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The Daily Tar Heel

State law holds back affordable housing

The turnover in incumbents is the result of several ongoing trends, one of which was the need for more affordable housing. An affordable housing unit is affordable to those who make 60 to 80 percent or less of the average median income for that area.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 23.1 percent of Chapel Hill residents live below the poverty line. At any time there are approximately 300 people on the waitlist for Chapel Hill’s public housing, and 1,800 are on the housing choice voucher waitlist, highlighting the need for more affordable housing.

In March 2014, the Town Council released an Affordable Rental Housing Strategy, listing out several policies that would give developers incentive to build affordable housing units. However, state law makes creating affordable housing difficult.

North Carolina state law bans rent controls on rental properties, which means that Chapel Hill cannot force developers to set aside a portion of its housing units for affordable housing, which it does with for-sale properties.

This policy, called inclusionary zoning, requires projects proposing five or more units to make 15 percent of them affordable to those with low income. Without the benefit of applying this policy, the Town Council has been forced to get creative.

“(Affordable housing) is something we’ve been grappling with for a while,” said council member Michael Parker.

Changing the height limits and density of buildings are two ways the council incentivizes affordable housing, but the town also partners with nonprofit groups to build affordable units.

“First of all, the state legislature hasn’t done us any favors,” council member Jessica Anderson said. “We can put limits on how high buildings are, which gives us negotiating power. In exchange for that affordability, the town will increase the density allowed.”

Twenty percent, or at least 300 units, of the new development in the Ephesus-Fordham development will be affordable, and toward that end, the Raleigh-based nonprofit Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation is working with the town to create two affordable rental communities.

Greenfield Place will offer 84 apartments for working families. To meet the need for housing for the swelling senior population in Chapel Hill, the new Greenfield Commons neighborhood will hold 60 units.

“If we’re going to make a big impact on affordable housing, we’ll need to make partnerships with nonprofits, the University and with developers,” Parker said.


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