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/

Plans On Hold (For Now) For Park At Chapel Hill Redevelopment

CHAPEL HILL – Plans are on hold—at least temporarily—for the redevelopment of an apartment complex on Ephesus Church Road, as Town officials prepare to discuss rezoning.

“The applicant had (seen) that the Town was beginning to move forward,” says Chapel Hill economic development officer Dwight Bassett, “so the client felt that it made sense for them to step back into the sidelines and let us get through with the conversation about the rezoning before they proceed with their application.”

The complex in question is The Park at Chapel Hill (formerly The Colony), located at 1250 Ephesus Church Road behind the Chapel Hill University Inn. The plan is to redevelop it as a mixed-use project, with 10,000 square feet of retail and 800 apartments and townhomes.

View the Town’s page on the Park project.

See the concept plan.

That plan is part of a larger undertaking by the Town to revamp the entire Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard corridor—including a redevelopment of Ram’s Plaza and the construction of new roads and road extensions to better handle traffic. The Town Council approved a Small Area Plan for the area in June of 2011.

Click here to see the plan itself, with details about the new roads–including extensions of Elliott and Legion.

But that project requires a rezoning, and Bassett says the developer has decided to withdraw its concept plan for the Park at Chapel Hill until the rezoning process is finished. Bassett says the rezoning will be done by the end of this year—at which point he expects the developer to resubmit.

“They’re continuing to plan, continuing to consider, continuing to move forward,” he says. “They still have the desire, hopefully, to come out of the ground with beginning some redevelopment in 2014, and we think that this path can still meet that goal.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council was set to discuss the concept plan at its meeting next Monday, but that has been postponed. Once the Council discusses the concept plan, the developer will come forward with a more formal development proposal.

The Park project is not without some controversy: that complex has been known as a primary source of affordable housing in Chapel Hill, and some have argued that the redevelopment is making affordable housing even harder to come by.
http://chapelboro.com/news/plans-on-hold-for-now-for-park-at-chapel-hill-redevelopment/