“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.

(23) comments

DickD

So, Matt, we have enough low cost homes, we don't need more and you have given them a list of the locations and prices. Good job!

jsklinelga

DickD I sincerely hope and pray you are being facetious. Thank you Matt for pointing out the numerous projects that are dedicated to affordable housing. Not everyone can afford a college education. But the lower income workers, in all the various professions, are the ones that keep our society functioning. There will never be enough affordable housing but it is great to hear the positive.

DickD

I just didn't think it was necessary to tell us the obvious.

DickD

If you took the time to read Sue's 1.05 pm comment, Jim you wouldn't have to make this snide remark.

jsklinelga

DickD Snide? Wasn't sure if you were being serious. I am still not. Anyway good column Matt. Nice to hear the positive.

sue1955

Mark, this is a good article - well researched. It's nice to read something from an author who knows the rental market. Usually, articles on the subject are written by somebody who is absolutely clueless on rental property. And, that includes narrative from local officials.

sue1955

Sorry, MATT. It's a moot point, but I misread your first name.

Dwasserba

Ok.

TomWheatley

Newer building codes are nice, but elevators for a 3 story building seems a bit much.

sue1955

Tom, it's not for people who have mobility issues. Even young people who are very active have problems (or begin to have them, in time) going up and down stairs. I know of people who got overwhelmed bringing in a few bags of groceries and/or out to walk their dogs. They get to the point of saying, "Who needs this?" And, these are people who are in shape and "into" exercise.

Dwasserba

Always take the stairs if you can. When we lived in an apartment, it was a third floor walkup.One thing to be grateful for when I broke my leg was that I no longer lived there.

petersamuel

Another point from economics that bolsters Matt Edens: every time a classy new housing unit is finished and occupied, that occupant moves out of somewhere. And that somewhere becomes vacant. In many cases that vacated 'somewhere' is 'affordable,' if not directly then via a chain of transactions in which people upgrade their housing. It works wherever there's a market for used goods. I can't afford a Tesla but the guy who can and who buys a new Tesla may be selling a 6-year old Toyota which on the used market helps provide affordable mobility. Gentrification so-called can be consistent with more affordable housing via a chain of sales.

gary4books

[thumbup][thumbup]

oldmagpie11

False equivalence: when housing is seen as an investment, your "chain of sales" model might hold - but housing is a necessity, and moving and/or job-hunting aren't trivial undertakings. "That occupant moves out of somewhere" - unlike a 6-year-old Toyota, a "somewhere" that becomes vacant isn't easily relocated to suit a new owner/occupant even if it would be affordable for them. There are dozens of attractive and affordable single family homes in utterly unlivable places.

MD1756

Blame growth for the problem.

Dwasserba

"Unliveable" means different things to different people, but if you want to know how our area has spoiled you forever, check out what's avail for near-nothing if you just cross a state line and drive another 3-5 hours. Steep adjustment curve.

sue1955

I don't understand, Peter. Anybody moving to a rental housing from housing where they were a homeowner (or mortage holder) is going to want to sell for the highest price. How then would the vacated property become affordable property? A house that was "affordable" when the owner moved in would be subject to the market price when sold. For example, somebody who lived in a house where they moved in 1960 is going to be sold at today's housing price, not what the market was in 1960. That's the nature of the market. For rental housing that a tenant moves for new property (another place to live that is upgraded), the former property is not going to subsequently be rented for a lesser amount. (An exception is for a "special promotion" that a rental property gives to new tenants to entice them to move in. This takes the form of a lesser (or no) security deposit (as an example). The rental property companies are looking for the highest rent they can get. As a side issue, higher-end properties want to maintain housing of a certain standard for people less likely to be criminals. In fact, the higher-end properties have practices in place where a prospective renter cannot have a history of crime. And, it is written in proper leases that a renter cannot (paraphrasing) bring crime into the property nor create it. Lesser rental properties obviously flaunt that, which is why certain properties are consistent locations where criminals live. It is evident when looking at the criminal(s)' residence addresses in the media (e.g., crime reports).

Dwasserba

Ummm I worked in residential real estate and tenants who turned out to be criminals weren't forthcoming with that history. I remember surreptitiously touring an apartment with my boss after the FBI told us it was under surveillance. It did turn out a few times that criminals can afford "high end." Yes the lease prohibited crime. It's diabolical how you can be deceived by persons who deceive for a living.

threecents

I think it is unlikely that an old Toyota will become gentrified.

Reader1954

information about how to get on a list for some of these places would have been a helpful addition to this

oldmagpie11

@reader [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] I looked at the requirements for 520 N Market. They want at least one occupant per bedroom in each unit, as well as constraining total household income. If you want a 2BR unit you have to bring a roomie.

sue1955

Reader; are you meaning lists to get into "affordable housing." There is a website that gives information when looking at either Frederick city or county. I accidentally came across it one time several months ago when looking for something else and it was a topic that one could choose. I have known people looking for such housing and there is a wait list - at least at the time that these folks were looking. Also, people have to apply and their banking information for the last year is reviewed before acceptance (if they are "called up" that there is a place available).

DickD

We have some very good social services in Frederick County. They can tell you.

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