WINCHESTER — The Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) plans to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to convert blighted properties into affordable housing.
That’s according to the city’s development services director, Shawn Hershberger, who said on Tuesday that final details of the initiative won’t be hashed out until City Council votes on how to distribute Winchester’s $12,337,682 ARPA appropriation.
“There’s a lot still to be determined, federal guidelines to go through to see what is allowable,” Hershberger said.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was enacted by Congress on March 10 to provide $350 billion to states and local governments to respond to the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including providing assistance to households, businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Winchester will receive its $12.3 million ARPA allocation in two equal payments of $6,168,841. The first payment was received last month; the second is due in June 2022.
City Council is expected to finalize how the money will be divvied up on either Tuesday or at its Aug. 10 meeting. For now, city staff is recommending that $450,000 of the initial $6.2 million be given to the EDA for business assistance programs.
If council follows through with staff’s recommendation, Hershberger said $250,000 of the $450,000 would be used to acquire one or more properties that have been declared blighted and convert them into affordable housing.
“It’s another step in the dual paths of addressing both blighted and substandard properties and focusing on homeownership and affordability,” he said.
Last month, City Council declared two residential properties in downtown Winchester, both owned by Wayne M. and Laura Gavis of Greenwood Road in Frederick County, as blighted. The two vacant properties — four adjoining townhouses at 514-520 S. Loudoun St. and a single-family home at 411 S. Loudoun St. — are the only structures that council has declared blighted this year, but Hershberger said they won’t be part of the EDA’s effort to improve substandard buildings to create affordable housing.
“That is a separate issue,” he said, explaining the Gavis properties have been in violation of City Code for years and there are legal issues that must be sorted out by the courts before Winchester determines if it will renovate or demolish the structures before putting the sites up for sale.
Moving forward, any structures that council declares blighted could be eligible for purchase and renovation by the EDA using ARPA money.
“The goal is to move at least one or more properties from substandard or blighted conditions to habitability, to create a desirable, affordable unit for, hopefully, a first-time home buyer,” Hershberger said.
While he admits that $250,000 won’t go far in addressing Winchester’s critical need for affordable housing, Hershberger said it could be just the start of the EDA’s effort to increase the city’s supply of homes that working-class individuals and families can afford.
On Tuesday, the online real estate listing service Zillow.com advertised 32 single-family homes for sale in Winchester, a city of about 28,000 residents. Of those 32 homes, only 13 were priced at $300,000 or less. Those lower-priced properties probably won’t stay on the market for long, though, because all but one of the 32 single-family homes had been listed by Zillow for less than 60 days.
“This effort would be angled toward increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing,” Hershberger said of the EDA’s plans for the ARPA money. “It’s a start.”