Commission hears project concerns

Upshur County commissioners balked at throwing their support behind a low-income housing project after the local Landlords Association expressed concerns over the matter.

Joe Leighton approached the county commission nearly two months ago, proposing to build an estimated 30-unit rental property that would be similar to one he is building in Gilmer County. He said the Buckhannon project would be built in an area identified by the 2010 Census. But to qualify for federal tax credits, the project would need the support of the county government.

“If I have the support of the county commission, the Economic Development Authority, the city and all those stakeholders, we can win an allocation of tax credits for 2013,” Leighton said. “The support of the community is not only important to the scoring system, it’s important to me. I don’t like to work where I’m not wanted.”

The rent for the one- , two- and three-bedroom units will range from about $350 to $500 per month. The amount is regulated by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, Leighton said. The rent would also include utilities.

But Jody Light, representing the Upshur County Chapter of the West Virginia Landlords Association, said her organization was concerned about the vast number of unknowns surrounding the project.

“We don’t have the property identified. We don’t have the investors identified, and we don’t have a property management team identified,” she said. “There’s so much vague information for us to say, ‘Gung Ho.’ There’s too many unknowns. He may build a wonderful project. But we don’t have enough facts. What’s today may not be what’s tomorrow.”

Leighton said without the letters of support from the community organizations, he would not be able to financially proceed with the project. He said he believes there is a need for quality, low-income housing.

“All of the planets need to be in alignment for me to have a fighting chance,” he said regarding receiving the tax credits. “I don’t like to have a fighting chance. I like to know I can win. So all of the ducks have to be in the proper alignment.”

Commissioner JC Raffety said the number of school children receiving free or reduced meals “indicates there is a substantial amount of families who are having trouble making ends meet.”

Light, however, said low-income rental units is not the way to attract higher-paying industrial and manufacturing jobs. She said those workers who would be employed at such places would be ineligible to rent an apartment at this complex. She also said the project only creates a part-time property manager and a part-time maintenance worker.