Rejected 4–5 by Bloomington city council: Affordable housing link to more bedrooms in duplexes

On a 4–5 vote taken Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council rejected an amendment to a proposed zoning ordinance that would have tied a higher number of bedrooms in a duplex unit to affordability requirements.

Voting for Amendment 04 were its sponsors, Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg, who were joined by Ron Smith and Sue Sgambelluri. Voting against it were Steve Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Jim Sims.But by the time the council recessed its meeting around 11 p.m., its work on Ordinance 21-23 was still not finished.

The council left off in the middle of public commentary on Amendment 05, which would add potential undue traffic congestion as one of the criteria the board of zoning appeals would need to consider, when granting a conditional use permit for a duplex.

The council is set to resume its session at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday (May 13).

Under Amendment 04 to Ordinance 21-23, which failed on a 4–5 split, a duplex unit could not have more than two bedrooms per unit—for a total of four. Three bedrooms would be allowed—for a total of six—only if affordability requirements are met.

Under the failed Amendment 04, one way to meet the affordability requirements would be to make both sides of the duplex permanently income-restricted for those earning below 120 percent of the HUD area median income (AMI). The other way to meet the affordability requirements would be to make one of the duplex units permanently income-restricted for those earning below 80 percent of the AMI.

Voting for Amendment 04 were its sponsors, Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg, who were joined by Ron Smith and Sue Sgambelluri. Voting against it were Steve Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Jim Sims.

Reasons given by public commenters and councilmembers for opposing the amendment included variants of those given at the start of the deliberations by Bloomington’s director of planning and transportation, Scott Robinson.

As one of his reasons, Robinson cited Amendment 03, which the council approved on a 7–2 vote last week. That amendment put a cap of 15 per calendar year on the number of duplexes that could receive conditional use permits. Amendment 03 also prevents additional duplexes for two years within a 150-foot buffer of a parcel where a duplex conditional use permit is granted.

If the affordability incentive for duplexes in Amendment 04 would add affordable duplex units, then Amendment 03 would slow the addition of affordable housing, Robinson said. As Robinson put it: “If [Amendment 03] was such a good idea, it seems to me that the cap and buffer may hinder future affordable units.”

Robinson also pointed to the scale of other affordability requirements in the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO), on which the proposed duplex requirements were based. The UDO’s affordable housing standards are based on incentives where a maximum of 85 percent of the units are market rate, and a minimum of 15 percent of the units are permanently affordable units.

The theory, Robinson said, is that market-rate units in a project subsidize the affordable units. There are not enough units in a duplex for that dynamic to apply, he said, because either 100 percent of the units or 50 percent of the units would have to be affordable.

Robinson said, “The nature of the duplex does not offer enough units or bedrooms to provide any real incentive to leverage affordable units or bedrooms.”

Robinson added that there are other affordable housing tools, including many that are not in the UDO, that the administration supports. Those tools include the $450,000 home-ownership assistance program, administered by the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department, Robinson said. It was included in the initial phase of the Recover Forward program.

Responding by email to a question from The Square Beacon about the status of the HAND program on home-ownership assistance, HAND director John Zody said “We’ll be announcing the first closing of this program, and will have related information, later this week.”

A basic reason given for supporting Amendment 03 was given by its sponsors and many of the 50 people who weighed in during public commentary: If duplexes are supposed to add to affordable housing supply, then the amendment will help support that.

Sandberg put it this way: “How…can you protect our local rental and owner market? The answer is simple. Use with clear purpose what leverage you have. If you want affordable rents, use the number of bedrooms allowed to incentivize affordable rents.”

Speaking during public commentary, Peter Bogdanoff said, “If the idea was to make housing affordable, why not make it affordable? Put your vote where your mouth is, and do what’s right.”

It was Kerry Thomson, former executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County, who drafted Amendment 04. During public comment on Wednesday, she said the legal restrictions in the state of Indiana make it impossible to require affordability.

But she pointed to the kind of incentives that are already included in Bloomington’s UDO, which can be used to encourage affordable housing.

“It’s hard to find a place to live in Bloomington and harder still to afford it, if you are middle to low income,” Thomson said. She concluded, “This amendment addresses that issue by incentivizing development to increase density for workforce housing.”

The 4–5 tally on Amendment 04 split the council in the same way as Amendment 01, which would have disallowed duplexes in central residential districts, even on conditional use.

Thursday’s session will resume at 6:30 p.m.

After Amendment 05, on traffic congestion, the council could consider more amendments, although no additional amendments have yet been proposed. Amendments can be moved “from the floor” up to the last moment before a final vote on an ordinance is taken. The only requirement under local law is that amendments be reduced to writing.

Even if there are no other amendments offered, that will still leave Ordinance 21-23, as amended, subject to council deliberations and public commentary.

That means it could be a long shot on Thursday, for the council to wrap up both Ordinance 21-23 and the revised citywide zoning map, which has not yet been introduced.