The Chapel Hill Town Council took the first step Wednesday to put a $10 million affordable housing bond referendum on the November ballot despite calls from residents for a larger effort.
“I’ve certainly been convinced that we need to do a bond, there’s no doubt in my mind about that,” said councilperson Michael Parker. “We’ve never tried, as a town, to commit this much money, and I want to make sure that we get the maximum value for every dollar we spend.”
Town Manager Roger Stancil recommended the council keep the bond at $10 million because it's a manageable amount of money that can be spent effectively.
The town’s Debt Fund will serve as a source of repayment for the bond but, because of the scale of proposed affordable housing projects, the repayment plan will likely require an increase in the fund’s dedicated property tax by 1 cent for every $100 in valuation.
A Chapel Hill property owner with property values of $350,000 would pay an increase of $35 per year in taxes, according to the town’s presentation.
The tentative plan calls for buying property and land, paying for home repairs and construction of new affordable housing units with the bond proceeds. It also recommends using the funds for town-initiated affordable housing projects, including a mixed-income development at 2200 Homestead Road and the redevelopment of public housing sites.
At the meeting, Chapel Hill residents encouraged the council to pass the preliminary bond resolution while also raising its limit to $15 million. Many argued $10 million won't cover all of the projects needed to expand affordable housing.
“I urge the city council to be bold, go as high as you can go,” Chapel Hill resident and retired naval officer Douglas Call said. “Get this money out there, spread it to (affordable housing) organizations.”
Heidi Dodson, an oral historian for the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, said the increased bond is necessary because many full-time employees still struggle to find affordable housing in Chapel Hill.
“Right now, I’m fine because I have an apartment where, in exchange for house sitting, I have an affordable rate,” Dodson said. “But the minute that changes, I’m not sure what I’m going to do because I cannot afford rentals in this area.”
Many residents said the current bond referendum goes against campaign promises made by council members in the 2017 election, and argued to raise the bond amount to $15 million. The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, which champions affordable housing efforts, endorsed all four candidates elected to the council in 2017.
“I know all of you have run campaigns and talked about increasing affordable housing, and that’s something we all know, but I wanted to say that this is the time to literally practice what you are preaching,” said George Barrett, associate director for organizing and advocacy of the Jackson Center.
Councilperson Donna Bell was the only member to vote against the $10 million bond referendum.
To move forward with the bond, the council must file a Local Government Commission application in coming weeks and introduce the bond order in early May.
Discussion surrounding the affordable housing bond referendum will continue at a public hearing on May 23, where the council will officially set the ballot questions and referendum date. The town will then publish bond orders twice before residents vote on the bond on Nov. 6, 2018.
Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Anderson said she's confident the bond will lead to more affordable housing. She also told residents her willingness to pass the $10 million bond and not a $15 million bond adequately represents the council’s dedication to affordable housing.
“It has nothing to do with the value that I put on this issue, and I feel like this is hard to say given the things people have said tonight, but I am very concerned about our debt capacity and the other projects we have to do,” Anderson said.
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