Click on this image to view the public hearing request for the HUD loan on the council agenda, and to read our notes interpreting it.

When most Lake Highlanders hear HUD mentioned, their first thought is the low-income housing that dominates portions of our neighborhood. But as it turns out, HUD is more versatile than that.

That’s why Prescott Realty can apply for a HUD loan for the first round of apartments on the Lake Highlands Town Center property, and the loan doesn’t require any of those apartments to be set aside for low-income residents (aside from requirements already in place because of the TIF agreement; more on that soon). It’s also why the city is going after a HUD loan to jump start construction on the property that also would not necessitate any low-income housing.

Charles Brideau in the city’s housing/community services department was clear when I talked to him about the HUD loan this week: It’s all about creating jobs. The type of loan the city is applying for (if council gives approval today to begin the public hearing process) is under HUD’s Section 108, which are given “for the benefit of low- to moderate-income persons, or to aid in the prevention of slums.” In the Town Center’s case, it would be the former. (Perhaps the latter, too, in the big picture?)

Brideau says the city estimates that the grocer anchor and other businesses in the Town Center’s initial phase of construction will, once they open, create 380 jobs for “the folks who are going to be making living wages — we’re not talking about executives.” He’s talking check-out clerks, stockers, salespeople and the like. Add in the higher ups, and the job creation estimate is more in the neighborhood of 460. And that’s just the first wave of Town Center businesses, which will be located between Walnut Hill to the north and Sedgwick to the south, and Skillman to the west and Wildcat Way to the east.

If city council OKs the public hearing (required by law because the loan would be a $13.35 million addition to the city’s budget, Brideau says), then it will be added to the Jan. 25 council agenda, and the city also will hold a neighborhood public meeting between Jan. 14-25 to receive comments from residents closest to the project (that’s us).

The city believes this kind of loan is achievable for the Town Center because it already has acquired a similar loan for a mixed-use project in the Lancaster Corridor. The loan would be paid back with TIF funds, which, as you may recall, the city bumped up this summer from $23 million to $40 million. The difference between a loan and TIF money is that a loan is up front, but TIF funds can’t be doled out until after a developer has invested in a project and raised the property value enough to generate additional tax revenue. So the loan would help Prescott close the financing gap that has been mostly responsible for the Town Center construction stall, Brideau says.

But to recap, this particular HUD loan at the Town Center would not translate to affordable housing requirements, according to city officials. “The dollars are going into the commercial portion; we’re not putting any money into housing,” Brideau says. “There will be affordable housing requirements as such through TIF, but not through us.”