Just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Oxford Board of Aldermen created the Affordable Housing Committee to help combat the area’s lack of workforce housing.
The 13-member committee’s job was to brainstorm ideas on ways to increase affordable housing and present them to the Board of Aldermen.
After Tuesday’s regular Board of Aldermen meeting, the committee is now the official Affordable Housing Commission.
That means it’s an official governing board that must adhere to the same rules as other city commissions, like holding open meetings and recording minutes.
The new commission will have nine members that will be appointed by the mayor and approved by the Board of Aldermen.
Members must be residents of Oxford or Lafayette County or employed in organizations related to affordable housing in Lafayette County. The majority of members shall work in an employed or volunteer capacity for organizations related to the field of housing, finance, or abatement of poverty.
The commission will take on two tasks to start – craft language that would possibly create an Affordable Housing Trust and develop an Affordable Housing Master Plan.
“These changes will better enable efforts to address our ongoing need to find ways to increase the supply of affordable housing for our low-wage, full-time workers, our moderate-income, skilled and emergency workers, our seniors on limited incomes and our low wage single parents with children,” said Judy Daniel, the former city planner who serves as a staff liaison to the commission. “This is thus both an ethical and economic development task and mission.”
The board passed the resolution to create the commission after the first reading and public hearing on Tuesday. Most city ordinances are given two, and often three, readings before the board votes.
Mayor Robyn Tannehill said the creation of the commission is an “exciting step forward for affordable housing” in Oxford.
“I think we all know that affordable housing is going to have to be addressed in many forms and fashion,” Tannehill said Tuesday. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing and not something you can just throw money at and fix it.”
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, JT Thomas, who serves as a member on one of the commission’s subcommittees, sent an email to the aldermen and mayor voicing two concerns.
Thomas pointed out that two members of the commission were local developers who were financially invested in local workforce housing projects. He suggested that commission members complete a statement of economic interests that would be available to the public.
“This is already required for state-level commissions,” he wrote. “This helps hold commission members accountable to the public they serve and minimizes negative public perceptions of commission members and their work.”
He also said a share of the commission seats should be designated to low-income community members.
In an emailed reply to Thomas, Tannehill said when or if a conflict arises, commission members recuse themselves from the meeting. She also said that while having someone who is from a low-income household would be a great addition to the commission, it would be difficult to qualify them as such since the city would not ask for income verification or tax returns to qualify someone as low-income.