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Saturday August 20th

Here's how Chapel Hill is working to preserve affordable housing

Dorothy Faulkner, 55, of Chapel Hill, addresses a crowd gathered during a CEF-organized rally to call for affordable housing in front of the Community Empowerment Fund office on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. "It's in my heart to serve the Lord," Faulkner sung after her speech.
Buy Photos Dorothy Faulkner, 55, of Chapel Hill, addresses a crowd gathered during a CEF-organized rally to call for affordable housing in front of the Community Empowerment Fund office on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. "It's in my heart to serve the Lord," Faulkner sung after her speech.

The Chapel Hill Town Council was presented with a new affordable housing framework that focuses on preserving and sustaining affordable housing. 

At its Oct. 30 meeting, Nate Broman-Fulks, affordable housing manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, introduced a draft preservation strategy framework. According to the staff presentation, the preservation strategy hopes to allow residents to stay in their community, maintain socioeconomic diverse neighborhoods and be cost-efficient. 

Broman-Fulks said preservation includes activities that maintain the affordability of existing housing. 

“The town has been implementing and working with our partners to implement preservation efforts for quite a while now,” Broman-Fulks said at the meeting. “These have typically included homebuyer subsidies, repair or renovation work, rental utility assistance and housing displacement assistance.”

According to the Town, one of the Town Council’s 2020-22 strategic goals and affordable housing objectives is to implement an affordable housing preservation strategy. 

This particular strategy was formed on research regarding strategies established by communities nationwide and is organized around three key objectives: preserve affordable housing, improve or maintain quality of affordable housing and support tenant protections for households at risk of displacement. 

Supporting affordable housing at risk of development through local preservation loan funds, resident-owned communities and an early warning system could help preserve affordable housing, according to the draft. 

“We look to create an early warning system that would utilize local data and help us anticipate when subsidized housing is coming up on the end of the period of affordability, when those restrictions would be expiring,” Broman-Fulks said at the meeting. “It could be working to identify naturally occurring affordable housing, where the privately owned market housing that is by way of lower rent or purchase prices is naturally affordable.” 

At the meeting, Chapel Hill Town Council member Karen Stegman said she liked the early warning system idea but suggested an eviction prevention strategy. 

“A new focus on eviction prevention is important because not only do evictions lead to an immediate loss of housing, they can have much farther-reaching and longer-term negative impacts as well,” Stegman said in an email.

She said some of these impacts include loss of housing subsidies, negative housing references that makes it much harder to rent in the future, loss of community connections and neighborhood support and disruption to children’s schooling.

Broman-Fulks said the early warning system would also be internal, meaning it would be used by the Town and any partners who could assist with purchasing and rehabilitating properties. 

“I think it’s important, not just internally for us to know what properties are coming up in terms of the possibility of redevelopment, but it’s also important for individual neighborhoods and particularly individual neighborhoods that have the possibility, it’s important for them to know as well,” said Chapel Hill Town Council member Allen Buansi.

Broman-Fulks said the framework also proposes that working with the Orange County Home Preservation Coalition could help maintain and improve the quality of affordable housing. This group is made up of local government, rehab providers and Habitat for Humanity, he said.

Working with this group ensures the property owners who are in need of the rehab are connected with these services, he said.

According to the draft, the last objective, supporting tenant protections for those at risk of displacement, would be met by residents receiving an adequate advanced notice and financial and relocation support. 

Delores Bailey, executive director of EmPOWERment, Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to preserve neighborhoods, said she likes the framework but is concerned about how the town will fund the immediate need for affordable housing. 

“Even if they were able to start this program in a year, there would still be a need for money to make that happen,” Bailey said. “I like the fact that they’re forward-thinking, but I’m not sure how soon something like that could be put into place. I’m not sure how we pay for it and I’m not sure how many people would be positively influenced by those.”

Stegman said the framework is a thoughtful and useful way of thinking about preservation.

“As part of finalizing the framework, it will need to undergo some prioritization and cost-benefit analysis,” Stegman said in an email. “I am very pleased with the thought that has gone into identifying potential partnerships and collaboration within the community, including non-profits, the University, Orange County and other municipalities. This will allow us to have greater impact and leverage additional resources beyond Town funds.”


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