Orange County

Residents press Chapel Hill to spend more on affordable housing

Habitat for Humanity could add more communities, like this one at Rusch Hollow in Chapel Hill, with additional funding from local governments. The Chapel Hill Town Council could consider a local request to put more money into its affordable housing efforts.
Habitat for Humanity could add more communities, like this one at Rusch Hollow in Chapel Hill, with additional funding from local governments. The Chapel Hill Town Council could consider a local request to put more money into its affordable housing efforts. File photo

Several community members joined the call Tuesday for the town to put more money into affordable housing next year.

The proposed $106.8 million budget includes $5.2 million for affordable housing and the town’s public housing department, which manages 336 apartments.

However, council members, residents and nonprofit providers have said that’s not enough to slow the decline in housing priced for families earning 60 percent or less of the area median income ($43,980 a year for a family of four).

Those families can’t afford Chapel Hill homes that now average more than $450,000, and more than half pay over 30 percent of their income toward rent – the threshold at which housing is considered no longer affordable. About a third of renters pay more than 50 percent.

The town’s Penny for Housing program has helped many moderate- and low-income Northside families, resident Yvonne Cleveland said. The town also works with UNC and other partners through the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, which has repaired or rehabilitated dozens of homes and invested in 18 properties.

“The changes I see now are on the positive end,” resident Kathy Atwater said. “We see more families coming into the neighborhood, and I’m proud to say that my niece is now a homeowner of a Habitat home on Craig Street, and so many other families that used to live in Northside have moved back to Northside because of the affordable housing that’s been provided.”

Cleveland, who owns a Habitat for Humanity home, gave the Town Council 66 signed petitions supporting a nickel on the tax rate for housing. A penny on the town tax rate – now 50.8 cents per $100 in assessed property value – generates roughly $700,000.

“I’ve also seen so many people struggling today,” Cleveland said. “I have friends and (know) people in their 20s and 30s who are trying their best to work and find affordable housing.”

The town could add the nickel over the next two to three years, said Robert Dowling, executive director of the nonprofit Community Home Trust and a member of the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition. He and others listed previous housing accomplishments and noted opportunities now and in the future.

At least two-thirds of the 420 apartments and homes planned over the next five years will be in Chapel Hill, said Maggie West, co-director of the Community Empowerment Fund. Projects already in the pipeline will need at least $3 million in subsidies over the next two fiscal years, she added.

That does not include unexpected opportunities, for which the Housing Advisory Board wants to set aside money, member Jared Brown-Rabinowitz said.

“Affordable housing is an expensive endeavor, and because of the way that the real estate market operates, you need large amounts of funds on hand so that you’re ready ... when the opportunity to build a large, low-income, affordable housing project presents itself,” he said.

Their pleas fell on a receptive audience; council members pressed Town Manager Roger Stancil earlier this month to find more money for affordable housing. The town has long sought solutions to the declining stock of affordable housing, but Stancil noted threats to federal housing money are adding to the pressure.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

What’s next

The Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a budget work session at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in the Southern Human Services Center, located at 2501 Homestead Road.

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