Editorial: City should continue talking about incentives

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 21, 2019

The hour was late and the Salisbury City Council was already deep into its Tuesday evening meeting, but an encouraging conversation was just getting started.

As the Salisbury City Council considered incentives for apartment developers in downtown, members discussed whether a change to an incentive program would effectively incentivize developers to build several smaller apartment units rather than one large unit in downtown buildings.

Because of the change, developers could receive a flat grant of $7,500 per residential unit as opposed to a rate calculated based on the number of square feet. The maximum award is $97,500. For a small, 500-square-foot apartment, a developer could receive $3,500 per unit under the prior plan, meaning that the new rate would provide 2.14% more for that size.

“The major objective here is to create additional units,” Planning Director Hannah Jacobson said. “We don’t want to create an incentive that creates a much larger one-unit building that would receive as much funding.”

Councilman Brian Miller echoed that sentiment, saying the change was a good idea. Otherwise, the city’s downtown might be home to buildings with 2,000-square-foot apartments that only “certain kinds of people” can afford, Miller said.

“It’s about development not creating a different class, especially because it’s public money,” Miller said.

And especially after recently wrapping up an analysis of impediments to fair housing, city staff and council members should continue working to incentivize affordable apartments in downtown Salisbury — that is, apartments people earning an hourly wage can afford. The median gross rent in Salisbury is $761, according to the latest data available through the U.S. Census. And the median household income is $38,316.

Another task will be ensuring there’s no proliferation of too-small units in valuable residential space. A variety of options is best.

Because of higher costs associated with developing or redeveloping a downtown building for residential units, including preserving its historic character, rents may never dip to Salisbury’s median. And it may remain tough for folks earning the median household income to find an affordable place downtown, but the city should continue looking for ways to incentivize developers to build units of various sizes that come close.

Salisbury will be more vibrant when a greater proportion of its residents live downtown. There will be more shops, stores, activities and businesses. That vibrancy will be made greater when people at various income levels can find a suitable apartment downtown.