CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council voted Monday to move ahead with a plan to build affordable rental housing on town-owned land.
Town Council members say a project that will use low-income tax credits to build 170 affordable rentals on town property is a chance for Chapel Hill to help those being priced out of workforce housing.
“What I believe this is, is an investment in the character of Chapel Hill,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison. “What it gives us is a step forward in diversity of housing that we really are at a loss to make otherwise.”
The council voted 7-1 last night to sell 8.5 acres of land next to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery to DHIC, Inc, a Raleigh-based developer specializing in affordable rentals.
DHIC President Gregg Warren said he’s been unable to build in Chapel Hill due in part to high land costs. To make the project feasible, the council agreed to sell the land for $100, despite the assessed value of $2 million. In return, DHIC will apply for state tax credits to subsidize housing for those making a range of incomes, including seniors, low-wage workers, the disabled and those transitioning from homelessness.
However not everyone was pleased with the deal.
Council member Matt Czajkowski said he couldn’t support a plan that gave away $2 million dollars worth of town assets outside of the annual budget process, especially as the town is looking to fund the Rogers Road sewer project later this spring.
“We have multiple other looming financial demands,” said Czajkowski. “Paramount among those demands is funding Rogers Road. In my view, and I guess the mayor and I disagree on this, this is what priority budgeting is all about.”
But Council member Sally Greene, who co-chaired the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, urged her peers to take advantage of this new opportunity.
“There is really a high public purpose in this, and yes, it is nothing we’ve ever done before, but as we know we’re in a different climate than we were ten years ago, and we need to be thinking creatively,” said Greene. “We need to explore and if possible execute plans like this when they come available for us.”
The council was under a deadline to sign a letter of intent to commit to the project to allow DHIC to proceed with the application process for state tax credits. Warren said the process is competitive, as only one in four proposals is approved.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt reminded the council and audience that Monday’s vote is only the first step.
“This vote didn’t create that project- it just allows it to move forward,” said Kleinschmidt. “And we’ll all be anxious to see next August this application be approved, we hope.”
The council will review the project again next spring, as the land will need to be rezoned before May ahead of the project application deadline.
The council also voted 7-1 last night to allocate an additional $860,000 to renovate two-thirds of Town Hall.
The first floor was damaged during this summer’s flooding, but instead of rebuilding just the lower level, Town Manager Roger Stancil recommended reorganizing much of the building to help streamline the permitting process.
“It would be physical evidence of the kind of change that you have asked for in development review and customer focus over the last few years,” Stancil told the council.
Matt Czajkowski cast the lone vote against the project.
In addition, the council unanimously approved a plan to partner with Orange County for recycling pick-up services. The county has been forced by a recent court ruling to change its funding model for the program, leading some in Chapel Hill to consider separating the municipal and county programs.
However, council members said they’d be willing to continue the partnership provided town staffers have a greater role to play in the administration and oversight of the program. The town and county managers will hash out an agreement later this spring.
On Tuesday the council will meet again to consider adoption of the Central West small area plan detailing potential growth around the Martin Luther King Jr., and Estes Drive intersection.
The Central West planning process has drawn fire from some residents of the area, who say citizen input has not been adequately incorporated into the current plan.
Residents opposed to the committee’s plan are likely to present a lower-density plan they say will reduce traffic and preserve surrounding neighborhoods.
The council meets Tuesday at 6 o’clock at the Southern Human Service Center on Homestead Road.
You can read the full agenda here: http://chapelhillpublic.novusagenda.com/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=236&MinutesMeetingID=-1
If you read my last post, you know my roommate and I just learned we’re about to be priced out of our apartment. I’ve spent the entire weekend searching across town—and into Durham—for a new one...
Some thoughts on apartment-hunting.
Looking for a new place is a crazy and stressful experience, especially when you’re on a bit of a time crunch. It’s an entirely new level of special fun, though, when you’ve spent the last four years obsessively following the local news, and you know everything about every inch and cranny of your town. So many extra variables!
“How close do I really want to live to Ephesus Church, when I know it’s probably going to be all torn up and construction-y for the next couple years?”
“Hey, this place looks nice, but wasn’t there a string of break-ins there a few months back?”
“Isn’t that one in the middle of a flood plain?”
“Hey Sales Office Guy, you mentioned Timber Hollow as one of your competitors? Yeah, let me tell you all about why that’s not going to be true for much longer.”
“I’ve heard of this one before, but why? …Oh, that’s right. The murder.”
I also find I’m more attuned to non-verbal cues—you know, the little tricks apartments use to say the things they’re not allowed to say. My favorite was the one where the model apartment was done up like a glorified dorm room, complete with UNC pillows on the beds and a “schedule of classes” posted on the bathroom door. At no point did the sales guy ever say “we’re more of a student housing deal”—I don’t think he even uttered the word “student” the whole time—but they made it pretty clear, all the same. (I suppose the complex that kept its model-apartment fridge stocked with free sodas and candy bars might have been trying to give off the same vibe.)
But perhaps the big lesson I took from my search is that I’m even more convinced in my suspicions about Chapel Hill housing than I was before. We already know there’s a shortage of low-cost housing in Chapel Hill—but we need to add, if we haven’t already, that there’s also a growing shortage of mid-range housing too.
Now, I did limit my search to a fairly narrow geographic area—roughly, up and down Weaver Dairy and along 15/501 from Garrett Road to Estes Drive. (Stayed away from downtown because it’s mostly student housing; stayed away from Carrboro because we’d like to avoid the extra commute.) But in that area, it became apparent very quickly that the only decent places in our price range were going to be in Durham.
So we may be moving to Durham. Sad, but true. It’s not a done deal yet, but we may very soon be joining that class of folks who’ve got all the town leaders wringing their hands: “People Who Live Outside Orange County And Commute In.”
At least I’d be in the plurality. (Slide from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 annual report. Full report here.)
I actually like Durham a lot. I lived there for two years when I moved to the area in 2008. Within a year, of course, I’d fallen in with WCHL, so I’ve always felt more connected to the movings and shakings of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. But there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for the Bull City. Minor league baseball! Southpoint! DPAC! (And man, there is nothing I find more fun than bringing a naïve Chapel Hillian or Raleighite to downtown Durham and watching them get all antsy and jittery because they’re just convinced they’re going to get mugged.)
So I’m not too terribly upset about the prospects of living there. (And it’d still be a short commute.)
Still, though, if it comes to pass, it’ll be sad to leave Chapel Hill—even if the only difference is that I won’t be voting there anymore or paying Orange-level taxes on my car.
No worries. Durham will be perfectly fine, should it come to that. And who knows. We might be back in the Hill within a year. It may not even happen at all.
In the meantime, though, y’all really do need to ramp up that housing conversation. (Hopefully I’m already preaching to the choir.)http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/durhams-pretty-nice-time-year/
In case you’ve missed it, Chapel Hill’s got a housing issue.
The supply of affordable rental housing in town is limited. Demand for housing is high in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which tends to drive up costs; new housing projects have generally been high-rent; and existing affordable units don’t necessarily meet the needs of the people seeking them.
Meanwhile, another twist: developers keep buying up affordable complexes, renovating them into swankier digs, and renting them back out at much higher rates. In Carrboro, Abbey Court got bought out last year; the new owners renamed it Collins Crossing and immediately started making renovations (good) and jacking up rates (bad). Similar situation at Colony Apartments (now The Park) in Chapel Hill, which is slated to be replaced—and now there’s also a proposal on the table to redevelop Timber Hollow Apartments, just off MLK Boulevard. In all three cases, a similar story: new developer comes in, boots out the existing tenants, revamps the place, brings in new tenants and charges them more.
So far, that’s really only affected “affordable” housing, on the lower end of the rent scale.
But is the scale sliding up? Is this about to start affecting mid-range housing too?
I ask because this same thing is about to happen to me. And several hundred other people too, I think.
My roommate and I live in a mid-range apartment complex in Chapel Hill. We’ve been there for two years and love it. We pay $1000 per month, split two ways—not an “affordable” unit, in the technical sense of the term, but definitely on the high end of what we can afford. (This year, at least, about 40 percent of my paycheck goes to rent.)
In October it got bought by a developer. We didn’t think anything of it.
Then yesterday I got news. When I stopped by the front office to renew our lease, the folks there told me the developer is planning major renovations—so no lease renewals, everyone switches to a monthly contract when their lease is up (which for us is December), and sometime after that they’re going to order us to vacate. At that point, they’ll renovate the unit and rent it back out again—for a significantly higher rate, of course. Almost certainly too high for us—even if we wanted to move back after being forced to move out in the first place.
And that’s it. We’ve just been priced out of our own home.
(By the way, there are 248 units in this complex. I can’t say for sure, but I assume they’ll all be affected.)
I don’t want to name names yet. Plans are still in the works, details are still sketchy, and I’m actually not even supposed to know what I know. (I only found out because I stopped by to renew our lease, and at that point they had to tell me.)
But if I was told correctly, then I think this is a new twist in Chapel Hill’s housing issue, or at least one that hasn’t really been publicized: it’s not just the “affordable” apartments that are being revamped into luxury units—it’s the mid-range apartments too.
I’m not terribly upset about it, at least not now that the initial shock has worn off. This is, I suppose, the downside of apartment living: it’s somebody else’s place you’re living in. Within certain limits, they can kick you out and jack up the rates whenever they want. And if we’re being honest, it is an older apartment building. We love it, but I guess you could argue it’s due for a makeover.
But now, for me, the annoying frustrating irritating process of apartment-hunting begins again. And I assume that process will also begin, sometime in the next 12 months or so, for most if not all of the residents in these 200-plus units.
That’s bad enough.
Add to that the existential shock of being told that—through no fault of your own—you’re going to have to leave the place you’ve come to think of as your home.
That’s bad enough too—and it’s an experience that more and more Chapel Hill/Carrboro residents seem to be having these days. I’ve mentioned Abbey Court and Colony Apartments on the rental side; let’s also not forget the longtime residents of the Northside neighborhood who got priced out when the student rental influx pushed up property taxes.
And so I think this is something worth paying attention to. It’s possible this could just turn out to be a one-time thing: an older apartment complex getting a needed renovation, no larger issue involved. But I’m worried that it also could be a signal of something larger happening in Chapel Hill: a growing scarcity of mid-range rental units as well, not just units officially designated as “affordable.”
And if that turns out to be true—if the high-end luxury stuff is all that’s left—
Well. I can’t think about that right now. I have to look for a new apartment.
I visited two complexes today. Both of them are out of our price range.http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/affordable-housing-crisis/
CHAPEL HILL- Molly McConnell told the Chapel Hill Town Council she’s lived in rentals since 1970, but it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet.
“I will tell you that 74 percent of my income goes to my housing, my heat, my electricity and my water,” said McConnell, who lives in the Glen Lennox neighborhood. “I am one of many, many thousands of people in this sort of situation in this community. We do not have a healthy or just community when we don’t have affordable or decent housing for all of our citizens.”
McConnell, along with a group of developers, elected officials and non-profit representatives, served on the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, which presented five month’s worth of research to the Town Council on Wednesday.
The panel recommended that the town shorten the approval process for developers building affordable rentals and incentivize the creation of new affordable rentals at all ends of the economic spectrum.
Council member Donna Bell, who co-chaired the committee, told the council demand quite simply outstrips supply.
“As long as there are more people than there are units, then people will continue to pay a premium to have property here,” said Bell.
Committee members suggested putting a bond package up for a vote and dedicating as much as one cent on the tax rate to create consistent funding for the development of new housing.
Bell said taxpayers will have to decide just how much diversity is worth.
“What we are talking about is investing in whether we want to be a bedroom community or if we truly are invested in being a community of diversity. There’s no wiggle room in this. This is the baseline question,” said Bell. “If the citizens want to create a bedroom community, they should let us know so that we can start making policies in that direction and so that I can pack up my family and move somewhere else.”
But council member Matt Czajkowski pushed back against what he said are contradictory policies.
“To have a policy that says ‘we’re going to find ways to add affordable housing, when we have Chapel Hill 2020, broadly endorsed by the Chamber, which is basically going to knock down 300 affordable units in Colony Woods, makes no sense,” said Czajkowski.
In a ten minute speech to the council, he argued that Chapel Hill needs to fight to preserve its present supply of affordable rentals instead of planning to build more in the future, and he rejected the idea that more development will translate into more affordable options down the road.
***Listen to the discussion***
“When we talk about the need to add supply to the housing stock overall, let’s look at what we’ve added: East 54, 140 [West] Franklin, Greenbridge, the apartments that are coming at University [Square]. Every single one of them is among the most expensive per square foot in the entire town,” said Czajkowski. “What is the basis for the argument? Where is there any evidence at all that if we build more, or allow developers to build more, that it will result in ultimately lower rental rates?”
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spent five minutes rebutting Czajkowski’s remarks, saying the problem is too big for the council to just throw up its hands.
“It requires every single one of us getting up everyday and making it work, and that means coming up with new ways of thinking about things,” said Kleinschmidt. “That’s what this committee has done.”
Despite the heated debate, the council took no action on the plan other than requesting a report from town staff on the feasibility of the proposals.
In the meantime, the council faces a November deadline to make a deal with a Raleigh-based nonprofit to use low-income tax credits to build affordable housing on town-owned land on Legion Road.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/council-members-square-off-on-affordable-rental-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Each weekday morning, 17,000 Chapel Hillians leave town to go to work, while 40,000 drive in. With only 7,000 who work near where they live, many residents are subject to long commutes, traffic and air pollution.
At Thursday’s forum hosted by the Sierra Club and the local Chamber of Commerce, candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council weighed in on how to address the “in-and-out challenge.”
George Cianciolo said he’d like to see more people live and work in Chapel Hill.
“For the 17,000 that are driving out we need to create more jobs so that they can have jobs here and don’t need to leave,” said Cianciolo. “For the 40,000 that are driving in, we need to make housing more affordable here so they can afford to live here.”
But Loren Hintz said many will continue to commute.
“We have institutions that employ a lot of people, and to house everyone we might have to be twice the size of Cary,” said Hintz. “So I think it’s really important to focus on the transportation issue.”
Ed Harrison said if he’s re-elected, promoting transit would be one of his top priorities.
“Keep working and working and working on transit at every level: regional, local and neighborhood,” said Harrison.
Given that half of the eligible voters in Chapel Hill are between 18 and 24 years old, moderator D.G. Martin asked the candidates what they would do to better serve the young adult population.
Paul Neebe said he’d focus on better bike routes and greenways.
“I think that we need to make sure that the town is safe for people bicycling and walking,” said Neebe.
Amy Ryan agreed, saying she’s seen firsthand the shift away from cars as a primary mode of transportation.
“I have one of those anecdotal non-driving 20-year-olds that you hear about,” said Ryan. “Watching her try to get around town and to get to jobs and back and forth to school it is quite a challenge, so I think better bike routes, better greenways and better bus systems.”
D.C. Swinton said many young people leave the area because they can’t find affordable housing.
“We also have to make sure to have affordable housing for them when they get out of school because they may not get the most high-paying jobs in Chapel Hill and will have to leave and go somewhere else,” said Swinton.
When it comes to connecting with young voters, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said elected officials just need to reach out.
“One of the things we need to do is be engaged with then and not just assume we know what they want and come up with some sort of prescription,” said Kleinschmidt. “It’s frustrating.”
An audience member asked the candidates what Chapel Hill should do to help the homeless once IFC’s emergency shelter shifts to a transitional housing program.
Sally Greene said at the moment, the town has no plan.
“The town, as far as I know, does not have a plan for this,” said Greene. “I’m the representative to the homelessness partnership in the county and I think this is a conversation we need to have.”
Gary Kahn suggested that local houses of worship could offer space for shelter.
“Make use of the various churches, synagogues and other centers to help the homeless,” said Kahn.
Maria Palmer said she’d like to see UNC partner with the town to provide mental health services for those in need.
“Mental health and addiction problems are big and we are not putting in the resources we need,” said Palmer. The university and the hospitals need to help us. We need to do more and I think we can do more. “
If you’d like to see the full forum, it will be rebroadcast on the People’s Channel later this month.
Early voting runs October 17 through November 2. Election Day is November 5.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/town-council-candidates-discuss-chapel-hills-in-and-out-challenge/
CHAPEL HILL- At Wednesday’s forum hosted by Friends of Bolin Creek and Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the nine candidates vying for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council reflected on the ways the town is looking to implement the new comprehensive plan.
One approach is through the introduction of form-based coding. It’s a new planning tool that supporters say will make the development process more predictable, though opponents worry it will move the approval process out of the public’s view.
Planning Board member Amy Ryan said if elected she would aim to make sure citizen input remains part of the process.
“As we talk about the form-based coding, that actually implies changes to the development review process, and I hope that as we go forward we work out some mechanism for public input at the end of that process,” said Ryan.
The council is currently considering applying form-based code to the Ephesus/Fordham Boulevard area in a bid to spur redevelopment. It could be considered for other areas in town as well.
Former Transportation Board Chair Loren Hintz said citizens need to decide how widespread that type of rezoning should be.
“I do think what everyone needs to decide is whether we want to apply form-based code to one neighborhood, which personally I think makes sense for the Ephesus/Fordham Boulevard, or apply it to other places,” said Hintz.
Incumbent Sally Greene said there are there are drawbacks, as form-based code does not allow the council to negotiate with developers for trade-offs like affordable housing.
“Once you have set form-based code in place and you ask someone to build, you have given away the store when it comes to affordable housing,” said Greene.
She said the council is looking to partner with a developer to use low-income tax credits to bring affordable rentals to the area instead.
George Cianciolo, co-chair of the Chapel Hill 2020 process, said these types of public-private partnerships will be key to increasing the supply of affordable housing in town, as the current system isn’t working.
“I don’t think dictating to developers that they have to do affordable housing is working now,” said Cianciolo. “What they do is they build their affordable housing then they jack up the price of the market rate housing. In Chapel Hill it’s driving the affordability rate higher not lower.”
In keeping with the theme of partnership, pastor and educator Maria Palmer said she’d like to see major employers like UNC develop local workforce housing options.
“I think we need to push the university to build more workforce housing, maybe at Carolina North,” said Palmer.
Town Council candidates also weighed in on the future of the Orange County Transit Plan.
Although voters last year approved the half-cent transit tax that funds the bus and rail plan, challenger D.C. Swinton said he’s skeptical about the idea of a light rail route from Chapel Hill to Durham.
“Rather than putting any money towards that, which is like putting the cart before the horse, we’d be better putting funds into expanding our (bus) system,” said Swinton.
Incumbent Ed Harrison argued that the addition of light rail would free up buses for use in other parts of town.
“What the light rail is intended to do as it comes into Chapel Hill is to replace all the buses on the N.C. 54 corridor, which are then available to go somewhere else,” said Harrison.
Southern Village resident Gary Kahn suggested there’s no need for light rail in a town this size.
“Until we get like six million people, that is when we should seriously start talking about light rail,” said Kahn. “Up until that point I don’t think it should even be an issue.”
But real estate broker Paul Neebe said the time to plan is now.
“I think if you don’t plan enough in advance for light rail, by the time you get too many people, there won’t be a place to put it,” said Neebe.
The candidates will face off again Thursday at a forum co-hosted by the Sierra Club and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/chtc-candidates-debate-transit-growth-and-affordable-housing/
CHAPEL HILL- Town Council member Sally Greene says the nation’s most popular method for building affordable rental housing isn’t happening here in Chapel Hill.
“Why is it not happening here in Chapel Hill? Because of the cost of land,” Greene told the council.
She and others want to change that by partnering with a nonprofit that specializes in creating affordable rentals for families and seniors using low-income tax credits.
At Monday’s work session the council heard a presentation from Gregg Warren, president of DHIC. He proposed building 140 apartments on 10 acres of town-owned land on Legion Road next to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.
If the town donates the land, Warren said that will offset some of the expenses associated with building in Chapel Hill.
Town staffers estimate the land value to be between $2 million and $4 million dollars, but some, including council member Matt Czajkowski weren’t ready to endorse the plan without more detailed analysis.
“We owe it to the citizens,” said Czajkowsi. “It is very clear to me that we need to show them the cost analysis of doing this to the town.”
In order to provide rentals to seniors and families making around $35,000 a year or less, the project also has to win approval from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency to be eligible for the low-income housing tax credits.
Warren said the process requires a strict timeline, noting that the council would have to approve all rezoning by May 2014.
“We are concerned about whether that is a workable schedule,” said Warren.
Currently there is no zone that would accommodate the proposed density, but staffers say the parcel could be rolled into the Ephesus-Fordham focus area, which will incorporate new zoning that would allow the project.
Though the project’s future is uncertain, council member Donna Bell called it an important step to fulfilling a promise to residents of Chapel Hill.
“We are being able to take this really massive tangible step in a direction that we just haven’t been able to do before,” said Bell.
The council has until the end of the month to decide whether or not to sign a letter of intent with DHIC to get the project underway.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/chtc-considers-affordable-rentals-on-town-land/