“I’d love to see more units like these downtown, preferably affordable ones please.” That’s what CJ Fairfield asked at the close of her piece a couple of weeks ago expressing consternation over the cost of an apartment in the newly renovated Kemp Hall at Church and Market streets downtown. The piece — along with an earlier one by Kate Masters about artists worrying that “they’ll be pushed out of the community they helped to create” — prompted plenty of kvetching about how the days of renting the whole third floor of a chopped-up town house on the cheap are becoming a hazy memory.
Kemp Hall’s apartments aren’t exactly third-floor walk-ups with baseboard heat and cheap linoleum, though — and it’s a difference that goes far deeper than quartzite countertops and shiny new appliances. Most of downtown’s older apartments are grandfathered in from decades ago, but change of use requirements meant that Kemp Hall’s apartments had to be brought fully up to current codes — items like sprinklers, elevators and an access ramp that drive up costs enough to prevent many of downtown’s empty upper floors from being converted into apartments, no matter what the rent.
Essentially, Kemp Hall’s “comps” are the equally pricey new complexes popping up around town. One-bedroom units at East of Market north of downtown start at $1,465 a month. You’ll pay at least $1,400 for one at Prospect Hall on Butterfly Lane, one across from Wegmans at Retreat at Market Square will run you $1,300 and up, and one-bedrooms at Urban Green in Urbana start at $1,480. So while downtown may be becoming more expensive, it’s hardly an outlier.
But unlike almost everywhere else in the city and county, downtown is also adding a considerable amount of affordable housing. Since Fairfield wanted to see some affordable units, she should have checked out the ribbon-cutting at 520 N. Market the day before Kemp Hall’s opening. Financed via the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, 53 of the development’s 59 units are reserved for households making between $20,000 and $60,000. Sinclair Way — a similar new development tucked between South and Patrick streets just east of Jefferson Street — contains 71 units. Hook Properties will soon begin the tax-credit-financed transformation of the old Goodwill building on East Church Street into 83 more units of affordable housing reserved for households making $36,000 to $64,000 annually, and a project to build 86 apartments for seniors making 60 percent or less of area median income is under construction at the old Sharpe’s Flowers property just north of downtown.
None of these developments merit a mention in either piece, though. Nor do the apartments in the old Francis Scott Key Hotel, developed via the Low Income Housing Tax Credit almost two decades ago. Yet other than the senior development, many a millennial renter would no doubt qualify, including many of the artists cited in the earlier piece. In fact, national nonprofit developers such as ArtSpace have tapped into the Low Income Housing Tax Credit specifically to develop affordable artist housing.