Affordable Housing in Downtown Columbia


 Affordable Housing in Downtown Columbia

by Andy Stack, Boar Chair of Columbia Association

June 21, 2016

Although two proposals are currently being discussed to address affordable housing in Downtown Columbia, I would recommend that the CA Board take a step back and consider what is needed in terms of affordable housing in Downtown Columbia. Perhaps neither of the two proposals is the correct one for Columbia. I believe there are three questions which the CA Board needs to discuss before deciding our position on affordable housing in Downtown Columbia.

How many affordable dwelling units should be built in Downtown Columbia?

  1. Should affordable dwelling units be all private construction, all public construction or a mixture?
  2. If public affordable dwelling units are constructed, should they be a mixture of market rate and affordable and at what is the percentage (50/50, 60/40, 40/60, etc.)?


The following are some thoughts concerning affordable housing proposals for Downtown Columbia and what CA should consider supporting.

Current Situation

The Downtown Columbia Redevelopment plan allowed up to 5,500 dwelling units to be built in Downtown Columbia. Instead of placing a mandate upon a developer in Downtown Columbia to incorporate affordable housing within a project, a fund was to be created to provide for affordable housing. This fund would be used to help meet the affordable housing needs of the community. Downtown developers would pay into this fund. A Downtown Columbia Community Housing Foundation (DCCHF) was created oversee this fund and to provide affordable housing. The DCCHF would be funded as follows. GGP [now HHC] will contribute $1.5 million to the DCCHF upon issuance of the first building permit for new housing in Downtown Columbia and an additional $1.5 million upon the issuance of a building permit for the 400th new residential dwelling unit in Downtown Columbia. Each developer will provide a one-time per unit payment to the DCCHF in the following amounts; payment is due upon issuance of any building permits.

$2,000/unit for each unit up to and including the 1,500th unit;

  1. $7,000/unit for each unit between the 1,501th and 3,500th unit;
  2. $9,000/unit for each unit after the 3,501th unit and up to and including the 5,500th

The DCCHF was to be notified if any developer in Downtown Columbia had land for sale. This was to allow the DCCHF to work with the developer to determine if affordable housing could be incorporated into the development. DCCHF housing is to be located in Downtown Columbia. The DCCHF currently has $4.8 million. To date, no dwelling units have been created by the DCCHF.

How Many Affordable Dwelling Units

Should Be Built In Downtown Columbia?

Number of Affordable Dwelling Units

Columbia was developed with a range of housing to allow people of all income levels to live in the community. Mr. Rouse believed that it was important that Columbia be open to all people. In relation to Howard County, Columbia contains most of the affordable housing in the county. Columbia has 35% of the county population, but 50% of its rental units. Because of the range of dwelling units constructed in Columbia, no minimum number of affordable dwelling units has been imposed by the County. It is important that Downtown Columbia contain affordable housing, but it is also important that the overall percentage and number of units of affordable housing in Columbia (including what will be added in Downtown Columbia) be reasonable, particularly in relation to the entire county.

Currently, we have the following information regarding affordable housing in Columbia. Note that Monarch Mills, while located very close to the Village of Owen Brown, is not technically part of Columbia.

Section 8 Voucher Program: Howard County has 1,337 vouchers

West Columbia                     488

East Columbia                      387

South Columbia                   193

Total                                       1,068

So, 80% (1068/1337) of the eligible households with Section 8 Vouchers have chosen to live in Columbia.

Section 8 Project-Based Housing: Howard County has 1,260 units of Section 8 Project-Based Housing

HC                              100

HR                              108

LR                               310

OM                              108

OB                              228

WL                              300

Total                           1,154

Monarch Mills           37

Total                           1,191

So, 92% (1154/1260) of the Section 8 Project-Based housing units are in Columbia. If you include Monarch Mills, then 95% (1191/1260) of the Section 8 Project-Based housing units are in Columbia and its environs.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC): Howard County has 1,646 units of LIHTC

LR                               99

DS                              120

KC                              50

OB                              103

Total                           372

Monarch Mills           79

Total                           451


So, 23% (372/1646) of the LIHTC are in Columbia. If you include Monarch Mills in the total, then 27% (451/1646) of the LIHTC are in Columbia and its environs.

Taken together, Columbia has 2,594 units (Section 8 + LIHTC) of the total Howard County amount of 4,243. This is 61% of the county total. If you include Monarch Mills in the totals, Columbia has 64% (2,710/4,243). Clearly, Columbia has over 60% of all the Section 8 + LIHTC housing in Howard County.

The information shows that Columbia has the vast majority of Section 8 housing in Howard County. One can ask if it reasonable to include additional Section 8 Project-Based housing and vouchers in Downtown Columbia. Downtown Columbia is a nice place to live, but it is possible to over concentrate Section 8 housing in one location. This will continue the trend of Columbia supplying virtually all the Section 8 housing in Howard County. Because of the high concentration of Section 8 Project-Based housing already located in Columbia, no additional Section 8 Project-Based housing should be built in Downtown Columbia.

One of the plans mentions including Section 8 vouchers in Downtown Columbia and assumes the people utilizing these will come from existing rental units. However, over 80% of the Section 8 vouchers already live in Columbia, so the overall percentage of Section 8 vouchers in Columbia will either stay the same or increase (some people outside of Columbia currently using Section 8 vouchers may decide to move to Downtown Columbia). There also has been talk of increasing the overall number of Section 8 vouchers in Howard County, which based upon the current statistics, will lead to Columbia having an even larger percentage of the Section 8 vouchers. It is debatable whether additional Section 8 vouchers are appropriate for Columbia.

Increasing affordable housing in Downtown Columbia, while an important goal, also increases the overall amount of affordable housing in Columbia. How much more affordable housing should Columbia absorb? Other zoning districts require between 10% and 15% of new dwelling units to be affordable. However, other zoning districts don’t have the amount of affordable housing which already exists in Columbia (New Town zoning).  Also, Columbia already has over 60% of the Section 8 + LIHTC dwelling units in Columbia. Any increase in affordable housing in Downtown Columbia will increase this total. One proposal calls for 702 additional units of affordable and the other calls for up to 900 additional units. This would result in Columbia containing 67% (3296/4945) or 68% (3494/5143) of all the units in Howard County.

Given the Downtown Columbia redevelopment plan called for 5500 new dwelling units (of which almost 900 have already been approved) and given that Columbia has a large segment of affordable housing, 430 units (less than 10% of the yet to be built total) of affordable housing seems reasonable for Downtown Columbia and as an increase overall within Columbia. This would increase the overall percentage in Columbia to 65% (3024/4673).

Maximum Number of Dwelling Units

Columbia was and should remain a planned community. Columbia, under New Town zoning, has always had a maximum number of dwelling units which could be built. The original number was set in the Preliminary Development Plan (PDP) and over the years, has been increased, after appropriate public input focused on whether or not the increase is needed. The revisions for the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia allocated up to an additional 5500 dwelling units in Columbia. In order to remain as a planned community Columbia, under New Town zoning, should continue to have a maximum number of dwelling units including the units for Downtown Columbia. Having a set number of dwelling units means that any proposed increase will have to go through a public process focused on determining if the increase should be allowed. And it means that the burden of proof falls on the people proposing the increase. This is a good planning tool and is needed to ensure Columbia remains a planned community. Under any scheme to address affordable housing in Downtown Columbia, a maximum number of dwelling units should be specified. Affordable units should not be exempt from the total number of dwelling units allowed in Columbia (both those specified in the PDP and those in the Downtown Columbia regulations).


Should Affordable Dwelling Units

Be All Private Construction,

All Public Construction

Or a Mixture?


Mixture of Public/Private Development

Care must be given regarding the mixture of private and public affordable housing units. Virtually all of the private dwelling units to be built in Downtown Columbia will be upscale (expensive; at the upper end or higher than market-rate) units. [You can see this in the Metropolitan (which will be the standard for Downtown Columbia) which has some of the highest apartment rents in Columbia.] As now planned, these dwelling units will be rentals, not condos. Simply scattering affordable units among the private units does not seem the best solution. We will end up with just upscale (very expensive) units or affordable units. What will be missing is reasonably-priced dwelling units. In order to address this, some of the affordable housing units should be under public control. The Housing Commission, in building Monarch Mills and Burgess Mills, has shown an ability to mix affordable units within market-rate projects. These projects are not upscale (i.e., expensive). The Housing Commission builds reasonable, high quality projects which would fit nicely in Downtown Columbia. Having public ownership of housing projects in Downtown Columbia will allow Downtown Columbia to have upscale units, reasonably priced units, and affordable units. The affordable housing units in Downtown Columbia should be split between public and private developed projects.

Private/Public Split

Regarding the split of affordable dwelling units between the public and the private sectors, a 50/50 split between public/private seems reasonable. However, if more reasonably priced dwelling units should be developed, than the split would have to be more like a 60 (public)/40 (private) or something similar. Affordable dwelling units constructed by the private sector should be scattered among projects and should be counted against the 5,500 dwelling unit limit for Downtown Columbia.

Assuming 430 units of affordable should be built in Downtown Columbia, if the split between public and private is 50/50, then 215 units would be privately developed and count against the 5,500 dwelling unit cap and 215 units would be publicly developed. If the split were 60% public and 40% private, then 172 units would be private developed and count against the 5,500 dwelling unit limit for Downtown Columbia and 258 would be publicly developed.

If Public Affordable Dwelling Units Are Constructed,

Should They Be a Mixture of Market Rate and Affordable

& If So, At What Percentage (50/50, 60/40, 40/60, etc.)?


The public developed projects should have a 60- 40 split with 60% of the units being market-based and 40% being affordable units. This better incorporates these projects into the existing community and does not over-concentrate the affordable units. It also provides for more reasonably priced units in Downtown Columbia.

Assuming that between 215 and 258 units will be developed by the public Housing Commission, some of these units could be restricted to seniors. One proposal calls for 90 of the affordable units to be for seniors. This is a worthwhile idea. That leaves between 125 and 168 affordable units to be developed with the 60-40 split. This requires between 312 and 420 total dwelling units to be developed to yield 125 to 168 affordable units (187/252 market rate and 125/168 affordable). Overall, the public developer will need between 402 (90+312) and 510 (90+420) dwelling units in Downtown Columbia. The total number of dwelling units in Downtown Columbia should be increased by this amount. That will bring the total number of dwelling units to be built in Downtown Columbia to be between 5,902 and 6,010.

Other Issues


Regarding parking, although the figure used is 1.65 spaces per dwelling unit, in reality 1.5 spaces is the amount actually required in building the existing 900 units. With 4600 units still to be built, the private developer would be required to build 6900 parking spaces. If the parking requirement is reduced to 1.3 space for studios and one bedroom apartments (and assuming 50% of the units will be studio/one bedroom apartments), the developer would be required to build 6440 parking spaces (1.5 x 2300 plus 1.3 x 2300), a net reduction of 460 spaces. If this reduction is spread over all the private developed projects, then the reduction seems reasonable.


All projects (public or private) should be required to adhere to building height limits and the funding of art requirement.