Community Home Trust Fights Affordable Housing Crunch

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 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 to take a look at what they have to offer.

Friday Night, “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Head to the Varsity Theater on Franklin Street Friday night for a free screening of the classic Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life”!

Hosted by Chapel Hill’s Community Home Trust and underwritten by Investors Title Company, the free screening has become an annual holiday tradition.

“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

Residents Raise Concerns About Affordable Housing At ‘The Edge’

More than 140 people attended Monday night’s meeting at the Chapel Hill Town Hall Council Chamber. The Town Council heard public comments on a proposed mixed-use development in north Chapel Hill called The Edge.

The 600-to-900-thousand square foot development is planned for 53 acres on Eubanks Road. Though it’s not required, development company Northwood Ravin is willing to provide at least 50 rental units as affordable housing.

The company Crosland LLC, which used to work with Northwood Ravin, owns a couple low-income developments in Orange County. Candace Lowndes said she lived in one of these complexes in Carrboro, The Landings at Winmore Apartments, where her upstairs neighbor had a leak.

“The ceiling sheetrock in both the master bedroom and laundry room of my apartment were saturated with laundry water,” Lowndes told the Council.

Lowndes said the management did not deal with the issue adequately, and mold grew in her apartment.

The grassroots organization Justice United called on community members to speak at the meeting. Several people expressed distress at mismanagement of the two low-income rental complexes.

Michael Birch, a land use attorney at the Morningstar Law Group, spoke on behalf of Northwood Ravin. Birch said Northwood was connected with Crosland, but that association ended in April 2011.

“We want to be clear that Northwood Ravin has no connection, no current connection with Crosland that still owns those two affordable housing communities,” said Birch. “Again, Northwood Ravin also has no connection with WRH Reality, the property management company for those two housing communities.”

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle also expressed her concerns.

“We know that Northwood Ravin does have former, high-ranking Crosland LLC employees from the residential division working now with their company. My goal in speaking to you about this is really to give Chapel Hill the opportunity to avoid facing the same issues that Carrboro staff and elected officials have been dealing with for the last few years.”

Lavelle said Carrboro has had recurring issues with the The Landings, which opened in 2009.

“In 2011, the town of Carrboro was made aware of a string of policies and actions by the property manager that were disturbing to residents and discriminatory in nature,” said Lavelle.

Council members asked the developer to address concerns about property management and concerns about too little retail space at the next meeting on December 3.

Chapel Hill And Habitat Add New Affordable Rentals

The Town of Chapel Hill is celebrating the addition of an affordable rental duplex in the Rogers Road neighborhood, made possible by Habitat for Humanity.

The duplex will be available though the Town’s Housing Department to qualifying seniors or those living with disabilities.

Applicants must earn less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income. That translates to $27,000 for a one-person household or up to $35,000 for a three-person household.

A celebration to mark the end of construction will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday at 105 Zieger Lane in northern Chapel Hill.

You can find out more about who’s eligible to rent the duplex here.

CHTC To Talk Housing And Design For Obey Creek

The Chapel Hill Town Council will sit down with representatives from East West Partners on Thursday to hash out the details of the Obey Creek development agreement.

This is the first formal discussion since the Council voted last week to enter into negotiations for a plan to govern the long-term build out of the project.

The developer is proposing a multi-use development that will include 400,000 square feet of retail, 250,000 square feet of office space and up to 700 residential units on 35 acres. Council members will discuss the mix of uses, affordable housing provisions and design principals at Thursday’s work session.

The meeting starts at 7 o’clock in Council Chambers at Chapel Hill Town Hall. You can find the full agenda here.

Form-Based Code Gets First Test With Village Plaza Apartments

Chapel Hill is moving forward with the first major project submitted under the new zoning rules in the Ephesus-Fordham district, but not everyone is pleased with the process.

The Town Council last week reviewed the Village Plaza Apartments project, planned for the vacant lot next to Whole Foods on Elliot Road. During the Council’s courtesy review, Matt Czajkowski railed against the project and the new form-based code.

“It’s astonishing to me that the first project out of the box is so appalling that you almost couldn’t have concocted it as such, to show all of the glaring weaknesses in the form-based code that we passed and that we, apparently, have no meaningful opportunity to revise,” said Czajkowski.

The proposal calls for a six story building with 266 apartments, 15,600 square feet of retail and a parking deck with 463 spaces.But unlike other large mixed-use developments, this one doesn’t require approval from the Council, just a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Town Manager.

Under form-based code, the Council sets out parameters for development including building height and parking requirements, but final approval rests with the Town Manager, provided the project meets the guidelines.

Chapel Hill resident Jane Kirsch told the Council she’s worried the code isn’t rigorous enough to guarantee quality development.

“I am standing her pleading with you to take the time to reconsider this one. This form-based code thing, I don’t get at all. I hope you do,” said Kirsch. “I hope you will reconsider it and give this your very best efforts, because I think Chapel Hill can do a whole lot better than this project.”

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 where Village Plaza Apartments is planned.

“How many apartments are there? 266. How many affordable units? Zero. No expectation whatsoever of affordable units. We knew it when we put this [code] in place, now we’re seeing it,” said Czajkowski.

Some on the council were also concerned about a plan to move the Booker Creek Greenway closer to the creek to make way for a new street to access the site.

Still, Council member George Cianciolo argued the apartments would be a better use of land than the currently vacant lot.

“This may or may not be successful, but what’s been there for the last ten years or so certainly has not contributed one iota to this town,” said Cianciolo.

The review also raised questions about how the new code should be revised. Sustainability Officer John Richardson pointed to contradictions in the code that the council will need to resolve next year, including conflicting requirements for bike parking.

The Community Design Commission reviewed Village Plaza Apartments last Tuesday before voting unanimously that the plan was in compliance with the code.

The project now awaits final approval from Town Manager Roger Stancil. He has a November 12 deadline to sign off on the plan.

Developer Authorized to Build Multistory Apartment Building in Downtown Chapel Hill

On Monday night, The Chapel Hill Town Council authorized a developer to build a multistory apartment building just west of UNC’s campus.

This gives the developer, Wintergreen Hospitality, the go-ahead to erect a 120,000 square foot building. This building called “The Graduate” will have about 100 apartments – a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom rentals – with 138 parking spaces.

Wintergreen Hospitality says the rentals will serve professionals and graduate students. The developer estimates the monthly rate for a one-bedroom unit at $1,200.

Residents expressed concerns at the previous town council discussion in late September, including the concern that the apartments would be too expensive for graduate students. No residents made public comments about the development at Monday’s meeting.

Wintergreen Hospitality, which also owns and operates the nearby Franklin Hotel, will offer 15 percent of these units at reduced rates to individuals or families making less than 75 percent of the area median income. The developer estimates a one-bedroom unit at $690 per month for one person making less than 60 percent of the area median income. Students will only be considered for these designated units if there are no permanent, working residents who are interested in renting. These students still have to meet the criteria for affordability to rent the designated units.

The council also authorized two other construction projects at Monday’s meeting, the New Life Fellowship Church on Sage road and The Courtyards of Homestead development on Homestead Road.

Council and Residents Analyze Ephesus-Fordham Affordable Housing Plan

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt wants to find the right balance of factors that will attract developers to build affordable housing in the city’s Ephesus-Fordham development district.

At Monday night’s Chapel Hill Town Council public hearing, council members and Orange County residents discussed factors like who qualifies for affordable housing and what percentage of housing units a developer must offer as affordable units. Kleinschmidt likened these factors to ingredients in a pot of soup.

“We might really really like a certain kind of ingredient, but it might spoil the pot,” said Kleinschmidt.

“The most serious problem is rental right now because, as you know, the Section 8 housing rental market simply collapsed,” said Ellie Kinnaird during the public comment period. Kinnaird served as an N.C. senator and as a mayor of Carrboro.

The current proposal would allow developers to erect one-story or two-story buildings without an affordable housing requirement. The proposal says a developer can build between two and five stories if the developer offers 10% of the housing units as affordable units. The proposal requires affordable rental units to remain affordable for 15 years.

Council member Jim Ward said developers should be required to build rental housing that remains affordable for more than 15 years. “I’m not supportive of 15 years of affordable rental,” said Ward. “It’s going to have 200 years of un-affordable rental after those 15 years.”

Kleinschmidt said he wants more than 10% of housing units to be built as affordable units.

The discussion revealed that the council will need to iron out details to accommodate different parties including developers and those looking for affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

The council invites public comment on this topic and will hold another public hearing on November 24.

In Affordable Housing Push, Chapel Hill Sticks With DHIC

The Town of Chapel Hill is sticking with the Raleigh-based developer DHIC in its effort to get more affordable housing in the Ephesus-Fordham district.

That’s the word from Monday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Chapel Hill partnered with DHIC last year on a project to build 160 low-cost rental units on Legion Road. But in order for the project to be financially viable, DHIC needs to obtain a Low Income Housing Tax Credit from the state – and last month, their application was denied due to a paperwork error.

Town Council had the option to give DHIC more time to resubmit the application, or try to go in a new direction – but on Monday, Council members elected to stick with the company, extending the tax-credit deadline until August 31 of next year. (Assuming the tax credit goes through, the town will sell DHIC the Legion Road property at a low cost by the following April.)

Also at the meeting: Council members took the next step toward approving a proposal for the redevelopment of the fire station on Hamilton Road near East 54. The plan is to make it a mixed-use property: the town would transfer the land title to East West Partners, who would demolish the current fire station and build a new one for the town, along with a 45,000-square-foot office building.

Council members also took steps to help the 89 families in Orange County who face eviction and displacement because their landlords have stopped accepting Section 8 housing vouchers. Those steps included the creation of a $10,000 pilot program to provide rental and utility connection assistance.

Local Demand For Food Assistance Grows Despite Economic Recovery

Newly released census data shows Orange County’s poverty rate may be improving, but the economic recovery has yet to take hold in many communities.

At 10 a.m. on a Friday at the Inter-Faith Council in Carrboro, about half a dozen people wait quietly for their names to be called. Each is a client at the IFC’s Food Pantry. They are eligible to collect one bag of groceries a month. Though not everyone comes that often, many do come regularly.

This is one way Orange County’s working poor make ends meet.

Kristen Lavernge is the IFC’s Community Services Director. She says many clients work at the university, the hospitals or in the school system, but they struggle to pay their rent.

“The guideline generally is that you shouldn’t be paying more than a third of your income in rent, and we find that a lot of our clients are paying at least half and sometimes even more,” says Lavergne.

Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing food pantry clients, as many landlords have stopped accepting Section 8 housing vouchers and the demand for off-campus student housing has driven up the cost of renting in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“I think having the university here is a blessing in some ways, but it also brings students to this area and the housing competition gets difficult there,” says Lavergne.

According to Orange County Health Department data, a local household would need the income from 2.2 full-time minimum wage jobs to be able to afford the median rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

For some, that doesn’t leave a lot left over to buy groceries.

The IFC distributes 1,200- 1,500 bags of food each month to families and individuals who live and work in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

During the recession, Lavernge says she saw that number spike, and while demand has since plateaued, the level of need still remains higher than when the recession began.

The numbers of people requiring food assistance may be beginning to stabilize in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but in rural Orange, the need continues to grow.

Kay Stagner is the Manager of Client Services with Orange Congregations in Mission. She says since 2010 she’s seen demand for groceries double at the Hillsborough-based Samaritan Relief Mission’s food pantry.

“So far this year we’ve averaged about 290 households a month, that averages to about 14 food orders a day,” says Stagner. “I was looking at our numbers from 2010, just four years ago, and we averaged seven food orders a day.”

OCIM serves residents living in the Orange County Schools district. Though housing costs are lower in the rural areas than in the towns, Stagner says many clients struggle to find work that pays a living wage.

“Nobody wants to come here. They just can’t find jobs,” says Stagner. “They can’t find work that will support themselves and their families.”

Transportation and childcare costs also take a sizable chunk out of workers paychecks. Stagner says even the weather can play an unexpected role in driving up the demand for food.

“An ice storm like we had last winter, people’s power goes out for three, four days, or a week- all of a sudden you have people you haven’t even seen before, that have never needed your help before needing help with food because they lost everything,” says Stagner.

According to the American Community Survey, the percent of people living in poverty in Orange County has dropped slightly, from 17.4 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2013. But that change seems imperceptible to those who work in the area’s food pantries.

Stagner says she fully expects demand to increase in the coming year.

“We never know how many people are going to be needing us. It depends on changes in society from gas prices to the weather. We know we will serve more people this year than last year, we always have. But just how much, there’s no way to tell.”

Both the IFC and OCIM accept non-perishable food donations year-round. For more on how to donate, contact the IFC here and OCIM here.