The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday January 29th

Taking a baby step

Even in making a small change to affordable housing policy, Town Council members have shown a commitment to solving the problem.

Thanks to the town's Land-Use Management Ordinance, 15 percent of units in most new residential developments must be affordable housing - defined by the Chapel Hill Town Council as any unit affordable for individuals or families whose incomes are at or below 80 percent of the area median income for a family of four.

That's a rule the town should work to keep up, and recent efforts by the council to bolster the plan should be applauded.

As the rule now stands, if the number of required affordable units in a development isn't a whole number, the town rounds down. So a 10-dwelling project needs one unit of affordable housing, not two.

But the council is considering making those numbers round upward instead, and that's a good thing.

Roger Waldon, the town's planning director, made a strong point when he noted that such an alteration in the ordinance's language would make housing rules more consistent with other town-related requirements.

Waldon said the change being discussed would be a logical adjustment. It's more reasonable to round up and to provide two units of housing as opposed to one.

As Waldon pointed out, it's only a modest adjustment, and the impacts are not likely far-ranging. But it's a good start, and a change is definitely necessary. It certainly leaves room for future town discussions concerning more affordable housing and how to attain it.

The average price of a new home in Chapel Hill is more than $400,000. The need for housing the average person can afford is obvious, and it's good that the town is digging deep for solutions.

Rounding up fractions is not a long-term answer. The possibility has led to concerns being voiced about how an ordinance change might lead to less affordable housing being built by developers.

For example, Robert Dowling, director of the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, said an ordinance modification might urge developers to build size-restrictive units instead of affordable housing.

The concerns are valid, and the council should explore better alternatives in the future - but Chapel Hill should ensure that 15 percent of its housing, at the very least, is affordable.

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