After a spate of soul-searching and a hint of hand-wringing, the Payson Town Council decided to once more waive building fees to help Habitat for Humanity add to the town’s inadequate supply of affordable housing.
Habitat for Humanity nearly stumbled into Payson’s budget pit last week when it asked for the town to waive $7,500 in building permit fees on the third phase of a housing development on Longhorn.
The town council has routinely waived building fees for the non-profit organization in the past, grateful that the group has tried to ease the town’s critical shortage of housing the average working person in Payson can afford.
However, the budget woes of the past two years have prompted the council to eliminate subsidies for other charitable groups in town and crack down on fee waivers, even for worthy causes.
“In the past, we’ve supported Payson Helping Payson and St. Vincent de Paul (food bank) and a lot of other groups and we’ve pulled away from all of that,” said Councilor Richard Croy, “and I have a problem giving taxpayer dollars, which in effect is what we’re doing, to any agency. It’s not like five years ago when we had money in the bank.”
Ironically enough, Croy has made his living putting together government-subsidized low-income housing projects in Payson and elsewhere — mostly projects for senior citizens.
However, Councilor Fred Carpenter disagreed. “One of the things I want to do on this council is to continue to support affordable housing.”
The debate involved the fees the town would normally charge for inspections and plan reviews of the third phase of the housing project, which will provide affordable housing for 14 families. Previously, the town had already approved using vouchers for water impact fees given to the town by another developer to cover $50,000 to $60,000 in impact fees Habitat for Humanity would have had to pay. .
Cristine Royer, from Habitat for Humanity, said while she understood the town’s need to tighten its budget, charging the project the full $15,000 in plan fees would cause a hardship, since project managers had assumed the town would once again waive the fees when they got their financing.
She noted that the project will end up helping families stay in town with mortgage payments averaging about $200 a month. The development will house about 31 children, whose families could not otherwise afford afford a house in Payson, she said.
Those 31 children will generate more than $160,000 annually in state revenue for the school district, as one example of the impact.
She noted that the group has worked to become self-sustaining and is relying on grants and fund-raising, like revenue from the operations of its downtown store that sells donated building materials.
Payson did a housing study in 2006, which concluded the average working person in Payson can’t afford a mortgage on the average house. Since then, home prices have peaked and then dropped. That has reduced the price of housing in the community, but a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate and a slump in wages has largely wiped out the gains for many families.
Food banks report a sharp rise in the number of people leaving town because they can’t afford their rent any more and the school district last year lost 100 students, which cut state funding to the district by about $600,000.
The 2006 housing report concluded that the average family of four would need an income of $102,000 to afford the mortgage on the average Payson home — which then cost about $363,000. However, the average income for a family of four stood at just $43,000 at that time. Mayor Kenny Evans, Su Connell and Croy all voted against the waiver, but Carpenter, Ed Blair, Michael Hughes and John Wilson prevailed.