On Tax Day, April 15, hundreds of low-wage workers marched in Raleigh demanding better pay, specifically, $15 dollars an hour. They’re part of the Fight for $15, a nationwide effort to raise the minimum wage to $15, or at least up from the current rate of $7.25 an hour.
But Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt notes there’s little political will at the state or federal level to make this happen. Instead, he says it’s time citizens vote with their dollars.
“Places like McDonald’s are asking us, ‘would this buy us some goodwill? Are you more likely to come to us if we start taking care of our employees?’ We have to say, ‘yes.’”
Local governments including the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Orange County government and both local school districts have committed to paying their lowest-earning employees a base rate ranging from $11 to $13 dollars an hour.
What constitutes a living wage varies depending on location. It’s considered the amount a worker needs to earn to pay for food, childcare, healthcare, housing, transportation, and other basic necessities.
According to MIT’s living wage calculator, a single adult living in Orange County would need to earn at least $9.00 an hour. For two adults raising one child, that rate would need to be at least $18.50 an hour to make ends meet.
Kleinschmidt says low pay is a central factor in Chapel Hill’s affordable housing crisis.
“Yes, it’s true we don’t have an adequate supply to meet the need, certainly we need to work on the supply side of that, but we also need to work on making sure people are paid,” says Kleinschmidt. “If you’re at 30 percent of the median income, you’re going to have a hard time that’s affordable anywhere in the region, not just Chapel Hill.”
Kleinschmidt says it might be time for something similar in Orange County.
“We need to be responsive to efforts by companies who are looking for ways to enhance their reputations to say, ‘yes, you’re getting it right,’ whether they are national chains or local businesses.”
He cites Costco as a good example of how businesses can use a living wage policy to promote goodwill among consumers.
“There’s a way to be a better corporate citizen, and one of those ways is to treat your employees in a way that’s better than your competitors treat their employees,” says Kleinschimdt. “Not only are you attracting better talent and inspiring greater productivity, but you’re creating a competitive distinction between you and your competitors. Hopefully that goodwill will draw in more consumers.”http://chapelboro.com/news/business/mayor-kleinschmidt-we-have-to-say-yes-to-employers-who-pay-living-wages/
Affordable housing is part of an ongoing discussion in Chapel Hill as the town continues to grow.
The Chapel Hill Town Council passed a resolution on Monday night with an eye on the long-term availability of affordable housing.
Sally Greene is a Council member and Mayor Pro Tem; she also serves as the liaison to the Housing Advisory Board. Greene says this resolution came about as a result of public discussion.
“It got generated through last year’s budget process, in which Council was responsive to a deep community interest in increasing the public investment in affordable housing,” she says. “We have an affordable housing coalition in the county, who was a strong advocate of it. We have a Council who did not need much persuading.
“Because we all understand that there is a crisis of affordable housing in Chapel Hill.”
That discussion set the wheels in motion last budget cycle, according to Greene.
“We made the decision in last year’s budget cycle to allocate – as close as we could get within that budget structure – to a penny of the tax dollar to go to affordable housing,” she says. “And that comes out to, for this year, something over $688,000.”
This money will be used exclusively for development and preservation of affordable housing, focusing on land acquisition, rental subsidy and development, and future development planning, among other areas.
A Housing Advisory Board has been established to put forward guidelines used to spend this money.
“They have been charged with coming up with a process and a system for responding to requests for this money,” Greene says, “and also responding to the Council’s priority interest in spending this money.”
Greene says the Council’s attention will focus on helping those at the low-end of the affordable housing need, but as funds are available it may also be used to help bridge the gap for those at the higher end of the curve. Although Greene adds the market can help with that segment.
“We think that the market can do a lot to support the higher end of the affordable housing need,” she says. “It’s not that there would not be room for public investment in the higher end of low-income housing.
“But that the expectation that I have, that I shared with the Housing Board, is that the public investment in that 80 to 125 percent range would be less than the public investment in the zero to 60 to 80 percent range.”
Some of the funds put forward in this program have already been disseminated to help in this fight.
“This money was allocated in last year’s budget cycle, and this year comes to an end on June 30,” Greene says. “$200,000 of that money has already been set aside to support the Northside Neighborhood Initiative.”
Greene says this project is being put in place with the idea of undertaking a large affordable housing project in the next four to five years as funds are accrued. She adds the town would have creative options to integrate several major development plans.
“We could us that money, in addition to supporting the existing initiatives in Northside and Pine Knolls,” she says, “we can look to the future to think about using that money to develop land banking programs around future light rail stations that are in our control in Chapel Hill.”
Greene says planning for growth and development while keeping affordable housing options in mind is one of the biggest challenges before the Council.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-approves-affordable-housing-fund/
The Chapel Hill Town Council authorized the development of an Affordable Housing Development Reserve that will be used exclusively for development and preservation of affordable housing, during their Monday night meeting. The fund will focus on land acquisition, rental subsidy and development, and future development planning, among other areas. The guidelines for the use of these funds are being established by the Housing Advisory Board.
Input was also provided on a referendum plan, which will allow the process to begin. The $40.3 million bond, which would require no new taxes, would fund capital projects in Chapel Hill.
The Council also requested additional review and neighborhood input on a proposal for a Town parking lot at the corner of West Rosemary and North Graham Streets.
Retiring Chapel Hill Town Council member Matt Czajkowski was honored by the Council Monday night at its meeting. He has served on the Council since 2007 and is moving to Rwanda to help in the fight for clean water.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-approves-affordable-housing-fund/
Kleinschmidt and Stevens will be among the elected officials on hand Sunday.
Sunday afternoon, the mayors of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough will join Congressman David Price and State Representative Verla Insko for an event “to support affordable communities in Orange County.”
The event is being hosted by Justice United.
The event is a “Celebration of 2014 Campaign Victories, Recognition of Leaders and Elected Officials.” Justice United will celebrate its achievements from the past year – including progress toward a workers’ center for day laborers in Carrboro, working for tenants’ rights in low-income housing developments, and raising nearly $700,000 in Chapel Hill by dedicating a penny of the property tax to affordable housing initiatives.
Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says Justice United’s efforts have been widespread – and it’s not just about affordable housing.
“It’s not only just (about) having places that are affordable for people…we (also) want it to be a good place,” Stevens says. “We want to make sure they’re healthy, that they have proper water and sewer and sanitation, that they’re safe neighborhoods…
“We have a couple spots in town where we’d like to see a lot of improvement, and Justice United has taken the forefront with that – and it’s making a difference. Making sure that every one of our neighborhoods and all of our apartment complexes are good and safe places to live – not all of them are, and so we’ve got to keep working on that.”
Sunday’s event will take place from 3-5 pm at Binkley Baptist Church on Willow Drive. Everyone’s invited.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/mayors-leaders-to-help-justice-united-mark-its-push-for-affordability/
At Monday’s meeting, the town council unanimously approved a permit that paves the way for building a mixed-use development in north Chapel Hill.
The “special use permit” allows for exceptions to zoning regulations in order to accommodate the proposed residential, retail and office development on 55-acres.
The town council also authorized town staff to research a change in regulations, which would allow for building on an area designated for environmental conservation.
“I think this is the best we’ve got. And we should effectively go forward, taking a measured risk,” said council member Matt Czajkowski discussing the approval of the proposed 600,000 to 900,000 square foot development, called the Edge.
Czajkowski and other council members expressed concerns about the developer’s conditions and terms. But they said this opportunity beats the alternative of leaving the area undeveloped while waiting for a better deal for the town.
A chief concern among council members: terms on building affordable rental housing.
Adam Golden, Northwood Ravin’s vice president of development, said the developer could build 50 rental units affordable to people earning up to 80 percent of the area median income. The area median income is $65,700 for a four-person family, according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Council Member Sally Greene asked Golden to make housing targeted to people earning 60 percent or less of the area median income.
“If you’ve had a chance to glance at the message from the Partnership to End Homelessness, it’s reaffirming that our need is greatest in the 60-percent-and-below rental market,” said Greene.
But Northwood did not change the 80 percent cap.
Council members persuaded Northwood to strengthen its affordable housing terms. The developer must now secure financing of reduced-cost housing within five years; if it does not secure financing, it must sell this site back to the town for its 2015 tax value or commit to an alternative affordable housing plan that meets town council approval.
Northwood wants the town’s help to pay for $3.5 million in road improvements. The details of this and other conditions will come in a separate development agreement, which officials would work out before any construction starts.http://chapelboro.com/news/town-council-approves-mixed-use-development-at-chapel-hills-edge/
Half a dozen real estate investors say they’re not represented on an informal committee working to implement the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan. They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.
“We don’t like these meetings going on behind our back with proposed zoning changes and everything else, and then we find out after the fact that the Town Council is considering them,” says Mark Patmore, the owner of Mercia Residential Properties LLC. He owns several rentals in the Northside neighborhood. He’s also been a resident of the area for 20 years. “These are our properties and we have property rights and should be involved in all the proposed zoning changes, not just asked to provide a defense after the fact.”
They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.
“What we are actually proposing is that the Town Council once and for all establishes a committee that truly represents the Northside neighborhood, and that is the venue where any and all zoning changes and proposals are addressed, not behind closed doors.”
Delores Bailey is a Northside property owner and the executive director of the housing nonprofit EmPowerment. She says Patmore’s claims don’t hold water.
“There are open meetings and they are invited,” says Bailey. “Anybody who is a homeowner and has any kind of stake in Northside.”
In addition, she says the work of the committee is shared with the broader public at monthly Community Outreach meetings.
“I’ve not seen Mr. Patmore at many of those meetings, but that’s certainly the opportunity to learn what’s going on and what’s being talked about and raise any concerns he might have,” says Bailey. “I’m disappointed he would raise a red flag and insinuate that someone was doing something behind closed doors. There’s lots of opportunity for him to input at the community level. He just has not taken advantage of that.”
The fight over committee representation is just a small part of a larger battle over the future of the Northside neighborhood.
In 2003 long-time residents of the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods came to the council asking to create a neighborhood conservation district to help protect the traditionally black, working-class neighborhood from an influx of student rentals.
Residents said students made poor neighbors, complaining about yards used as parking lots, loud parties and litter. They also argued that as investors bought up the housing supply to turn into student rentals, long-term residents were being priced out by rising property taxes.
The Northside neighborhood conservation district, or NCD, was approved in 2004. The new rules included a cap on house size to discourage investors from renovating smaller houses into multi-tenant student rentals, as well as parking and occupancy limits.
A decade later, Patmore argues the NCD is not working as planned.
“Unfortunately, because of the implementation of the conservation district, I think it’s done more harm than good and actually discourages families from wanting to build in this neighborhood,” says Patmore. “Because the height restrictions, the size restrictions, the bedroom to bathroom ratio are not what families want and [it] is actually playing into the hands of investors to where the only people willing to buy in the neighborhood are investors, which defeats the whole purpose of the conservation district.”
In response, Bailey cites the work of nonprofit organizations to build five homes in the area, as well as EmPowerment’s purchase of several rental units aimed at families instead of students.
The Town Council approved a second approach to neighborhood preservation in 2012, in the form of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community plan.
It is aimed at fostering cooperation between student and non-student residents, increasing home-ownership opportunities and affordable rentals, and preserving the culture and history of the neighborhood. A coalition of five long-time residents, town staffers, EmPowerment, and the Jackson Center has been working to implement the plan.
Patmore says he and other investors are worried that the negotiations underway now will result in tighter restrictions, including possibly dropping the number of unrelated renters who can share a home from four down to three.
“I’m a resident of Northside, I’ve been a resident for 20 years, and I’m growing increasingly frustrated that these non-resident organizations are actually messing with our property rights and we don’t get a say in it until it’s too late,” says Patmore.
But Bailey stresses that is not the case.
“There is no motion to change policy either in the Community Outreach meetings or in that neighborhood committee that meets once every other month,” says Bailey. “There is nothing, policy-wise, to change occupancy in the Northside neighborhood.”
Ultimately, the Town Council would need to approve any change to the NCD rules, or make the move to appoint an official committee to implement the Community Plan.
Despite an email campaign, Patmore says he has yet to hear any response from council members. Until that happens, Patmore says he and his fellow Northside investors will keep pushing.
“Just as the Town Council genuinely, or theoretically, represents the taxpaying citizens of Chapel Hill, I think an officially established committee is important.”
Bailey says she’d like to see Patmore and others engage in the process that’s already underway.
“We know and understand that neighborhood is going to change,” says Bailey. “The answer is that we always be able to say what we feel about how it’s going to change, and that is Mr. Patmore’s right just as much as it is Delores Bailey’s right. That’s what I want people to know and understand. We do not have to be adversaries. We may not always agree but we can at least sit down at the table and talk.”
The Northside Community Outreach meetings take place on the second Tuesday of every month at the Hargraves Center.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/northside-rental-property-owners-square-off-longtime-residents/
At Thursday night’s meeting, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed an affordable housing plan for the proposed Obey Creek development.
Ben Perry, finance director of the development company East West Partners, proposed that 15 percent of the for-sale units and 5 percent of the rentals be designated as affordable housing.
East West Partners wants to build 1.6 million square feet of commercial, residential and office space on 35 acres at the Obey Creek site, which is across from Southern Village. Thursday’s meeting was part of the town’s ongoing negotiation with the developer.
An Obey Creek Affordable Housing Subcommittee, made up of some council members and stakeholders, had meetings with East West Partners over the last month.
Perry said East West Partners would provide 15 percent of the for-sale units at prices affordable to people earning up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is $66,000 for a Chapel Hill household. In other words, the developer would offer six to eight for-sale townhouses at a reduced cost. This meets Chapel Hill’s inclusionary zoning ordinance for residential development.
Perry said the developer could offer 5 percent of the 600 rental units at a reduced cost.
Half of those 30 reduced-cost rentals would be eligible to section 8 and veteran affairs voucher holders. These would serve people who earn between 30 and 60 percent of the AMI.
The other half would be offered to people earning between 60 and 80 percent of the AMI. These tenants would pay 30 percent of their income for the units.
The council could ask the developer to pay a fee for affordable housing programs offsite instead of offering affordable housing at Obey Creek.
“My suggestion is that we take the affordable rental units, not the payment in lieu,” said Delores Bailey, executive director of the non-profit EmPOWERment Inc. She served on the Obey Creek affordable housing subcommittee. “There are lots of families that we can accommodate with this project when it happens.”
The town also discussed a draft of the Obey Creek Development Agreement. This agreement, a contract between the town and the developer, would list the permitted uses, housing requirements, environmental specifications, and other conditions and requirements.
The council would vote on the agreement in June, at the earliest. You can find the draft development agreement here. Email your feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council’s next negotiation session is scheduled for Feb. 19 at Chapel Hill Town Hall at 7pm.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-discusses-obey-creek-affordable-housing-plan/
Chapel Hill leaders are looking for innovative solutions to address some of the major challenges facing the town.
At last weekend’s planning retreat, the Town Council tried a different tactic to brainstorm new ways to tackle transit funding, town infrastructure and the need for affordable housing.
“I think one of the key takeaways from this retreat is that nothing was off the table,” says George Cianciolo, one of the council members who helped plan the event.
The all-day meeting was modeled after the free-ranging discussions that typified the Chapel Hill 2020 process. Council members met in small groups to trade ideas, a departure from the formal presentations that are the hallmark of local government.
Cianciolo says when it comes to the need for more affordable housing, town leaders are looking to balance social goals with market forces.
The plan to partner with the nonprofit DHIC to build affordable rentals on town-owned land is one example of how public-private partnerships can help the town leverage its assets.
“We’re looking at more public-private partnerships,” says Cianciolo. “We’ve been looking at some of our other assets and we talked about potentially that we could buy some land for another public-private partnership. Another [idea] was perhaps trading some of our assets to a developer who would be willing to do affordable housing.”
Chapel Hill Transit is facing a funding crunch even as demand for service continues to rise. One possible solution might be to charge riders for new routes or hours while keeping the core service fare-free.
“What would happen if we were to have fare cards that were used after, say, seven or eight o’clock at night?” asked Cianciolo. “Would that allow us to provide some service to some of the areas that are not served now?”
The need to replace the police station, repave roads and improve infrastructure also loomed large as a challenge for town leaders. Items like a new teen center rank high as priorities.
“Everyone agreed that a teen center downtown would not only be nice to have, but it would be important to have, because that’s a vulnerable population,” says Cianciolo. “And so that’s something that would be high on a list.”
The planning retreat was intended as a way to get a wide range of options on the table for future discussion. Ultimately, Cianciolo says to accomplish the many goals of the 2020 plan, Chapel Hill will need some novel ideas.
“You have a lot of things you’d like to do, and how many we can get to is partly going to be dependent on how creative we can get.”
No formal decisions were made at the retreat, but some of the concepts could be explored further during the upcoming budget negotiations this spring.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-looks-creative-solutions-chapel-hills-challenges/
The local affordable housing organization Community Home Trust has helped provide homes for hundreds of Chapel Hillians since its founding 23 years ago – and last month, it earned a big recognition for those efforts.
“We were awarded the GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) Impact Award the week before Thanksgiving,” says longtime Home Trust executive director Robert Dowling. “(It) was given to nine Triangle-area nonprofits, and we were the only one in Orange County.”
The honor comes with a $40,000 grant. “That will support the operations of our organization,” Dowling says, “and allow us to do the work that we do – selling homes, reselling homes, doing property management, educating home buyers, providing post-purchase maintenance classes, (and) supporting our homeowners with long-term maintenance.
“We do a whole host of things, and we run a deficit annually – and this $40,000 will help close that deficit.”
Robert Dowling spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL earlier this week.
Founded in 1991, Community Home Trust is a nonprofit company that’s dedicated to preserving a supply affordable housing in Orange County – a place where affordable housing is often very difficult to come by. The Home Trust buys housing units and sells them – at below-market rates – to residents who make less than 80 percent of the median income in Orange County.
“Our bread and butter tends to be people who make between $30-50,000,” Dowling says. “Those are the people we sell homes to – who typically are teachers and public sector employees and social workers and bus drivers, who typically cannot afford to purchase a home in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.”
The Home Trust sold its first home in 2000, but that’s grown to about 200 affordable units today – aided partly by the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, which have both passed inclusionary zoning policies requiring 15 percent of the housing units in new developments to be set aside as “affordable.”
Dowling says that enables the Home Trust to provide affordable homes in Meadowmont, Greenbridge, 140 West, and other neighborhoods where the housing is otherwise very expensive.
“We have homes scattered throughout the community, where low-income people get to be integrated within these new neighborhoods,” Dowling says. “I think it’s a wonderful thing that our local elected officials have instituted in the last 10 to 15 years.”
And Dowling says that policy – and the Home Trust’s ongoing efforts – are only going to be more essential in the coming years.
“Housing is expensive here,” he says, “and I don’t think it’s going to get any cheaper – and in the long run, there’s just not a lot of land here to be developed, and land is not going to get less expensive.
“So housing will remain expensive, the University will continue to grow, the health care system will continue to grow – and where will these people live?”
If you’d like to help out the Community Home Trust, you can visit them online at CommunityHomeTrust.org. Dowling says they’re always looking for donations and volunteers.
“We’re happy to take donations from anybody at any time, (and) people who want to work with our organization to help us out can contact me,” he says. “We need volunteers, we need board members, we need committee members, we need ambassadors who help us spread the word about what we do throughout the community – and we welcome people who want to volunteer to help out.”
And if you’re in the market for housing in Orange County, you can also head to CommunityHomeTrust.org to take a look at what they have to offer.http://chapelboro.com/news/non-profit-news/community-home-trust-fights-affordable-housing-crunch/
Head to the Varsity Theater on Franklin Street Friday night for a free screening of the classic Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life”!
“It’s a classic Christmas story,” says Community Home Trust executive director Robert Dowling. “Most of us have seen parts of the movie on television…(but) most of us have probably never seen the whole movie, nor have we seen it in a movie theater.”
Community Home Trust is a local organization that works to provide affordable housing options for low- to middle-income residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. They’ve worked with the two towns to establish an inclusionary zoning ordinance requiring new developments to set aside a certain percentage of housing units as affordable – so they’re able to offer affordable housing even in higher-end developments like Greenbridge and Meadowmont.
Dowling says that mission – to help people find a home – is also a crucial part of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“What Jimmy Stewart’s organization does – the Bedford Building and Loan – is provide homes for people,” he says. “They provide financing and help people better their lives and provide stability in their lives – and coincidentally, we do the same thing.”
This is the fifth year Community Home Trust has teamed up with the Varsity Theater to screen “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Doors open at 6:15 Friday evening, and the movie gets underway at 6:45.
The movie is free, but tickets are limited. You can secure your tickets by calling 967-1545.
And to learn more about the Community Home Trust – including some of the homes they have available right now – visit CommunityHomeTrust.org.http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/friday-night-wonderful-life/