housing for the poor. The former looks to provide housing for which households earning around 80% of the area's median annual income can qualify for a mortgage loan. Median income is the point on the scale where an equal number of households are earning more and are earning less. In New Castle County, that's about $54,000, he said.

Cartier and other proponents favor using 'workforce housing' as a more descriptive and less provocative designation. Buyers would include "your typical county employee, young teachers, beginning professionals" and the like, he said.

In the Washington area, he said, such housing can be designed to be undistinguishable on the outside and blend in with more expensive structures. One innovative technique he found on a recent visit was to subdivide a large housing into four condominium apartment units.

CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.

  The financial services sector -- a major component of the Delaware economy -- is one of the most aggressive when it comes to 'outsourcing' technical and support operations to low-wage counties.  The Charlotte Observer took a close look at what's happening as it relates to Bank of America and Wachovia, which are based in the North Carolina city but also are important in the Wilmington area. CLICK HERE to read the article.

  A few weeks ago, banners outside every Lowe's store in the nation announced a sale on "Holiday Trees." Hundreds of Christians called to complain that the home-improvement chain was shunning Christmas. The banners came down. Now the fake firs and pines are clearly labeled "Christmas Trees."  MORE



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