Orange County is desperately seeking affordable housing for a few families that could be without a roof over their heads next week.
The owner of the Homestead mobile home park on N.C. 86, north of Interstate 40, had worked with the county to relocate the families, said Sherrill Hampton, director of housing and community development. But the owner has stopped communicating since telling the families they have to leave by March 31.
It’s not clear what the owner will do with the site, but many of the park's septic and well systems may have failed, Hampton said. Fears that other parks, including nearby Lakeview Mobile Home Park on Weaver Dairy Road, might close is compounding the problem, she said.
“Many (park owners) have said they don't have spaces," Hampton said. "A number of Lakeview residents, other mobile home park residents, are frightened, and so they are calling because they may feel they're next, or they're trying to be proactive and move if they feel they are in a spot that may be sold."
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The county has studied the issue for some time, recently creating a Rapid Response Protocol for families facing emergency relocation.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, March 20 approved spending up to $280,600 to help those families. Housing nonprofit Empowerment Inc. will work with the county to secure other housing and to manage and maintain the properties.
There is still $1.7 million left in the county's $2 million land banking and mobile home preservation fund for the work, Hampton said, noting they also will look at small, county-owned spaces.
Hampton urged park owners with available lots or anyone with land or mobile homes for lease to contact her department.
Four of the nine families at Homestead have not responded to housing staff — two affiliated with the park’s owner and two who are afraid of retaliation — she said. Two others are living with family or in other housing.
That leaves three families, including a man with five dogs and another who needs space for his work equipment. Helping them may encourage the families who are afraid to come forward, Hampton said.
“I want to share that this is a very nuanced situation that we have on our hands, and we just applaud that you all have just allowed us to date to be fluid and flexible in how we address the matter,” she said. “We’re building the airplane while we’re flying it.”
Meanwhile at Lakeview
Hampton also updated the commissioners on Chapel Hill's work with the developer of the Hanover project that could replace the Lakeview park. A formal application hasn't been filed, but the 33 families have a tentative deadline of June 2019.
The developer has offered $75,000 to help them move, or $2,272 per family.
The county is considering whether to move them to a new community on the 78-acre Millhouse Road Park site a few miles away. It's not on bus routes, near shopping, or in the same school district, but the school district and town are collaborating to come up with solutions.
The site also lacks public water and sewer because it's just inside the county's rural buffer. The county is exploring whether individual septic tanks and wells, a community system or, as a last resort extending public utilities, could help, planning director Craig Benedict said.
He noted there could be 34 homes on eight to 10 acres if the land is rezoned. A consultant studying the site and development costs could report back by June, he said, but it's unlikely anything could be available this year.
Hampton noted mobile homes would provide a faster solution for families, but a mix of housing is possible long term. Commissioner Barry Jacobs encouraged staff to explore modular housing instead, as a long-term investment in the county's housing stock.
Joshua Kirschner reminded the commissioners that the land wasn't given for housing, but if they're going to do it, modular homes with water and sewer would be the best option.
The Millhouse Road native also noted serious concerns about the site's water quality, since it backs up to an unlined county landfill that operated from 1972 to 1995. The Kirschner property, across Millhouse Road, is on an inactive hazardous sites list and the water is tested every three years, he said.
"I feel for a lot of these folks that are being displaced, and I applaud all your efforts. I think it's very noble; it’s the right thing for us to do," he said. "I do have an issue with the discussion of the Millhouse site as a mobile home park and changing the zoning there to put in high-density housing on that site."
Hampton encouraged him to share her vision of a resident-owned community with a brick entrance, playground and space for a garden. There is a nationwide initiative to take a different approach to affordable housing, she said, referring him to ROC USA.
"I want you to know that this county and the staff will never put anything that, No. 1, I wouldn’t want to live in, that I wouldn’t want my mother to live in and that I wouldn't want to live beside," she said.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners and the Chapel Hill Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 22, in the Southern Human Services Center, 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill. The agenda includes mobile home and affordable housing projects.