Village Plan: What is Affordable Housing?

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
“What does affordable housing mean in Sewanee?” asked Frank Gladu, Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor, posing the question at the Village Planning update meeting. Gladu hosts monthly gatherings to keep the community informed about Sewanee Village Plan activity. Gladu is tasked with overseeing the plan, a University initiative geared to ensuring long-term development in downtown Sewanee proceeds intentionally rather than haphazardly.
Housing is one of five priority projects.
A market analysis projected the community could support 100 more rental units and 120 more homes in the next five years, Gladu noted. The data is consistent with that from the Housing Study commissioned by the Provost.
“The study concluded the University should do everything possible to make it possible for employees to live on the domain,” Gladu stressed. “The retail housing market is the biggest obstacle to employees living here.”
“There are 400 homes on the domain, but many are out of the price range of employees.” Gladu said that in addition to the homes being costly, many were old and in need of renovation, adding to the expense.
University policy stipulates only employees can build on the domain, Gladu pointed out, but at present there were only four or five lots available. (Note: Parson’s Green is an exception, allowing full-time residents to build.)
In keeping with the Housing Study’s recommendation the University is expected to release 12 more lots in September, according to Gladu.
The Village Plan hopes to increase the housing inventory with a variety of affordable developer built housing options: clusters of small single family homes, apartments, and multi-family homes such as duplexes. University employees would have priority in owning or leasing these residences.
But, what is affordable for University employees?
The rule of thumb is “families allocate 30 percent of disposable income to housing,” another community member attending the meeting observed.
“The University employs 800 people,” Gladu said, “150 of which are faculty.” “Most employees would only be able to afford homes in the $125,000 price range,” he speculated. “Small two bedroom clustered homes, 600-900 square foot, are one possibility. But would they fit in here?”
“There’s a fine line between affordable and cheap,” a community member insisted.
“Affordable housing comes up everywhere,” said Becky Timmons with Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative (TPUDC), the firm retained by the University to implement the Village Plan. “People who live in affordable housing don’t want it to look like affordable housing,” she stressed. “That’s where the pattern book comes in.” The TPUDC pattern book identifies acceptable residence styles for those building or renovating in the downtown area.
Pointing to the apartment living option, Gladu said, “If you look at people who need housing, many are in transition.” He cited seminarians who were only here three years, assistant coaches, fundraisers, admissions counselors, and faculty who had not yet received tenure—“Most faculty don’t want to buy until they’re on tenure track.”
Speaking to supporting projects, Gladu said the storm water study by the Horsley Witten Group (HWG) would conclude by the end of the year. HWG will create a plan for addressing runoff with a view to the expected increase in impervious surfaces in the Village. Gladu said the usual practice was to channel water to another area which only diverted the problem. “We want places for water to seep in,” he insisted.

Thinking on the cottage court housing proposed for a low lying area has evolved, Gladu said. Revised plans propose locating the cluster of small homes on the back of the property with a green space in the low area.