Friday, Community Home Trust Is “Opening Doors”

On Friday, the Carolina Inn will play host to “Opening Doors 2015,” a major annual fundraiser for Community Home Trust.

The event (Vegas-themed!) will feature casino-style games, dancing, Rat Pack music, a silent auction, and magic from Joshua Lozoff – plus food and drinks from the recently-remodeled Carolina Crossroads Restaurant and Bar. It’s all to benefit the Community Home Trust, a local nonprofit that provides homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents.

CHT’s Camille Berry joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week, along with homeowner Gail Markland.


To learn more about Community Home Trust and its mission, visit this page.

To purchase tickets for “Opening Doors 2015,” visit this page on EventBrite.

$125M Bond Package Back In BOCC Spotlight

Orange County Commissioners on Thursday will discuss a proposed bond referendum that could total $125 million dollars.

If voters approve the ballot measure slated for November 2016, it would be the largest bond package in the county’s history.

The board voted 4-2 in April to use that money for school repairs and renovations, instead of splitting the funds between schools, parks, affordable housing and other projects.

The Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems have estimated they need as much as $300 million to fully fix aging schools and expand capacity throughout the two districts.

Still, critics, including several commissioners, say the county needs to focus spending on affordable housing as well as school repair.

The board will hear Thursday from the county’s financial advisers on the potential impact of a $125 million dollar bond, as well as other scenarios totaling as much as $135 million.

Commissioners say they want your input on the bond proposal too. They’ll take public comment next Tuesday at 7 o’clock in the Southern Human Services Center at Homestead Road. You can also submit comments online:

For Thursday’s agenda, click here.

Rental Prices Still On Rise In OC

The affordability issue is a big one in Orange County, and it’s an issue with many facets – one of which is the cost of rental housing. How is the cost of rental housing changing in our community?

“My view (is that) we have a supply-demand problem,” says Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson. “Great schools (and) great quality of life (combined with) limited supply of housing has been a big driver pushing prices up.”

How much is the cost of rental housing going up? According to U.S. Census data, between 2007 and 2009, 70 percent of Orange County renters were paying between $500 and $1000 per month for their units, while about 23 percent were paying more. Nelson says that’s changed.

“Now 23 percent (are) paying between $1000 and $1500 – that’s up – and the percentage of people paying more than $1500 a month is now at 11 percent,” he says. “Taken together, that’s 34 percent of folks paying more than $1000 a month.”

Sixty percent of Orange County renters still pay less than $1000 a month – but that’s down 10 percent from 2009, even though the cost to buy a house in Orange County has remained nearly flat.

But what’s important isn’t so much the dollar amount itself as the ability of residents to afford it. Housing is considered “affordable” if it takes up 30 percent or less of your income before taxes. By that standard, can Orange County residents “afford” the homes they’re renting?

Nelson says some of us can. According to the census data, 42 percent of Orange County residents are paying less than 30 percent of their incomes on rent. But over half of us are paying more – in some cases, much more.

“30 percent of the population of Orange County is spending more than 50 percent of their pre-tax (income),” Nelson says. “In take-home (terms), that’s 60-some odd percent…

“And that’s just the rent part. When we say ’30 percent equals affordable housing,’ we mean rent plus utilities.”

And of course that number only counts those people who still choose to live in Orange County – not those people who choose to live elsewhere, or have chosen to move out.

“And so this is (still) a real challenge we have in our community, the cost of housing,” Nelson concludes.

Nelson made those comments last month, delivering his annual State of the Community report.

You can check out the full report here.

Housing Nonprofit Awarded Tax Credits For Legion Road Project

Local housing nonprofit DHIC has been awarded state tax credits that will pave the way to build affordable apartments on Legion Road.

Gregg Warren, president of DHIC, says there’s a demonstrated need for affordable rentals in Chapel Hill.

“There are over than 3,000 families in need of such housing in the market area in Chapel Hill,” says Warren. “We’ll do our part to try to at least scratch the surface of that need with the Greenfield development.”

Once completed, Greenfield Place will offer 80 apartments for working families. A second phase will set aside 60 apartments for low-income seniors.

The development will consist of four buildings on nine acres next to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. That land was donated to DHIC by the Town of Chapel Hill.

Town officials have been planning the project in collaboration with DHIC for more than two years. Warren says the tax credits from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency are vital to keeping the apartments affordable.

“Those tax credits allow us to raise equity, and that equity reduces the mortgage that we need to secure, thus allowing us to lower the rents for the residents who will live in Greenfield Place.”

DHIC’s design team will begin working with the town to craft a development proposal. Warren says he hopes to have residents moving in by December 2017.

Is Affordable Housing a Priority for Chapel Hill?

Critics say Chapel Hill is not prioritizing affordable housing, especially in the Ephesus-Fordham district.

While a small portion of the 190-acre Ephesus-Fordham district does offer developers a density bonus for building affordable housing, there’s no mandate for affordable housing at Village Plaza Apartments.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell says the town is prioritizing affordable housing as Ephesus-Fordham becomes more developed.

“Our thought behind Ephesus-Fordham is that this is a space that creates income,” says Bell. “It could bring more property taxes and multifamily buildings that don’t cost the same as single-family buildings, that it would bring more office and more retail. And thus, from those additional tax funds, we could support things that are important to us, like affordable housing and our transit.”

Chapel Hill’s new zoning rules for the Ephesus-Fordham district, known as form-based code, set parameters for building height, parking space and other details. And it authorizes the town manager, instead of the town council, to approve projects that meet the criteria.

Since the council enacted the new code ten months ago, the town received three project applications, and one, Village Plaza Apartments, has been approved and is now being built.

“When we talk about the Ephesus-Fordham piece, I’m thinking about the affordable rental units that are going to go away or have gone away over in that area, and that’s a sad state,” says Delores Bailey, executive director of the non-profit, EmPOWERment Inc. EmPOWERment helps place low-income people in homes.

Mark Marcoplos, who operates a local green building company, says we can’t have a substantial discussion about affordable housing without also talking about a “living wage,” the minimum wage necessary to meet one’s needs while living in a place.

“What we’ve done in Chapel Hill all these years, we’ve pumped up and advertised our school system,” says Marcoplos. “We’ve advertised to retirees. We’ve tried to create this oasis of wealth, and we were successful at doing that.”

Marcoplos also emphasizes the importance of adding routes to the public transportation system to serve those who cannot afford to live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Marcoplos himself is a rural Orange County resident.

Bell, Bailey, Marcoplos and other Orange County leaders came to the WCHL Community Forum to discuss local affordable housing. Also in the room were Tish Galu, board chair of the nonprofit Orange County Justice United, and Daniel Eller, president and CEO of Eller Capital Partners, a major local property owner.

Several members of the panel said the greatest local housing need is rental housing affordable to people earning below 80 percent and below 30 percent of the area median income.

The panel touched on many other facets of affordable housing in Orange County. You can find audio from this panel and all the other panels – including a panel on development in Chapel Hill and one on poverty – here.

Mayor Kleinschmidt: “We Have To Say Yes” To Employers Who Pay Living Wages

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.”

In Durham and Asheville, small businesses that pay a living wage can get certified by an independent group, allowing shoppers to choose to support their pay policies.

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.”

Town Council Approves Affordable Housing Fund

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.

CHTC 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.

Mayors, Leaders To Help Justice United Mark Its Push For Affordability

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.

Read more about Sunday’s event.

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.

Town Council Approves Mixed-Use Development at Chapel Hill’s Edge

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.