Chapel Hill voters approved a $10 million bond for affordable housing in November 2018, but that doesn’t mean that the issue of affordable housing for low-income residents has been solved.
Though local funding has steadily increased since fiscal year 2013, access to affordable housing, in some regards, has worsened. A 2018 Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce report shows median rental prices in Chapel Hill rising by $127 from the 2007-2011 survey period to the 2012-2016 survey period.
The situation is similar in Carrboro and throughout Orange County.
“There are a lot of different factors, just with trying to find employment, housing costs increasing in the community, people's wages not increasing,” said Loryn Clark, the executive director of Housing and Community for the Town of Chapel Hill. “It varies on the individual."
Affordable rental housing is a particular need in Chapel Hill. According to Chapel Hill’s first affordable housing report of 2019, 54 percent of renters spend over 30 percent of their income on housing. An area's median income, or AMI, is an important indicator of need, and those earning between zero and 60 percent of the AMI make up the vast majority of the recipients of affordable housing.
“We have no places to put the individuals in the 30 percent AMI category,” said Joan Guilkey, head of civic engagement for the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town. “It's far from adequate. There's just not nearly enough of it.”
The Town completed 149 rental units at Greenfield Place Apartments two years ago and seeks to develop another 130 units at 2200 Homestead Road. The Town also has several more projects underway, including roof replacements and land acquisition.
The time scale of these projects has been a point of contention.
“We try with the monies that are there, but we tend to do it very slowly, and there's no committed effort to comprehensively address the problem,” Guilkey said.
Clark had a more hopeful view.
“It's not something that you'll see a big change overnight, but if we continue to be persistent and have the support that we need to make the projects move forward and happen, we're seeing some improvements and we'll continue to see them,” Clark said.
The bond, Clark said, will change the way Chapel Hill approaches projects for lower-income brackets that are limited by funding.
“We haven't actually started to allocate those funds just yet,” Clark said. “It's really a great opportunity to think about making big impacts and moving the needle on addressing the need for addressing affordable housing.”
Guilkey’s complaint is how quickly the Town will disperse these funds.
“In order to get enough agreement to make anything stick, you have to really work hard, and I don't think anyone's wanted to work that hard," Guilkey said. "We like to piddle at it, do a little here and a little there.”
She said the Town may not be living up to its promises.
"The values of Chapel Hill supposedly are that we want to support these people," she said. "Our needs are not meshing with our values, so you start to wonder, how real are those values?"
The Town is not solely responsible for affordable housing in the area. For-profit and nonprofit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, are critical in the Town’s strategy, Clark said.
Jennifer Player, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, said the Town’s support is important to her organization's functions, but the two fulfill different roles.
“The town has lots of different goals, strategies, considerations for a healthy, thriving community of which affordable housing is a part of — and is a big part of — but is one part of,” Player said. “We have a very targeted mission that helps us to stay successful and very focused on that.”
Player said she appreciates the Town's relationship with external organizations, a bond she said is necessary to solve the housing crisis in the long run.
“I think the collaboration that we have in local government is really unique and special to Orange County,” Player said. “When I talk to people who work in Habitats in other communities, they don't always enjoy the kind of partnership, collaboration and open dialogue that we have with local government.”
Clark said there is no easy solution, and that the people responsible for development are always learning and discovering new approaches.
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