The majority of the City Council earlier this week decided they want to interview three developers interested in constructing a workforce housing project along Tarboro Street just southeast of downtown’s Five Points intersection.
The council, at a lengthy work session on Monday afternoon, voted 6-1 to bring in and ask questions of representatives of Community Housing Partners, Pendergraph Companies and Woda Cooper Companies.
Councilman Reuben Blackwell, whose ward includes the site, led the vote. The plan includes having the chairperson and the vice chairpersons of the local Workforce Housing Advisory Commission participate in the interview.
Prior to the vote at Monday’s work session, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney recommended selecting Woda Cooper.
Small-Toney cited Woda Cooper’s experience, along with the importance of having a developer the community is familiar with. Small-Toney cited Woda Cooper having the new Ravenwood Crossing development on the southwest side of the city.
However, new Councilman T.J. Walker, whose ward includes Ravenwood Crossing, expressed concerns about Woda Cooper based on what he said are calls he receives weekly about the operational side.
“And looking that they are their own property management company, that means that they will continue if we are to select them, they will continue to be in charge of their property management,” Walker said.
“So, me personally, I’m not in favor of Woda Cooper right now, just because of the calls I receive on a weekly basis,” Walker said, noting he could go into more detail.
Walker said Woda Cooper seems to dot every I and cross every T on the development side, but that in dealing with the tenants and the people they make their living from, “that’s an issue.”
Walker called for acting carefully in choosing a developer for the downtown project.
Blackwell backed up Walker, saying, “We don’t want a less-than-stellar project for everybody involved. It’s not just nice enough to have a pretty shiny building and stuff doesn’t work or you have management that’s not responsive to concerns that happen.”
Blackwell said he would be quite interested in a response from Woda Cooper about Walker’s concerns. Small-Toney said she has not been aware of any problems at Ravenwood Crossing but made clear she and her team could talk further.
As for the site along Tarboro Street, the previous council on Feb. 25 voted to convey the city-owned property, via sale or lease, for the development of affordable housing, subject to the selection of a developer.
The site is across Tarboro from Edgecombe Community College’s Rocky Mount campus.
Blackwell made clear he views the project as an opportunity to say downtown is for everyone, with affordable housing for those who work for the municipal government, work at the community college’s Rocky Mount campus and people who might be students at the campus.
The council on Monday heard details from Sarah Odio, project manager for the Development Finance Initiative at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina.
The Development Finance Initiative works jointly with communities in the state to attract private investment for transformative projects.
Odio said a key factor in the downtown project is to leverage federal disaster relief funding and use federal tax credits in a public-private partnership to build affordable housing away from a flood zone.
During Monday’s work session, Odio said she and her team engaged in a solicitation in October and on Nov. 22 received responses from Community Housing Partners, Pendergraft and Woda Cooper.
Odio said all three developers are highly qualified and would be a great partner for Rocky Mount.
Community Housing Partners is a nonprofit based in Virginia’s mountainous region and has nearly 6,000 multifamily units at roughly 105 projects. Community Housing Partners also has a diversity and inclusion council and an architect who would work locally.
Pendergraph is based in Raleigh and has more than 4,000 units at more than 100 projects. Of the three developers, Pendergraph has built the most projects in eastern North Carolina, and one of them includes the Cottages at Glendale in Wilson.
Woda Cooper is based in Columbus, Ohio, and has more than 12,000 units at 300 projects across 15 states.
During Monday’s work session, Councilman Andre Knight wanted to know about a timeline for the council to act.
Odio said, “The sooner the better, but you need to be confident in your decision. And so we will defer to confidence in the decision over time.”
Odio also made clear that the project would not be public housing in the sense residents could move in and not pay rent.
Odio said the rents for projects like the one proposed along Tarboro are along the lines of about $450 to $500 a month.
“So you have to have some sort of income in order to afford it,” Odio said. “It’s not extremely low-income households that will be able to afford it.”
Councilman W.B. Bullock cast the lone no vote.