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Tiny homes could have huge impact on Chapel Hill affordable housing

PeeWee Houses
The sign for PeeWee Homes, a collection of tiny homes being developed for low income residents of Chapel Hill at The Episcopal Church of the Advocate on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018.

Anyone who attends the Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill has likely noticed some new additions to the property. Three homes, smaller than 400 square feet, were constructed as part of the church's effort to help increase affordable housing in the community.

The houses are designed to accommodate low-income residents. Lisa Fischbeck, the vicar at the Church of the Advocate, said the houses will fill an important need in Chapel Hill.

“You don’t have to spend much time in Chapel Hill to realize that there’s a real crisis in affordable housing,” Fischbeck said. “We’ve just got to provide more housing for a variety of people in our community. The need is clear.”

Rev. Lisa Fichbeck, vicar at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, and Sadie Koppelberger, an intern at the church, write encouraging statements on the wall of a PeeWee Home on Wednesday Oct. 24, 2018.

The tiny homes are being constructed by PeeWee Homes, a local nonprofit that builds homes to help the affordable housing crisis. Jamie Rohe, a board member for PeeWee Homes, said the tiny homes can be a great fit for some low-income residents.

“It’s a very interesting model,” she said. “For some people, having a little, tiny private space is a really good solution for them.

Fischbeck said she hopes this project will serve as a model for similar affordable housing elsewhere.

“The project won’t be a success unless it’s replicated,” she said. “The idea is to find landowners, especially churches, who are willing to have one or more of these little houses built on their sites.”

Mary Laci Motley, a sophomore business major at UNC, hopes the project will serve as an example on how to address affordable housing needs in Chapel Hill.

“Local residents of Chapel Hill have been forced to move out of the city limits,” she said. “PeeWee Homes is serving this important need.”

Motley and a classmate, Alexa Pibl, helped raise funds for the tiny homes to be built at the Church of the Advocate by selling late-night snacks to UNC students. In total, the two raised more than $8,000 for the project.

Sadie Koppelberger, an intern at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate writes a message on the floor of a PeeWee home on Wednesday Oct. 24, 2018.

“Chapel Hill has a huge need for affordable housing,” Motley said. “It’s really awesome to be able to work with an affordable housing charity.”

The Town of Chapel Hill also assisted by providing some of the initial funds for the project, said Sarah Viñas, assistant director of the Chapel Hill Office of Housing and Community.

“The Church of the Advocate submitted a request for funding from our Affordable Housing Development Reserve,” she said. “They received a grant, and it was the first grant that they received for the project. So it really helped them get off the ground and we’re really excited to support it.”

Viñas said the Town is committed to trying to support the full spectrum of affordable housing, including tiny houses.

“It’s definitely a lower cost solution in terms of what it costs to build a unit,” she said.

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Viñas said funding is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to building more affordable housing, so the low cost of these homes is important.

“There’s actually a bond referendum on the ballot for the election coming up," she said. "So Chapel Hill voters will decide whether to support an affordable housing bond which would, if approved, would allow the town to have an additional $10 million in funding available to support affordable housing development and preservation projects.”

The site of PeeWee Homes, a collection of tiny homes for low income residents at The Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill, NC on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018.

That would be a significant increase from the $5.1 million  the Town allocated for affordable housing in 2017. The Town is working on several types of projects that would likely see bumps in funding if the bond referendum passes.

“One of our largest projects that we’ve had come on is called Greenfield,” Viñas said. “The Town made a significant investment in that project from the Affordable Housing Development Reserve and other sources.”

Greenfield is an apartment complex being built with the assistance of DHIC, an affordable housing developer. Viñas said the project will yield 149 new units for low-income Chapel Hill residents.

Fischbeck said she has been encouraged by the amount of conversation surrounding the issue lately.

“It’s exciting that there are enough people now who recognize the need, that the needs are starting to be addressed,” Fischbeck said. “That’s a very important and good thing.”


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