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.


Northside Rental Property Owners Demand Council Action On Community Plan

Half a dozen real estate investors say they’re not represented on an informal committee working to implement the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan. They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.

“We don’t like these meetings going on behind our back with proposed zoning changes and everything else, and then we find out after the fact that the Town Council is considering them,” says Mark Patmore, the owner of Mercia Residential Properties LLC. He owns several rentals in the Northside neighborhood. He’s also been a resident of the area for 20 years. “These are our properties and we have property rights and should be involved in all the proposed zoning changes, not just asked to provide a defense after the fact.”

They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.

“What we are actually proposing is that the Town Council once and for all establishes a committee that truly represents the Northside neighborhood, and that is the venue where any and all zoning changes and proposals are addressed, not behind closed doors.”

Delores Bailey is a Northside property owner and the executive director of the housing nonprofit EmPowerment. She says Patmore’s claims don’t hold water.

“There are open meetings and they are invited,” says Bailey. “Anybody who is a homeowner and has any kind of stake in Northside.”

In addition, she says the work of the committee is shared with the broader public at monthly Community Outreach meetings.

“I’ve not seen Mr. Patmore at many of those meetings, but that’s certainly the opportunity to learn what’s going on and what’s being talked about and raise any concerns he might have,” says Bailey. “I’m disappointed he would raise a red flag and insinuate that someone was doing something behind closed doors. There’s lots of opportunity for him to input at the community level. He just has not taken advantage of that.”

The fight over committee representation is just a small part of a larger battle over the future of the Northside neighborhood.

In 2003 long-time residents of the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods came to the council asking to create a neighborhood conservation district to help protect the traditionally black, working-class neighborhood from an influx of student rentals.

Residents said students made poor neighbors, complaining about yards used as parking lots, loud parties and litter. They also argued that as investors bought up the housing supply to turn into student rentals, long-term residents were being priced out by rising property taxes.

The Northside neighborhood conservation district, or NCD, was approved in 2004. The new rules included a cap on house size to discourage investors from renovating smaller houses into multi-tenant student rentals, as well as parking and occupancy limits.

A decade later, Patmore argues the NCD is not working as planned.

“Unfortunately, because of the implementation of the conservation district, I think it’s done more harm than good and actually discourages families from wanting to build in this neighborhood,” says Patmore. “Because the height restrictions, the size restrictions, the bedroom to bathroom ratio are not what families want and [it] is actually playing into the hands of investors to where the only people willing to buy in the neighborhood are investors, which defeats the whole purpose of the conservation district.”

In response, Bailey cites the work of nonprofit organizations to build five homes in the area, as well as EmPowerment’s purchase of several rental units aimed at families instead of students.

The Town Council approved a second approach to neighborhood preservation in 2012, in the form of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community plan.

It is aimed at fostering cooperation between student and non-student residents, increasing home-ownership opportunities and affordable rentals, and preserving the culture and history of the neighborhood. A coalition of five long-time residents, town staffers, EmPowerment, and the Jackson Center has been working to implement the plan.

Patmore says he and other investors are worried that the negotiations underway now will result in tighter restrictions, including possibly dropping the number of unrelated renters who can share a home from four down to three.

“I’m a resident of Northside, I’ve been a resident for 20 years, and I’m growing increasingly frustrated that these non-resident organizations are actually messing with our property rights and we don’t get a say in it until it’s too late,” says Patmore.

But Bailey stresses that is not the case.

“There is no motion to change policy either in the Community Outreach meetings or in that neighborhood committee that meets once every other month,” says Bailey. “There is nothing, policy-wise, to change occupancy in the Northside neighborhood.”

Ultimately, the Town Council would need to approve any change to the NCD rules, or make the move to appoint an official committee to implement the Community Plan.

Despite an email campaign, Patmore says he has yet to hear any response from council members. Until that happens, Patmore says he and his fellow Northside investors will keep pushing.

“Just as the Town Council genuinely, or theoretically, represents the taxpaying citizens of Chapel Hill, I think an officially established committee is important.”

Bailey says she’d like to see Patmore and others engage in the process that’s already underway.

“We know and understand that neighborhood is going to change,” says Bailey. “The answer is that we always be able to say what we feel about how it’s going to change, and that is Mr. Patmore’s right just as much as it is Delores Bailey’s right. That’s what I want people to know and understand. We do not have to be adversaries. We may not always agree but we can at least sit down at the table and talk.”

The Northside Community Outreach meetings take place on the second Tuesday of every month at the Hargraves Center.


CHTC Discusses Obey Creek Affordable Housing Plan, Development Agreement

At Thursday night’s meeting, the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed an affordable housing plan for the proposed Obey Creek development.

Ben Perry, finance director of the development company East West Partners, proposed that 15 percent of the for-sale units and 5 percent of the rentals be designated as affordable housing.

East West Partners wants to build 1.6 million square feet of commercial, residential and office space on 35 acres at the Obey Creek site, which is across from Southern Village. Thursday’s meeting was part of the town’s ongoing negotiation with the developer.

An Obey Creek Affordable Housing Subcommittee, made up of some council members and stakeholders, had meetings with East West Partners over the last month.

Perry said East West Partners would provide 15 percent of the for-sale units at prices affordable to people earning up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is $66,000 for a Chapel Hill household. In other words, the developer would offer six to eight for-sale townhouses at a reduced cost. This meets Chapel Hill’s inclusionary zoning ordinance for residential development.

Perry said the developer could offer 5 percent of the 600 rental units at a reduced cost.

Half of those 30 reduced-cost rentals would be eligible to section 8 and veteran affairs voucher holders. These would serve people who earn between 30 and 60 percent of the AMI.

The other half would be offered to people earning between 60 and 80 percent of the AMI. These tenants would pay 30 percent of their income for the units.

The council could ask the developer to pay a fee for affordable housing programs offsite instead of offering affordable housing at Obey Creek.

“My suggestion is that we take the affordable rental units, not the payment in lieu,” said Delores Bailey, executive director of the non-profit EmPOWERment Inc. She served on the Obey Creek affordable housing subcommittee. “There are lots of families that we can accommodate with this project when it happens.”

The town also discussed a draft of the Obey Creek Development Agreement. This agreement, a contract between the town and the developer, would list the permitted uses, housing requirements, environmental specifications, and other conditions and requirements.

The council would vote on the agreement in June, at the earliest. You can find the draft development agreement here. Email your feedback to mayorandcouncil@townofchapelhill.org and developmentagreement@townofchapelhill.org.

The council’s next negotiation session is scheduled for Feb. 19 at Chapel Hill Town Hall at 7pm.


Town Council Looks For Creative Solutions To Chapel Hill’s Challenges

Chapel Hill leaders are looking for innovative solutions to address some of the major challenges facing the town.

At last weekend’s planning retreat, the Town Council tried a different tactic to brainstorm new ways to tackle transit funding, town infrastructure and the need for affordable housing.

“I think one of the key takeaways from this retreat is that nothing was off the table,” says George Cianciolo, one of the council members who helped plan the event.

The all-day meeting was modeled after the free-ranging discussions that typified the Chapel Hill 2020 process. Council members met in small groups to trade ideas, a departure from the formal presentations that are the hallmark of local government.

Cianciolo says when it comes to the need for more affordable housing, town leaders are looking to balance social goals with market forces.

The plan to partner with the nonprofit DHIC to build affordable rentals on town-owned land is one example of how public-private partnerships can help the town leverage its assets.

“We’re looking at more public-private partnerships,” says Cianciolo. “We’ve been looking at some of our other assets and we talked about potentially that we could buy some land for another public-private partnership. Another [idea] was perhaps trading some of our assets to a developer who would be willing to do affordable housing.”

Chapel Hill Transit is facing a funding crunch even as demand for service continues to rise. One possible solution might be to charge riders for new routes or hours while keeping the core service fare-free.

“What would happen if we were to have fare cards that were used after, say, seven or eight o’clock at night?” asked Cianciolo. “Would that allow us to provide some service to some of the areas that are not served now?”

The need to replace the police station, repave roads and improve infrastructure also loomed large as a challenge for town leaders. Items like a new teen center rank high as priorities.

“Everyone agreed that a teen center downtown would not only be nice to have, but it would be important to have, because that’s a vulnerable population,” says Cianciolo. “And so that’s something that would be high on a list.”

The planning retreat was intended as a way to get a wide range of options on the table for future discussion. Ultimately, Cianciolo says to accomplish the many goals of the 2020 plan, Chapel Hill will need some novel ideas.

“You have a lot of things you’d like to do, and how many we can get to is partly going to be dependent on how creative we can get.”

No formal decisions were made at the retreat, but some of the concepts could be explored further during the upcoming budget negotiations this spring.