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The Daily Tar Heel

Opinion: We are cautiously optimistic about the county's affordable housing plan

When you wish to live in the Southern Part of Heaven, the three things driving the price of real estate are going to apply: location, location and location. Orange County is a wonderful place to live. But wonderfulness costs. A lot.

Thankfully, our Board of County Commissioners has a 2016-2020 Affordable Housing Strategic Plan. This funding will be coordinated with other state, federal and private funding to ameliorate the shortage of affordable housing in the county. We hope.

Very soon, proposals will be submitted by developers interested in providing affordable housing to the county in exchange for funding help from the county. We are encouraged by several elements of the county’s strategic plan. It recognizes that a fair amount of appropriate housing stock already exists, but much of that needs repair to be habitable.

We encourage the county to make good on this if possible for two reasons: less environmental impact and keeping people in their own homes and neighborhoods.

The county land on offer for this plan is near our major population centers, recognizing that the poorest of our residents work in service of those centers and should not be constrained by availability of an automobile.

Proposals also require acceptance of Section 8 federal vouchers, which will both help our low-income citizens and bring federal dollars to the county. Trailers comprise a very efficient product that allows quick utilization, comparatively low upfront capital investment and a potentially quick path to homeownership.

For most Americans, homeownership is the single most important way household wealth is built. We believe that a major goal of the county should be spreading owner equity to our poorer residents. As a long-term strategy, this will significantly lessen the proportion of county residents in poverty.

We realize that to affordably house the residents that need help as soon as possible, rental units constructed by nonprofit or private developers will play a part of the picture — provided the management and pricing of affordable housing is watchdogged sufficiently by the county.

The devils we worry about are, as always, in the details. While the county strongly recommends that developers pay their workers a living wage, it is not required. Allowing the robbery of Peter to pay Paul seems a morally short-sighted stance by the county when this condition could have been forced. The point system to award county-controlled funds also incentivizes mixed income and mixed-use projects. This can be good if a commitment to affordable housing stays at the focus.

There is also a somewhat shady set of conditions by which the commitment to keeping the property affordable can be lessened from 99 to 40 years, and a very arbitrary provision where the county may remove owners from restrictive sales covenants that ensure a unit remains affordable to future buyers. We will give the county commissioners the benefit of the doubt. For now.

We urge them to remain true to the letter but also the spirit of their plan, one that we interpret as a commitment to provide as many of our residents as possible the dignity that comes with decent affordable housing.

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