Where’s the money?

5/18/2023, 6 p.m.
Last week we asked Mayor Levar M. Stoney to explain what happened to the higher real estate taxes the city …

Last week we asked Mayor Levar M. Stoney to explain what happened to the higher real estate taxes the city received from owners of property with expiring tax abatements, also called roll-off dollars.

Others involved in housing advocacy have been just as puzzled as we are as to what happened to the first installment of $2.4 million of roll-off dollars that a city ordinance required be sent to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to be used to support development of income- restricted developments.

For the first time, there is an explanation as to where that money went.

The $2.4 million and any further roll-off dollars are now included in the city’s general fund revenue without any specific indicator, according to Lincoln Saunders, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Mr. Saunders said the 2020 ordinance that City Council passed to direct that roll-off dollars be used as a revenue stream for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund “is still on the books.”

But he said the administration, with City Council’s tacit approval, is essentially ignoring that law, which he said is to be updated or eliminated in the coming months.

He said the council agreed with the approach that the Stoney administration adopted, which is to borrow $10 million in each of the next five years to support development of affordable housing in the city.

“I think it is a false statement to imply the money is somehow missing, when it is not,” he said.

Mr. Saunders said the city changed its approach to funding affordable housing after it discovered that the roll-off dollars would produce less money than anticipated.

He said the initial $2.4 million would have grown over several years to a maximum of $5.2 million a year and not increase, or less than the $10 million to be borrowed.

Mr. Saunders said the new approach would give the city a better chance to meet the goal of generating 10,000 additional affordable housing units by 2030, including apartments and for-sale homes.

Roll-off dollars would generate $23.8 million during the next five fiscal years, Mr. Saunders said. By borrowing the money, the city will have $50 million, or an additional $26.2 million to invest in income-restricted housing.

The new approach means that “we will be able to do more,” Mr. Saunders said.

The new approach also is more costly.

Mr. Saunders estimates the city will spend $17.6 million over 20 years to repay each $10 million borrowed. In other words, the city will pay $88 million over 20 years to repay the $50 million it collectively plans to borrow.

That’s a policy choice that can be debated.

We believe the administration and the council could have explained this more clearly and sooner to ensure the public was clear about what was happening.