On Sept. 8, the Orange County Board of Commissioners moved forward with plans to implement more affordable housing options in Orange County.
Under the proposed 2016-2020 Affordable Housing Strategic Plan, 1,000 units of affordable housing would be created through the purchase of new property, construction and renovation of existing housing.
Affordable housing is classified as housing that costs its occupant no more than 30 percent of gross monthly income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to the American Community Survey from 2007-2011, over 15,000 households in Orange County require affordable housing, with 8,751 households facing housing costs of more than 50 percent of their income.
A recent influx of high-income earners to Orange County has spurred developments that exacerbate the housing gap. According to the proposed plan, the median monthly rent has also increased 22.8 percent, from $684 in 2000 to $840 in 2011. This leaves limited housing options for low-to-middle income earners, many of whom work in Orange County but can't afford its rising cost of living.
Commissioner Penny Rich said the plan will benefit the Chapel Hill workforce.
“We have people that are commuting into Chapel Hill every day that would love to live here,” she said. “We’re talking about teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters — this is all so they can live, work and play in one area. With the market as it is in Orange County, folks can’t afford it.”
Commissioner Barry Jacobs agreed.
“If you really want to have a heterogenous community, you need to keep close by the people who provide the crucial services,” he said.
Urban service boundaries, which are controlled by local government, regulate water and sewer infrastructure and the supply of available land for development. Limiting the supply of developable land results in higher demand and increased housing prices in the local real estate market.
Jacobs also said he thinks Orange County residents understand the need for intervention in the current housing market.
“It’s a problem that attractive communities with geographic limits have around the country,” he said. “I think people in our community understand that and are sympathetic enough to realize that you can’t just leave it to the market to make sure people are included.”
In addition to being designed with the workforce in mind, the plan will create housing units for those who are elderly, frail, mentally disabled and victims of domestic violence.
Audrey Spencer-Horsley, the Orange County housing, human rights and community development director, said more affordable housing will lead to unification within the county.
“I think the impact will be a very inclusive community,” she said. “That means whether you’re somebody getting out of college, aging, someone out of foster care, homeless or a working family and just need a little help in having a housing situation that is stable. That contributes to better health outcomes and better occupational outcomes.”
Exact costs of the project are unknown. A planned November referendum, if approved, would allocate $5 million for affordable housing to assist with at least 500 units, Rich said. The county is also hoping to leverage existing resources such as state and federal funding, low-income tax credits and private lenders and banks, Jacobs said.
Spencer-Horsley said sources of funding will become more evident as the project develops.
“We will be trying to tap into every resource we can identify,” she said. “I think it depends on the project, but I think there will be a way for almost all of the community to get involved.”
Orange County will partner with agencies such as the Community Home Trust, Habitat for Humanity, EmPowerment and CASA, according to Spencer-Horsley. If approved, the 1000 proposed units in the Affordable Housing Strategic Plan would help 11 to 13 percent of people who currently face housing costs classified as unaffordable.
Part of the proposed plan’s mission is to foster a community culture that rejects oppression and inequality. An increase in the amount of affordable housing available in Orange County would mean workers in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough could soon have a place to both live and make a living.
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