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Saturday December 10th

Affordable housing a major issue in 2011 Chapel Hill elections

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For candidates in this year’s Chapel Hill municipal elections, affordable housing will once again be a major issue.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who is running for re-election this year, said the lack of affordable housing in the town has been a problem for decades, forcing town employees to find housing outside of Chapel Hill.

“It has been a leading issue in every campaign for the last 20 years,” he said.

During the past few years, the town has been working on revamping its affordable housing strategy and finding ways to deal with increasing housing needs of University students.

“The biggest thing to acknowledge is what a diverse housing need we have,” said Lee Storrow, a UNC graduate and candidate for town council.

Town strategy

The town’s recently revised affordable housing strategy was drafted to include an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which was enacted in June 2010.

The ordinance requires housing developments to offer 10 to 15 percent of their units at a price affordable to low and moderate income households.

Housing is considered affordable if its annual cost is less than 30 percent of a resident’s annual income, according to the town’s comprehensive housing plan.

The Community Home Trust is the non-profit that works with Chapel Hill and housing developers to negotiate the affordable housing contracts stipulated in the laws, said Robert Dowling, the group’s executive director.

Orange County property taxes are among the highest in the state — making it difficult for people who work in the town to live here, said council candidate Jon DeHart.

During the past 15 years, the percentage of town employees living in Chapel Hill has decreased from 41 percent to 22 percent, DeHart said.

Student impact

Candidates said they agree that University students impact the lack of affordable housing.

“I think the presence of students in Chapel Hill puts a strain on the market, because students can afford to pay prices that families cannot,” Storrow said.

In the historically black and low-income Northside neighborhood, community leaders believe students’ ability to pay higher rent is pushing traditional residents out of the neighborhood.

“We need to support University efforts to keep students on campus,” Kleinschmidt said.

Dowling said students should be aware of their neighbors in off-campus housing.

“It is as simple as realizing that those who live around them are not students, they are working people,” he said.

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