The Chapel Hill Town Council met Wednesday to discuss new ideas for an affordable housing plan. From new ways to fund new developments and revamping existing units, some town council members said they are fully invested in affordable housing in Chapel Hill.
Town Council member Nancy Oates, who is part of the Council Committee on Affordable Housing, said part of the money will have to come from a bond as well as other new revenue sources. She said Chapel Hill carries expectations for a certain lifestyle that is made possible by people who make significantly less money than their wealthier neighbors.
“We need to make a place for them,” Oates said. “Not view them as people who need our charity, but as people who are respected members of our community who are doing a very important job for us. We need to make sure that we’re doing what we can to make a place for them.”
Town Council member Maria Palmer said when people know exactly where there money is going, whether it be toward affordable housing or other projects they always respond better. She said having a specific plan for the public before a bond referendum is one of several main goals.
Making a financial strategy should be realistic and efficient, town council member Michael Parker said. While there were no fast answers to these questions raised in the work session, Parker said he wants the town to be financially smart while also attaining their goals within the strategy.
During the discussion, Oates said she noticed people had different definitions of affordable housing. She said she defines the people who need affordable housing with incomes around $40,000 per year, which includes town and hospital employees and teachers with 10 years of experience.
“Housing is still a challenge if you’re making that kind of income,” Oates said. “This is a core group that does the kind of work we need to expect good schools in Chapel Hill. We expect good service: for the buses to run on time, the garbage to be picked up, that sort of thing. In order to do that, we’ve got people who are holding those jobs and it’s important to have them live in town.”
Palmer said the best definition for affordable housing is what is laid out in the federal guidelines.
“I pastored the Hispanic community and an immigrant church, worked with the NAACP and refugee groups, negotiated rent payments and help people get utilities connected and cosigned with them,” Palmer said. “I’m very familiar with how difficult it is to get affordable housing and how devastating it is to lose your affordable housing — whether your apartment complex gets sold an then they don’t take your vouchers or for different reasons," she said.
Parker said the decision for a plan will be made in the spring after the town council elections — which could affect what the current council is trying to establish.
Eugene Farrar, a write-in Chapel Hill Mayoral candidate, said there needs to be more actions taken than conversations had when it comes to affordable housing.
“Chapel Hill does not have affordable housing,” he said. “Why build three or four or five bedroom houses when you know the middle class people can’t afford to live here? It would be really nice if we and you look at every person in this campaign that has affordable housing on their agenda/platform, but every year it goes unnoticed and totally forgotten about once they get elected."
Palmer said the election will have a role to play in the drafting of the affordable housing plan.
“It will now depend on who gets elected,” Palmer said. “Those two new people who come on the board will have to learn a lot quickly and some of the candidates don’t have a clue. It’s not necessarily starting from scratch, but it’s going to be a new council with less expertise and some new people who will have to learn what we have done and what the possibilities are.”
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