Carrboro Board of Aldermen Getting Closer to Affordable Housing Plan

CARRBORO – The Town of Carrboro is working on a long-term plan to make affordable housing more available to residents.

While discussing options for creating and funding affordable housing in Carrboro, Alderperson Jacquelyn Gist reminded her colleagues that affordability isn’t just about low mortgage payments.

“We’re not talking just affordable to buy, but affordable to stay in and maintain, and I think we need to be really cognizant of that.”

Her remarks came during a Board of Aldermen work session Tuesday night that included about a half hour of brainstorming, as Aldermen reviewed goals for affordable home ownership and rentals.

The main goal is for 15 percent of housing in Carrboro to be in the affordable range by 2020. The town has an Affordable Housing Task Force working on it, and there’s still a lot of fleshing out to do before there’s a final plan.

Alderperson Damon Seils said he likes the idea of re-developing the Jones Ferry Road corridor, which is already home to a lot of affordable housing. He said it’s also attractive to developers.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle offered this idea:

“We’ve talked about exploring other ways to come up with affordable housing, like reaching out to landowners of older housing in Carrboro and incentivizing them in some way.”

And Gist inquired about the desirability of manufactured housing in Carrboro:

“It’s affordable, it’s very nice, and it’s verboten around here. I just wonder if we want to look again at easing our rules on manufactured housing.”

A lot of ideas and incentives were offered for discussion, but as Alderperson Sammy Slade pointed out, no plan for affordable housing will become reality without some money behind it.

“In talking with the manager, one possibility – just exploring and brainstorming – was to have a bond referendum so we’d have the money up front,” said Slade. “But we could allocate a penny tax that could, over time, pay that off, and become a constant revenue stream after we pay it off, too.”

Gist wasn’t on board with the idea of raising taxes.

“There are many members of our community for whom the tax rate is making living here unaffordable,” said Gist. “And they tend to be our older residents, people who have been here a long time, people who have owned their houses for a long time.”

Slade answered that he shared those concerns, but at a time when both federal and state government are cutting back on subsidies for affordable housing, finding the money for it locally is tricky.

The Affordable Housing Task Force meets one more time before the next work session of the Board of Aldermen. The plan is to have some real strategies worked out before the summer break.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/carrboro-board-aldermen-getting-closer-affordable-housing-plan/

Council And Residents Wrangle With Ephesus-Fordham Questions

More than 100 people came out for Monday’s public hearing on the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan and nearly a third of the crowd shared their thoughts with the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Brett Bushnell was one of fifteen to speak in favor of the plan to spend $10 million on road and infrastructure improvements in the area.

“The Ephesus-Fordham plan has the ability to fix the broken infrastructure in this area. The road network in this area is extremely dated and not functioning well,” said Bushnell. “It should also reduce the need to drive to Durham, Chatham or even Wake County for shopping, dining and working. It will broaden the tax base and take the burden off of residential property owners.”

The project would reconfigure the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard, extend Elliot Road and create new mixed-use zones to allow three to seven stories of commercial and residential development on 190 acres in a bid to spur economic development.

But opponents worry the proposed new zoning tool known as form-based code will take public input and Council control out of the approval process.

“Once the form-based code is passed, you’ve lost control,” Bruce Henschel told the Council. “You might assume developers won’t build 190 acres of seven story buildings and parking lots cheek-by-jowl, but the code would allow them to do it. You couldn’t stop them as long as they met everything on the checklist.”

Using form-based code, the Council will set parameters for development including building height, setbacks and parking guidelines for each zone, but once these are in place, individual developers will not need to bring their projects before the council if they meet the established criteria.

This kind of zoning and approval process would be new to Chapel Hill. Supporters and critics alike raised questions on Monday about how the zoning would work. In the three hour discussion that followed, Council members tried to address some of the limitations of form-based code, including the town’s inability to mandate affordable housing.

The Council is looking to partner with a nonprofit to build low-income housing on town land in the Ephesus Road area, but beyond that, Council members say there’s little incentive for developers to provide workforce housing.

The Council also received a cost benefit analysis of the project by Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer. He offered two scenarios. In the more fiscally conservative estimate, the project would cost about $26.4 million and the town would likely break even after 20 years. But if Orange County leaders agree to pledge a portion of the additional revenue the project is expected to generate, Pennoyer said the project would bring in $46.9 million dollars for the town over the next two decades.

“Obviously their participation helps our financial numbers and therefore makes the project more viable,” said Pennoyer. “If the project isn’t viable and doesn’t go forward, then [Orange County] doesn’t benefit at all.”

The Council will discuss the funding partnership with Orange County Commissioners at a joint meeting on Thursday. The Ephesus-Fordham plan will come back before the council for a vote in mid-April.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/council-residents-wrangle-ephesus-fordham-questions/

Biking! Drinking! Recycling! Driving! Housing! Reporting! Dancing!

The newest restaurant in Chapel Hill’s 140 West is celebrating its grand opening on Thursday, March 20.

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom will mark its grand opening on March 20 with a ribbon cutting at 11:00 a.m.

Old Chicago got its start back in 1976 – and to honor that, the company will offer free pizza for a year for the first 76 customers in line. There will also be a free throw shooting contest outside on the 140 West plaza – and Old Chicago will donate $76 to Farmer Foodshare for each free throw that gets made. (Show the Tar Heels how it’s done!)

Listen to Aaron Keck’s conversation on the Wednesday afternoon news with Old Chicago’s Chris Beckler.

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For the next two months, the Town of Chapel Hill is inviting you to give your feedback on the latest draft of its Bike Plan.

You can find the plan and a comment form online at TownOfChapelHill.org/bikeplan.

There will be a public forum to discuss the plan on Monday, April 28.

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Chatham County officials say drinking water in some parts of the county might have a musty taste and odor for the next month or so – but it’s still safe to drink.

Chatham Water Utilities found higher-than-usual levels of compounds in water recently sampled from Jordan Lake Reservoir, causing the slight difference in taste. Director Leonard McBryde says this is a seasonal issue that’s “not uncommon for water systems that draw raw water from lakes.”

Since it’s seasonal, county officials say it should only last about a month – but in the meantime, residents can minimize the taste difference by refrigerating water in a pitcher, or using a carbon filter.

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Orange County will be holding a second public hearing in April to discuss the proposed new solid waste service tax district for unincorporated areas of the county.

The district is being proposed as a way to continue funding the county’s recycling program. The program had been funded with an annual fee attached to residents’ property tax bill, but that fee has been discontinued.

The public hearing takes place on Tuesday, April 1, also at 6:00 p.m. at the Social Services Center at Hillsborough Commons on Mayo Street in Hillsborough.

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Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s three high schools are holding “mock crash” events this spring to raise awareness of the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

The events will begin with an assembly, followed by a crash reenactment in the footbal stadium. A UNC Air Care helicopter will land in the stadium as well, to simulate transport of an injured victim.

The mock crashes will take place at Carrboro High School on Friday, March 21; at East Chapel Hill High on Wednesday, April 9; and at Chapel Hill High on Friday, May 2 during the school day.

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The Greater Chapel Hill Association of REALTORS has earned a grant to promote affordable housing in the local community.

The grant comes from the Housing Opportunity Program of the National Association of REALTORS; the Greater Chapel Hill branch will use the funds to produce a housing expo in Chatham County.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Amanda Bennett will be on campus Thursday, March 20, speaking as part of UNC’s Women in Media Leadership Series.

Working for the Wall Street Journal, Bennett won the Pulitzer in 1997 for her coverage of the AIDS crisis, and a second Pulitzer with The Oregonian for an expose of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She’s also the author of “The Cost of Hope,” a book about confronting death in the context of the U.S. healthcare system.

Bennett’s talk will begin at 5:30 p.m. on March 20 in the Freedom Forum Conference Center in Carroll Hall. It’s free and open to the public.

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This weekend, a nationally-recognized dance choreographer will be in the Triangle to support arts education in local schools.

Jacques d’Amboise is the principal dancer-choreographer for the NYC Ballet. He’s in town from Thursday through Saturday, March 20-22, to support NC Arts in Action – which provides in-school and afterschool dance programs for kids, based on a model d’Amboise developed back in the 1970s.

On Thursday d’Amboise will be in Chapel Hill, meeting with fourth-graders at Northside Elementary School.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/biking-drinking-recycling-driving-housing-reporting-dancing/

Homeownership, Scholarship, Taxes And Snow Days

Are you thinking about buying a home? Wondering how you can afford it?

Chatham Habitat for Humanity and EmPOWERment are co-hosting a two-part Home Buyer’s Education Workshop in Pittsboro, on Thursday, March 6 and Thursday, March 13 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. You’ll learn tips for shopping for homes and mortgages, how to financially prepare, and how to maintain your home after you’ve bought it.

The workshop takes place at 467 West Street in Pittsboro. It’s free and open to the public; dinner, door prizes and child care will be provided. To RSVP, contact Amanda Stancil at EmPOWERment by calling 967-8779, or Anna Schmalz Rodriguez at Chatham Habitat by calling 542-0794.

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Congratulations to Casey Rimland, a medical and doctoral student in the UNC School of Medicine who was recently named as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Created with a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides students with a three-year full scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England. Between 80 and 100 Gates Scholarships are awarded annually; Rimland is the second honoree from UNC.

Casey Rimland is originally from Charlotte and graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 2011. She’s also a thyroid cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in her first year of medical school.

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To compensate for all the snow days, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board has updated the district’s class schedule for the rest of the school year.

There were three remaining days on the district’s calendar that were set aside as delayed-opening days, but all three have now been changed to regular school days. Those three days are March 13, April 10 and May 8 – all originally delayed opening, but now functioning as regular, full school days. Students should report to school at the regular time.

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Congratulations to the AVID students from Smith Middle School, winners of this year’s sixth annual Black History Knowledge Bowl!

The event is sponsored every year by the Mu Omicron Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. It’s a competition between students at Culbreth, McDougle and Smith Middle Schools who participate in the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination). This year’s Knowledge Bowl took place at Culbreth Middle School on February 22; Smith took first and Culbreth took second.

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Results are in for the Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Survey, and the numbers indicate that—for the most part—residents are extremely happy with the town’s services.

More than 90 percent of residents who responded say they’re satisfied with the town’s fire department, library, and trash collection services; more than 80 percent say they’re satisfied with Chapel Hill’s park maintenance and police department. Those numbers are “well above regional and national benchmarks,” according to a release from the Town.

On the down side, residents said they were most concerned with traffic congestion and “how well the Town is preparing for the future,” and also said the Town could do a better job providing affordable housing and “access to quality shopping.”

You can check out the full results at TownOfChapelHill.org/survey.

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It’s tax season—and if you need tax forms, the Orange County Public Library is offering select forms for free. Those forms include the 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, Schedule A, Schedule B and Schedule SE.

In addition, the Orange County Department on Aging is offering its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program—VITA for short—which provides free income tax preparation for qualifying individuals with low- to middle-incomes, regardless of age or county of residence.

For more information or to find out if you qualify, visit OrangeCountyNC.gov/aging/VITA.asp.

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UNC has received a grant of more than $40 million from the National Institutes of Health, to fund a global clinical trials unit working to treat and prevent the spread of HIV.

The grant will fund five clinical research sites through the year 2021. Three of those sites are located in North Carolina; the other two are located in Africa, in Malawi and Zambia.

UNC received $430 million in external funding for HIV research between 2008 and 2012. The university is ranked as one of the top 10 programs in America for HIV/AIDS research.

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http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/homeownership-scholarship-taxes-snow-days/

CHTC Eyes Town Funding For Affordable Rental Housing Plan

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday unanimously endorsed a new plan to increase the town’s supply of affordable rental housing. While housing advocates applauded the move, they told the council it won’t work without money. Council members agreed, saying it might be time to consider dedicating one cent of the tax rate to fund the plan.

“I would to ask the [Town] Manager, when he brings us his proposed budget for next year, that it has the one cent tax on it,” said George Cianciolo. “Because I think it’s time that we started investing in something that the citizens have said repeatedly that they want to see.”

Approximately 54 percent of all housing units in Chapel Hill are rentals, far more than in surrounding areas. But demand outstrips supply. A 2010 study suggested the town would need to add 1,200 rental units to serve the population, but in the past five years only 539 units have been approved, none of which are priced to serve those needing workforce housing.

About 2,100 people are on the wait list for public housing or voucher programs in Chapel Hill, and wait time can range from one to five years. Compounding the problem, federal funding has been steadily reduced and town staffers say payments into the town’s affordable housing fund from local developers are unpredictable at best.

Mayor pro tem Sally Greene, who co-chaired the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, said the council could consider several options for creating a dedicated local revenue stream.

“Either carve out a penny on the existing tax rate or add a penny to the tax rate,” said Greene. “There’s also a discussion we could have about whether to have a bond referendum that is connected to affordable housing.”

Adding one penny to the property tax rate would generate approximately $729,000 annually. Lee Storrow said finding that money in next year’s budget could be a challenge. He asked for staff to come up with a plan to incrementally increase the funding over a period of years.

“Is there a three-year plan or a five-year plan for us to build to a designated town-generated revenue source?” asked Storrow. “It’s really important, because when I came on the council and realized the limited amount of funds that the town was spending on affordable housing it did make me feel uncomfortable.”

The majority of the council supported the concept of dedicating tax dollars to affordable housing. The precise timing and amount will be discussed when the town manager presents a budget plan later this spring.

The council voted unanimously to adopt the new affordable rental housing strategy. In addition to identifying sustainable funding, the plan calls for a senior staff member to focus on affordable rentals, encouraging partnerships between private builders and nonprofits, and the creation of a housing advisory board to monitor implementation of the strategy.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-eyes-town-funding-affordable-rental-housing-plan/

Town Council Warms To Senior Housing Plan On Homestead

CHAPEL HILL- The third time might be the charm for developers looking to build a new subdivision on nearly 18 acres at 2209 Homestead Road across from Weaver Dairy Road Extension.

Ed Bacome of Epcon Communities told the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday he wants to build 65 single-family homes aimed at empty-nesters.

“We are proposing to create what we believe are America’s best ‘Boomer Homes,’” said Bacome.

In 2010 and again in 2011, developers made a pitch to bring student housing to the site, but each time met with stiff resistance from neighbors and the Town Council, who worried the projects would be too dense and too loud for the largely residential area.

This new plan, called Courtyards of Homestead, was warmly received by the council, as members commended the developer for offering moderately-priced homes to the town’s aging population.

“It’s to me, very refreshing to have a developer here who’s not pitching us on dense student housing plopped down next to a neighborhood where nobody can argue that the two could ever really coexist,” said Council member Matt Czajkowski.

The main sticking point for Council members was the developers’ initial reluctance to commit to building affordable housing on the site, instead offering payment-in-lieu to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere. Council member Lee Storrow told Bacome that’s not what the town needs.

“I would be challenged to think of a payment-in-lieu that would large enough that I would find compelling,” said Storrow.

Council members also pushed for greater connectivity to make sure residents could walk to nearby facilities like the Seymour Senior Center and the Homestead Road Aquatic Center.

However, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt challenged the idea that the homes would be sold to retirees rather than families with school-aged children.

“I don’t see how you’re able to get these sold to people of 50, 55 or older, if you don’t actually have an age restriction” said Kleinschmidt.

No formal plan has been submitted to the town yet. The developer will review the Council’s comments before deciding whether to move ahead with the project.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-warms-senior-housing-plan-homestead/

CHTC Agrees To Trade Town Land For Affordable Rentals

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

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-agrees-trade-town-land-affordable-rentals/

Durham’s Pretty Nice This Time Of Year

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.”

chamber commuting

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/

I Am The Affordable Housing Crisis

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/

Council Members Square Off On Affordable Rental Plan

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***

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“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/