Commissioners To Hold Public Hearing On Upcoming Bond

The Board of Orange County Commissioners will be taking public comment on the upcoming bond Tuesday night.

It will be the first of two public hearings on the bond which, if passed in November, will be the largest in county history at $125 million.

Up to $120 million dollars is planned to make necessary health and safety upgrades to Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. This would be the first step in acquiring the funding needed to finance over $300 million in repairs.

Another $5 million dollars is expected to go towards affordable housing.

The meeting will begin at seven p.m. at the Southern Human Services Building in Chapel Hill.

A second hearing will be held in Hillsborough May 5 at the Whitted Building, which will also begin at 7:00 p.m.

Orange County Homes Are Pricier – But How Much Pricier? And Why?

If you’re in the market to buy a home, where do you get the most bang for your buck?

In 2015, the average closing price for a home sold in Orange County was $342,172, according to Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson. “This is a new high since (before) the recession,” he says.

2007, right before the housing crisis, was the only year in history that Orange County saw higher home prices – and if current trends continue, the county will break that record in 2016.




But what are the numbers underneath those numbers? How does the price of housing in Orange County compare with other counties in the area? If there’s a difference, what’s driving the difference? And is that difference growing, or shrinking?

Start with the average cost of a home. $342,000 is a lot to pay for a house – compare that to Durham County, where the average closing price was just over $200,000 in 2015. But Orange County is not number one, not anymore: closing prices are actually higher in Chatham.

“Chatham County peaked above Orange County for the first time last year,” Nelson says, “and (it) remains in that slot.”

In 2015, the average home buyer in Chatham County paid $359,000 for their house, $17,000 more than they did in Orange.




But that doesn’t necessarily mean Orange County is offering a better value: Nelson says Chatham County houses are more expensive partly because they’re bigger. In terms of the cost of housing per square foot, Orange County is still the priciest: $142 per square foot, versus $138 in Chatham.

And if you want a home in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district, you’re going to pay even more. Last year, the average home in Chapel Hill-Carrboro sold for more than $382,000, or $157 per square foot.

(Compare that to $107 per square foot in Durham.)

“Housing in Chapel Hill is 30 percent more per square foot in the district than it is in Durham,” Nelson says. “So that 3,000-square foot home – the same home – costs 30 percent more.”




So if you’re in the market for a new house, you can get a much better value in Durham – and a slightly better value in Chatham – than you can get in Orange County or Chapel Hill.

But there are signs that this may be changing. In Chatham County, the cost per square foot has gone up dramatically – nearly 10 percent in the last two years. In Durham it’s gone up about 6 percent.

In Orange County, though, exactly the opposite has occurred. “For the first time,” Nelson says, “last year we saw a slight decline.”

For the average home sold in Orange County, the cost per square foot actually dropped by 4.7 percent from 2013 to 2015.




So the value gap may be narrowing between Orange County and its neighbors.

But is that necessarily good?

“If you’re an affordable housing advocate, you are heartened by this information,” Nelson says, “(but) if you’re worried about the erosion of home value, you are concerned.”

The cost of housing in Chatham County is on the rise partly because it’s bigger – and partly because it’s newer. The same is true for Wake and Durham. The housing stock in Orange County, by contrast, tends to be significantly older – and that may be contributing to the decline in cost per square foot.

And the cost of the home itself is not the only factor when it comes to housing value. Don’t forget about taxes, Nelson says: “A $300,000 house in Orange County has a $150-a-month higher tax bill than the same house in Wake County.”

If you’re looking to get a mortgage, Nelson says that translates into about $28,000. “You can buy a slightly more expensive home in other markets,” he says, “so the taxes do impact our cost of housing.”

All of those numbers, Nelson says, are things that homebuyers do consider when it comes to making the decision to live – or not to live – in Orange County.

Nelson made those comments and delivered those statistics at his annual State of the Community Report, last week at the Friday Center. 

Read the full report here.

Carrboro Alderman Approve Affordable Housing Request

The Carrboro Board of Alderman approved several affordable housing requests on Tuesday night, most notably, a request of $40,000 for the Self Help landbank and $15,000 for a critical-repair program for seniors.

The request from the non-profit organization would help long term residents in the Northside neighborhood with home ownership.

Dan Levine from the Self Help Credit Union said the landbank would buy up houses to then resell to residents. Currently, most homes that go on sale in the Northside neighborhood are sold to rental companies.

“If you look at the transactions in the neighborhood, almost every property is being sold to student rental investors,” said Levine.

The landbank, administered by the Self Help Credit Union, would purchase homes and prioritize reselling or renting them to residents who make 80% of the area median income, which ranges from $37,750 for an individual to $53,900 for a family of four, according to Community Home Trust.

Alderman Jacquelyn Gist was concerned that young professionals might utilize the program, only adding to the gentrification issue that the landbank is attempting to prevent.

“I know that other programs like this have been used by young professionals to buy their first home, instead of mom and dad helping. They meet all the qualifications,” said Gist.

She said many young professionals would qualify as having the appropriate income but with future prospects of higher income, they would not be the population the program is hoping to help.

Levine said with current housing prices, programs like the landbank are the only way low-income residents can continue to live in the community.

“All I’d say for the board to consider is the reality of the housing market in Carrboro is that single family detached homes, which is mostly what Northside is, they are not affordable without huge amounts of subsidies,” said Levine.

Last year, UNC gave a $3 million interest-free loan to the Self Help landbank to support the purchasing of homes on the Chapel Hill side of the Northside neighborhood. The neighborhood spans Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Alderman Bethany Chaney said they hoped to attract some of those funds to the Carrboro section of the neighborhood, but first they would have to show support for the program.

“The only way we are going to preserve properties in Northside is by participating in this initiative and I think this is why we need to go ahead and say we are willing to put $40,000 down to get a couple of properties into that bank,” said Chaney.

Habitat for Humanity has also been working to build and maintain affordable housing in the Northside neighborhood for several years.

The Board of Alderman also approved a request from the non-profit Rebuilding Together of the Triangle to complete $2,500 worth of home renovations for a long time elderly Carrboro resident.

JPMorgan Chase Invests $1 Million In UNC Center

JPMorgan Chase has invested $1.05 million into the UNC Center for Community Capital to help find new ways to make under-resourced communities more economically inclusive.

“This research will help us better understand how strategic community investments can enhance lifetime opportunities for low- and moderate-income families,” said executive director Lucy Gorham.

Working with two nonprofits, the center will create an “opportunity index” to measure the availability of resources such as high quality education, health care, job opportunities and financial services.

After they compile the index, the center will work with community leaders and residents to see what barriers exist and how they can be addressed.

“Too many people in our country still struggle to make ends meet and we need the public and private sectors to work together to help them,” said Mel Martinez, chairman for JPMorgan Chase in the Southeast U.S. “Financially healthy individuals increase the financial stability and resiliency of our communities.”

The center will also partner with three affordable housing providers in New York, Chicago and Cleveland. They will be starting pilot programs to integrate financial services to help families improve their credit score and prepare for new employment.

“We look forward to working with local partners to explore what is working and what is not, always a critical part of innovation,” said Roberto Quercia, who is co-directing the project with Gorham. “Our findings can be disseminated beyond the university and into the real world where they can inform public policy and practice on the ground.”

Two Groups Ask Town To Donate Property

Habitat for Humanity and a private citizen separately petitioned the town Monday night to donate a property on Gomains Ave. to build an affordable housing unit.

“Habitat has been working in the Northside community for a number of years now,” said Habitat executive director Susan Levy. “We’ve also been in the process over the last 18 months of putting together lots that we can start building on in the fall of 2016.”

Levy said the addition of this lot would make eight total and the residents of these homes would pay between 500 and 675 dollars a month.

Habitat has already started taking applications for these homes and have three times as many qualified applicants than they will have homes.

The second petition was put in by Lydia Mason, who is the treasurer at Empowerment, another local affordable housing service.

“I would like, as a private citizen, petition the town to look at a model whereby a private citizen could have the land donated for me to build an affordable home for rental,” Mason said. “Rental space is as demanding as home ownership.”

Rental versus ownership is the major difference between the two petitions. Habitat applicants pay for their home through an affordable 30-year mortgage, while Mason would set up an affordable rental property.

No matter which direction the town goes in, councilwoman Maria Palmer said she wants to see a space where multiple families could live.

“I know we are trying to preserve the character of the community,” she said. “But if we have three times more people that qualify than the possible maximum units we are looking to build, there is a disconnect there.”

The council did not discuss the matter or make any decisions Monday night and are continuing to evaluate their options.

Google Fiber Brings Internet To Public Housing

Google Fiber will be installing gigabit internet at no cost to select affordable housing locations in all cities that Fiber will be installed in.

“We’re working with local providers to identify which properties we’ll connect across these markets,” the company announced in a release Wednesday. “We’ll have more to share as we bring Google Fiber to these cities.”

Google installed the first free gigabit internet service in Kansas City Wednesday, wiring all 100 homes in the West Bluff Townhomes.

“We’re really excited,” said Chapel Hill mayor Pam Hemminger. “It was good news to our ears about helping out with the public housing and doing free internet for the public housing system.”

She said there is currently no timetable for instillation, but Google Fiber has announced that gigabit internet will be coming to Chapel Hill.

“We’ll be working with them on what that looks like,” Hemminger said. “We still don’t have a time schedule from Google, but we’re eagerly waiting to hear when that’s coming forward.”

No decisions have been made about which public housing complexes will be receiving Fiber, but Google’s gigabit rival AT&T has already announced their plan to bring internet to public housing.

“They’ve been out there putting in the cable for better internet, higher speeds,” she said. “They have also gone to the public housing units to install that.”

The difference in the two plans is Google will be installing the high-speed gigabit internet for free into public housing complexes, while AT&T is giving their standard internet package with the option of paying extra for gigabit.

“The opportunity is to have either or, or both, I think that’s great,” Hemminger said.

EmPOWERment Is “Opening Doors Of Opportunity”

This Saturday, Carrboro’s Hampton Inn and Suites will play host to a gala to benefit EmPOWERment, Inc., one of Chapel Hill’s leading players in the fight for affordable housing.

It’s the “Opening Doors of Opportunity Gala,” featuring food, drinks, a raffle, live music from the Rhonda Robichaux band and Moment’s Notice, and more – all to benefit EmPOWERment’s ongoing efforts in community organization, housing, and local economic development.

EmPOWERment executive director Delores Bailey stopped by WCHL this week and spoke with Aaron Keck.


For more information on EmPOWERment, Inc., visit

The “Opening Doors of Opportunity” gala begins at 7:00 pm on Saturday, November 14. Tickets and other information are available here.

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.