August 27, 2014 - A proposal to build housing at 98 S. Glaspie St. geared toward senior citizens who are deaf or hearing impaired was well-received last week by the Oxford Village Planning Commission.
"I'm excited about it," said Commissioner Sue Bossardet, who also serves on the village council. "It's a really nice project for that area. And it will fit right in."
"That's our goal," said Allan Martin, a representative for Venture, Inc., a housing subsidiary of the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency (OLHSA).
Venture, Inc. has an option agreement with the village to purchase the municipal-owned property for $400,000, which equals $95,000 more than it was appraised for earlier this year.
"I think it will be good for the village to be able to sell an asset that you don't really need anymore and we can hopefully, put it to great use," Martin said.
Purchased by the village for $700,000 in March 2006, 98 S. Glaspie St. is a former industrial site consisting of two parcels totalling approximately 3.5 acres and a building that's approximately 22,000 square feet in size. The property is currently zoned for single family residential use.
Initial plans call for demolishing the existing structure and constructing a three-story L-shaped building with approximately 62 apartments containing one or two bedrooms, ranging in size from 750 to 900 square feet.
These apartments would include special features for deaf and hearing impaired people such as a video intercom connected to the front door, doorbells that utilize flashing lights and lots of open space so occupants and visitors can communicate more easily via sign language.
"We will design all of the units to be deaf-friendly," Martin said.
The complex will also include a 1,200-square-foot central dining/kitchen area, library, computer lab, rooms where residents can socialize and play games, and a second-floor outdoor patio/deck. Martin noted there will also be an on-site sign language interpreter.
Martin told the commission there are 17 of these types of housing facilities across the country and all of them are occupied with "huge waiting lists."
"The deaf folks like to live together," he said.
There is currently no housing in Michigan geared toward deaf and hearing impaired individuals. The closest development is located in Columbus, Ohio.
"Right now, they're like stranded on islands by themselves in apartment complexes all over that weren't designed for them," Martin said.
However, just because the proposed apartments would be designed for deaf/hearing impaired people, that doesn't mean they're the only people who could live there.
Legally, the housing will be available for any senior citizens age 55 and older.
"The deaf are not a protected class, so you can't discriminate in favor them," Martin explained. "We can't call it a deaf senior housing project, but that is our main target market."
He noted Venture is partnering with Deaf and Hearing Impaired Services, Inc. in Farmington Hills.
Martin said the apartment complex would be managed by Piper Realty in Flint Township and potential tenants would be screened to make sure they have "good credit" and a "good income."
"We're very picky (about) who we let in as tenants," he told the commission. "You've got to be a good tenant – that's the key to our success."
When asked how much the rent would be, Martin replied, "We don't have all that nailed down yet."
He speculated it would range from $300 to $800 per month. The amount would depend on a tenant's income level and family size.
Just because Venture, Inc. is planning to do this project in Oxford, doesn't mean it's going to happen.
The whole thing hinges on it being approved for federal low-income housing tax credits administered through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Venture Inc. will be applying for these in October.
Martin explained each tax credit is worth $1 per year for 10 years. For example, if Venture requested $1 million worth of tax credits that would equal $10 million over 10 years.
Those credits would then be sold to a bank, which would in turn, give Venture $10 million to fund its project.
The credits are typically sold for 80 to 85 cents on the dollar, according to Martin, but because Oakland County is such a "desirable location," he said Venture would receive an amount "much closer to a full dollar."
But again, there is no guarantee Venture will secure the necessary funding for the project.
Martin said during the last round, there were about 45 applicants for these tax credits and the state chose to give them to approximately a quarter of them.
Venture was planning to build a deaf/hearing impaired housing facility in Wixom, but it failed to secure the necessary funding.
OLSHA must also reach an agreement with both the village and township as to the establishment of a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. Instead of paying property taxes based on the housing development's actual value, Venture would pay a negotiated amount to cover local government services such as police, fire and emergency medical response.
Martin told the commission it appears the PILOT amount would be based on the taxable value of the property back in 2006, when it was purchased. Back then, the true cash value of 98 S. Glaspie St. was $836,000, which puts the taxable value at $418,000.
Martin noted Venture could not afford to pay taxes on a multi-million-dollar apartment complex.
In its option agreement with the village, Venture agreed to pay up to $5,000 to move the historic Smith Silo, located on the 98 S. Glaspie site, to Scripter Park.
Smith silos are a part of Oxford history.
Founded in 1906 by Hiram Smith, inventor of the concrete stave silo, the Smith Silo Company sold its first one in 1909. Smith's son, Warren Smith, expanded the company and built it into one of the best-known concrete silo manufacturers in the Midwest.
Smith Silo moved to Oxford in 1930 to be close to its gravel source. The company was located at 98 S. Glaspie St. through the 1970s.
In addition to the Glaspie property, a Smith Silo still stands in Seymour Lake Township Park where it's used as a pavilion.
A Smith Silo was donated to the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn in 1976.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.