Chapel Hill develops affordable-housing strategy
Town officials now have a strategy to address Chapel Hill’s affordable-housing demands.
Councilwomen Donna Bell and Sally Greene, both of whom served on the mayor’s committee on affordable housing, presented the plan during Wednesday’s meeting. The town attorney and town manager are expected to follow up on the plan.
“We’ve focused specifically on rental property in Chapel Hill and not just recommendations, but an implementation strategy as well,” Bell said. “Some of the things are already in progress.”
The committee formed in May to develop a strategy for increasing the quantity and quality of affordable rental housing by promoting development of new units and preservation of existing units.
The plan called for research-based strategies that are consistent with the Affordable Housing Strategy and Chapel Hill 2020 and should foster conversations in the community to explore partnerships and financial resources.
The plan encourages the creation of an affordable-housing board and a senior staff position dedicated to affordable housing. It also calls using tax dollars for implementation.
Greene said that, although the town is at debt capacity now, a bond referendum on rental property will go on a referendum ballot, with very specific details for its use. It wouldn’t be considered until 2016, however.
“It’s a serious situation. We’ve seen the need continue to grow for our units,” said Delores Bailey, executive director of Empowerment, Inc. “I’m concerned that people are leaving and that those with Section 8 vouchers won’t have anywhere to live.”
Bailey said many who need assistance are full-time employees who simply don’t earn enough money to live in Chapel Hill.
Councilman Matt Czajkowski said that everyone can agree that there needs to be affordable housing for residents, but it’s the execution of that goal that draws contention and criticism. He wants to see evidence that allowing developers to come in and build will help lower rental costs.
“The price of land is the issue,” Czajkowski said. “When developers come in there’s the possibility of losing affordable housing.”
He said that “a fundamental question is where are we going to build it,” and then asked if affordable housing was being demolished to create less-affordable housing, in part by council zoning approvals.
Councilman Jim Ward said that work needs to be done to “educate the community on the benefits affordable housing will have in their lives.”
“It’s the most difficult and most important issue facing the council, I strongly support the affordable housing board to keep the issue high profile,” Ward said. “We need to do more than seek UNC’s collaboration. They should be leaders in this conversation, not just sitting at the table.”
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt explained that the “recommendation of strategies will help redirect future development to help produce more affordable options in the housing market.” The committee’s work wasn’t considered in the creation of some projects, he said.
Bell suggested the town incentivize the revitalization of older housing to make it more affordable, explaining that the town has to invest in housing that will take occupancy pressure off of the town.
Molly McConnell said that she has been living in rental property in Chapel Hill since the 1970s. She said that about 74 percent of her income goes to rent, electricity and water.
“We don’t have a healthy and just community when we don’t have affordable housing available to all citizens,” McConnell said. “I’ve seen children living in situations that would break your heart. You just do not have a diverse community, a welcoming community or a just community, and I think we all want that.”