Oxford City Council considers funding new affordable housing project

By Meagan Holloway-Ragland

Oxford City Council approved a first reading of a resolution to donate $150,000 to the Oxford Cottage Community Project for the development of affordable housing at its Tuesday, Sept. 21 meeting. 

A second reading and final vote on the proposal is expected to happen at the Oct. 5 council meeting.

Artist renderings of two possible configurations for the Oxford Cottage Community Project, which will have 12 396-square-foot cottage homes on a two-acre site. Photo provided by Community Development Professionals LLC

The OCC initiative is a collaboration between the city, the Oxford Community Foundation, the city housing commission, Oxford Needs Awareness and the Oxford Family Resource Center, led by Community Development Professionals (CDP) LLC . Its goal is to create affordable housing for individuals and families in transition. It has been in development since 2018. 

Initially, CDP reviewed a number of possible locations for the project. After assessing need in these areas and identifying potential residents, CDP concluded that Oxford was the best choice.

The proposal calls for the creation of 12 cottages on two acres of land off Hester Road. Each unit will be able to accommodate up to six people. All units will be 396 square feet. They will each have one bedroom, a kitchen, a great room and a front porch. The homes will be furnished and equipped with a washer and dryer. Future residents will pay rent at or below the fair market rate. 

If approved, the city will use money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support this project’s land acquisition. The act provided $1.2 million to the City of Oxford for coronavirus relief. The proposed resolution acknowledges the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lists this impact as a qualifier for the use of these funds for the affordable housing project.

This map shows the two-acre site off Hester Road on the west side of Oxford being proposed for the Oxford Community Cottage project. Map provided by Community Development Professionals LLC

In addition to the donation from the city, the project would be funded by grants and donations from other sources like private churches, individuals, the Oxford Community Foundation, Butler County Community Development and the Federal Home Loan Bank, according to Mindy Mueller, president and CEO of CDP, who made a presentation at Tuesday’s council meeting. 

After Mueller outlined the project, several residents expressed concerns about it to the council. These concerns included the possibility of overcrowding and whether the project would have a negative impact on surrounding property values.

Terry Hughes, a Hester neighborhood resident, said he believes in helping people who need help. However, he said he was asked to voice concerns to the council on behalf of others not physically present at the meeting. 

“We feel like we’re getting picked on,” he said. 

Bruce Blankenship, a longtime resident of Oxford, said the project is “unacceptable” for the neighborhood.

“I don’t see why we have to cram everything in my neighborhood just because we’re poor,” he told the council. “Everything gets pushed into (our neighborhood) because we have cheap property compared to everywhere else.”

In response to public comment, Mueller assured residents that community feedback will be a part of the process. 

“We have to do this well. It has to be done with excellence,” she said. 

Councilor Chantel Raghu said that while poverty and homelessness are important issues, lumping poverty together in one area is also a problem. 

“I have a problem when we centralize poverty,” she said. “Families should have the ability to choose what kind of neighborhood they want to live in.” 

Councilor David Prytherch said that even if the project needs adjusting based on stakeholder feedback, the result will be worth it at the end of the process. 

“This, I think, is one of the most meaningful steps that we’ve taken,” he said, referring to the use of the ARPA funds.