The Mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro held a joint news conference Tuesday morning at Carrboro Town Commons to highlight the problems of low-income residents whose Housing Choice Vouchers are being rejected by local landlords.
“The community that needs Housing Choice Vouchers is a large one, here in Orange County” said Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “More than 600 families are beneficiaries of this program today, and it’s an instrumental program in providing for affordable housing opportunities for people of low income.”
Last summer, leaders of Chapel Hill and Carrboro began hearing that some prominent landlords, including General Services Corporation, had stopped accepting Housing Choice Vouchers.
In Carrboro, GSC owns Estes Park, Royal Park, Carolina Apartments, Ridgewood and University Lake. In Chapel Hill, the corporation owns PineGate, Booker Creek, Franklin Woods, and Kingswood.
Kleinschmidt and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said they called this morning’s news conference in order to “demystify” the Housing Choice Voucher process for any landlords who’d like to help low-income families.
“This is the loss of one’s home,” said Carrbroro Mayor Lydia Lavelle “and not just losing that home. There are these other unfortunate realities that go along with that. For instance: financially, of course. What types of new transportation have to be arranged? Can I make it to my workplace? You know – what about my health care needs?”
The two mayors, along with speakers from Orange County government, which administers the program, reminded any landlords listening that families who use vouchers are working and paying into the process, and that they tend to be good, long-term tenants.
One example was 43-year-old Paul Reynolds, who graduated from UNC in 1993, and was injured in a bad car wreck shortly after.
He’s in a wheelchair now, and working as a greeter at the WalMart at New Hope Commons. Reynolds has lived at 86 North Apartments, formerly known as Timberlyne, for 17 years. He’s about to lose his apartment when his landlord stops accepting vouchers in December. That means he’ll lose the Food Lion, Rite Aid and post office across the street from his home, as well as other amenities that have become essential to his life.
“I do not want to be moved to another apartment complex because I’m in a wheelchair, obviously, so I’ve got to have my walk-in shower that I have,” said Reynolds. “So basically, I do not want to move at all.”
Eller Capital Partners acquired Timberlyne last year and re-branded it 86 North. All of the company’s recent property acquisitions are shown on its website, ellercapital.com. In the description of 86 North on the web page, it says that the apartment complex is undergoing “a modest renovation.”
According to several speakers at the news conference, that’s the story all over Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Companies are renovating apartments, and raising rents, to price points above the caps required by the voucher program.
Bu there may be another part of the story. James Davis of the Orange County Housing Authority said that participation in voucher programs may have temporarily affected payments to companies like General Services Corporation during the federal government sequester of 2013.
“Fortunately, our voucher program wasn’t affected,” said Davis. “However, in a different state, GSC properties were affected, and to make it a universal decision, they had to make it applicable to all of their properties.”
The maximum rent allowed in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to get voucher assistance for an efficiency apartment is $575 per month. For a one-bedroom apartment, it’s $711. For two bedrooms, it’s $843. The cap for three bedrooms is $1,087. And for four bedrooms, it’s $1,273.
Ellie Kinnaird, the former mayor of Carrboro and a former state senator, has been active in helping out displaced Section 8 tenants. She attended Tuesday’s news conference, and pointed out that Chapel Hill and Carrboro were grouped with Durham when the caps were figured.
Durham rents are typically lower. That makes things especially tough for low-income Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents trying to find apartments, she added.