» Ole Miss professor doubts moves against apartments will be seen widely as negative
By TED CARTERRidgeland could be creating an image among commercial investors as a city that changes land-use rules as it goes along, the head lobbyist for the National Apartment Association says.
The problem rests with the Ridgeland Board of Aldermen’s decision to apply new and restrictive building density limits to rental apartments built years, if not decades, ago, said Fred Tayco, government affairs director for the National Apartment Association.
Ridgeland, Tayco said, risks losing the confidence of developers and investors around the country. They may think, “My investment has a limited shelf life in this community,” he said.
The Central Mississippi city of 25,000 people is waist deep in lawsuits, a dozen at last count, over its bid to reduce rental units at some apartment complexes and even to shut down other complexes entirely. As 2015 ended, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development weighed in with a complaint that racial discrimination is behind the effort to cut down on the amount of multi-family housing.
“From the NAA perspective, these are very tall allegations,” Tayco said of HUD’s claims that a desire to remove racial minorities from the city is behind a 2014 zoning law that deems most all apartment rental complexes, especially those in southeast Ridgeland, as out of compliance with new building density rules.
“We haven’t seen HUD go after another municipality with these type allegations,” Tayco said.
No city wants to become known for bias in housing, he said. Nor, he added, does a city want to be known for going back on its word.
Municipalities frequently rezone properties but “it is uncommon to have it retroactively applied,” Tayco said.
The result can be diminished trust in promises vested in law, he said. “When you are developing anything, there is this trust level between the municipality and the developer.”
When vested rights are reversed, “You are left to the whims of today,” Tayco said.
It’s difficult to invest in a community in which a vested right can be pushed aside, the NAA government affairs director said.
For instance, a developer could fear a city’s aldermen may suddenly decide they don’t like the tenant mix in his retail center.
And a lender may worry as well, Tayco said. “They want confidence the investment will last for the term of the loan.”
But it’s unlikely Ridgeland will diminish its image among the general population, said University of Mississippi public relations professor Tom Eppes.
He said nothing he has seen in media coverage of the city’s action against the apartment complexes rises “to something affecting Ridgeland’s reputation.”
That’s not saying something won’t crystalize the issue more clearly in the future, said Eppes, who also serves as chief communications officer in the office of the chancellor.
“If a resident ends up with a horrible experience to share about losing his or her apartment, thereby affecting access to a job or a kid’s school, etc., then it might become a more human story that more clearly resonates on an emotional level and is more easily understood by just about anyone,” Eppes said. “Were it to become a classic story of the little guy hurt by uncaring big government or big corporations, a story that regular folks are very willing to believe, the reputational result could be very different. We’ll see.”
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