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There's not enough affordable public housing in Chapel Hill. This program could help:

rad program Trinity Court
Trinity Court on North Columbia Street is the first in Chapel Hill to plan to implement the RAD program. Currently, all 40 units in Trinity court are vacant due to structural damage.

With long waiting lists for public housing and affordable housing that many low-income families find unaffordable, the Town of Chapel Hill has plans to implement a Rental Assistance Demonstration, a program set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The goal of RAD is to provide the Town with access to additional money that HUD cannot consistently provide for public and affordable housing projects. The money will be used to renovate and redevelop such properties.

Public housing, as defined by HUD, is housing available to low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities. Affordable housing, meanwhile, is housing for “cost-burdened” families — those who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. 

Affordable housing, however, is not always affordable, and public housing can take years to obtain. 

Pah Baw, a resident of Carrboro, moved to the United States from Myanmar 11 years ago. He applied for public housing in Chapel Hill five years ago and is still on the waiting list. The apartment in which he and his wife have lived since 2012 is too expensive, but there are few options other than to wait, he said. 

It is unclear how long Baw will continue to wait for public housing. As a senior citizen with disabilities, there are only two public housing communities geared toward Baw — Caldwell/Church Street and South Roberson Street — designed to house elderly and disabled residents. Each year, few, if any, units open in the two accessible communities.  

Faith Thompson, interim public housing director for the Town, said only four to six families leave public housing each year in Chapel Hill.

“We have families that have been in our units over 30 years,” she said. “There is a greater need for housing for people with disabilities.” 

Thompson said there are 336 occupied public housing apartment units in Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, there are 351 applicants on the waiting list for public housing, including Baw. As demand grows, so does the necessity for renovating the units that already exist. 

Eight of the 13 available communities were built before 1980 and face structural problems, such as leakage and mold, Thompson said.

Through RAD, Chapel Hill intends to first redevelop Trinity Court, which was built in 1975 and currently sits vacant.  

Thompson said the Town plans to increase the number of units in Trinity Court from 40 to 60, 50 of which would be for public housing and 10 of which could be intended for affordable housing.

RAD allows Public Housing Agencies to attract private money from developers to help with renovations. The developers are then allocated some of the property for their own housing projects. 

She cited concerns that some developers renovate public housing properties and build unaffordable “McMansions” on their portion of the property. 

“We want a developer who is committed to creating as much affordable housing as possible,” she said. 

In terms of affordable housing, Thompson is not only worried about finding a suitable developer. She is also concerned that UNC students will be the ones who lease the affordable housing.

The implementation of RAD comes in the months following Chapel Hill voters' approval of a $10 million affordable housing bond.

While the bond will not go toward the public housing communities, which must be entirely federally funded unless a PHA has incorporated RAD, its goal is to create more affordable housing units for low- and middle-income families in Chapel Hill. 

Baw said he hopes the Town will soon offer more opportunities for residents like him who struggle to afford their current residences. 

Thompson is positive that the program will create more housing in Chapel Hill, but that progress will not happen overnight. 

“It takes time, money and land,” she said. 

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