Chapel Hill residents are getting hit hard by the town’s shrinking supply of affordable rental housing, and the Town Council is ready to tackle the issue.
During its meeting tonight, the council will discuss giving town-owned land to an affordable rental housing corporation for a low-income housing tax credit project.
In September, the Raleigh-based Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation proposed a 140-unit affordable housing complex on Legion Road on the undeveloped portion of the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery property in response to the town’s growing affordable rental housing crisis.
“It’s clear that elected officials and residents of Chapel Hill want to see expanded rental housing opportunities for folks that work in the university system or health care system that find it difficult to find housing,” said Gregg Warren, president of DHIC.
“This property was specifically identified for this type of housing — workforce housing.”
Factors such as an influx of student renters, a lag in building for low-income housing and Orange County’s relatively high property tax rate for the region have contributed to the affordable rental housing shortage in Chapel Hill.
The proposal before the council includes 80 apartments geared towards senior citizens and 60 family apartments, according to the proposal from DHIC, a nonprofit focused on providing affordable rental housing for families, seniors and others with limited incomes.
Councilwoman and co-chair of the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing Sally Greene said she supports the proposal, which was included in her committee’s recommendation.
Demand for affordable housing is there, but it’s just not available, said Loryn Clark, the town’s interim assistant planning director and housing and neighborhood services manager.
“There is high-end housing available but not for people under certain low-income levels,” Clark said. “The market is for higher end housing and that’s what developers have been doing.”
Warren said if the proposal is approved, the next step will be to apply for federal funding, but they won’t find out about whether or not they receive the funding until the summer. If so, he said he hopes to open the units in two to three years.
In the last decade, the council has approved more than a dozen residential developments. Two approved projects — LUX Apartments and Shortbread Lofts — were designed for students and the council hoped they would relieve pressure on historically low-income neighborhoods.
All four-bedroom units at Shortbread Lofts have been rented and around 85 percent of the three- and four-bedroom units have been leased at LUX.
Shortbread’s leasing process began in October and property manager Cindy Short said four-bedroom units were filled by the end of the month.
“I’m not surprised by this,” she said. “(Shortbread is) something Chapel Hill has needed for a long time.”
These apartments should encourage students to move out of affordable rental housing in low-income neighborhoods, opening up homes for those who need it, said Scott Montgomery, the property manager for LUX.
“Students moving out will create options for those people who live and work within Chapel Hill because students now have other options,” he said. “They have the ability to stay in a student community and open up other areas for people to own single family homes and live in Chapel Hill.”
But student apartments might not be enough to solve the larger issue, Warren said.
“There is such a demand that there is no single development that will meet the need,” Warren said.
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