Lancaster City Council  authorized the purchase of this property at 838 Marietta Ave. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Source: Bright MLS)
Lancaster City Council authorized the purchase of this property at 838 Marietta Ave. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Source: Bright MLS)

City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate $5 million of Lancaster's American Rescue Plan Act funds to affordable housing.

Immediately afterward, Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El congratulated his colleagues for approving the largest direct investment in affordable housing in city history, prompting a round of applause by council members and the audience in council chambers.

The appropriation is "a bold stake in making a difference," Councilwoman Amanda Bakay said, adding that "it's not going to be the last."

The $5 million comes from $39.5 million in federal ARPA funds allocated to the city. The city administration has been canvassing public opinion on what to do with the money, and affordable housing is the top priority cited, Mayor Danene Sorace said.

An amendment to the measure, passed unanimously addresses concerns raised at City Council's previous meeting that most of the funding was not earmarked for specific projects and that therefore council members were essentially handing the administration a blank check.

Introduced by Councilman Jaime Arroyo, the amendment requires the administration to bring each disbursement from the $5 million to City Council for approval by resolution.

That addresses the issue of how to balance City Council's interest in ongoing oversight with the administration's interest in being able to act expeditiously in the local real estate market, where time may be of the essence in securing a particular deal.

A resolution can be introduced and voted on in a single meeting, making it more suited to quick action than an ordinance, which must be introduced in one meeting and voted on at a subsequent one.

Chris Delfs, Lancaster director of community planning & economic development, speaks to City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2021. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

838 Marietta Ave.

Upon passing the ordinance, City Council put it into practice right away, approving a resolution authorizing the city's purchase of at 838 Marietta Ave. for $995,000.

The property is currently a parking lot. The city intends to transfer it to housing nonprofit HDC MidAtlantic for development into affordable housing. A preliminary review suggests it could accommodate 46 to 50 units, said Chris Delfs, city director of community planning & economic development.

No timeline has yet been established. If HDC doesn't develop the site within seven years, the land is to revert to the city.

The 838 Marietta Ave. site is across the street from the vacant St. Joseph Hospital property. Private developer Washington Place Equities and HDC plan to collaborate there on a mixed-use project that includes HDC's conversion of the former hospital's Delp Wing into an affordable-housing complex of about 50 units.

Just east of the hospital site, at 213 College Ave. HDC is planning The Apartments at College Avenue, a 64-unit multi-family affordable housing project.

That project recently received $1.25 million in the form of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. HDC plans to start construction next year, and it's projected to take about 16 months, Claude Hicks, senior vice president of real estate development, said.

The tax credit application process is highly competitive, and it's unusual to prevail on the first try, as HDC did, Delfs said. HDC plans to seek tax credits for the Delp Wing as well; its timeline would depend on if and when they are obtained. The 838 Marietta Ave. project would then be third in line, after 213 Marietta Ave. and the Delp building.

The protracted timetable didn't sit well with community advocate Darlene Byrd, who leads the South Ann Street Concerned Neighbors.

"We need affordable housing now," not years from now, she said.

Delfs said the city's housing plan encompasses both preservation and enhancement of existing stock and creation of new units. Indeed, in the latter case, "it does take a few years" to build projects and bring them online, he said.

The 213 College Ave. project would rent units for households making 20% to 60% of area median income, or AMI. The 838 Marietta Ave. project would offer rents for households making 40% to 80% of AMI. In Lancaster County, the 2021 AMI for a family of four is $83,000.

Tim Stuhldreher