The Town of Chapel Hill announced on Aug. 18 that it will be releasing up to $7.8 million to help fund affordable housing projects in the area.
In addition to Town-initiated projects, outside agencies such as nonprofit affordable housing developers or other organizations that work towards affordable housing goals can apply for funding. The Town is using a common funding application and will accept applicants until noon on Sept. 30.
This funding is provided by three sources: the Affordable Housing Bond, which residents voted on in 2018; the American Rescue Plan Act and the Town's Affordable Housing Development Reserve.
In recent years, the Town has supported the development of more than 450 affordable housing units in Chapel Hill.
Sarah Viñas, the affordable housing and community connections director at Chapel Hill Affordable Housing, said that the funding could be used for efforts like the acquisition of properties, construction and home repairs.
The Housing Advisory Board will review the applications and the proposed funding plan will go to the Town Council for approval in October or November.
Delores Bailey, the executive director at affordable housing nonprofit EMPOWERment, Inc., said the affordable housing crisis most impacts people earning $22,574, which is 30 percent of the area's median income, or less.
"There is not housing for them, it's just not available in this area, and yet they are what we call essential workers," she said. "They are the people that are working in Chapel Hill and yet they have to drive miles and miles to get to Chapel Hill to get to their jobs."
Bailey said one of EMPOWERment, Inc.'s services is providing affordable rental units in Chapel Hill so residents don't have a long commute to work.
The nonprofit is planning on applying for funding, which Bailey said it would use to develop Peach Apartments, a 10-unit apartment building on Johnson Street that would be added to EMPOWERment, Inc.'s affordable rental inventory.
Impact on communities of color
Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty and face affordable housing challenges, Viñas said.
"Racial equity is a major priority for the town and we actually have built into our evaluation of funding applications for all of our affordable housing projects a focus on racial equity," she said.
The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have also influenced the affordable housing crisis, Bailey said.
"When COVID hit, of course, a lot of people were really concerned about losing their homes and some people actually did," she said.
Bailey said developers and investors bought pieces of property that some residents lost, so rent prices have become very expensive.
"We are honestly losing a lot of our BIPOC population," Bailey said. "Part of it is because they can't find the jobs, and when they find the jobs, they can't find a place to live."
Northside, a historically Black neighborhood in Chapel Hill, has been significantly impacted by the affordable housing crisis.
Kathy Atwater, community advocacy coordinator at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center and lifelong resident of the Northside, said people had been forced out of the neighborhood because of high rent prices and the high cost of repairing homes.
She works with neighbors to provide resources to help them with property taxes and to stay in their homes through expensive home repairs. She said she is also passionate about sharing the neighborhood's history with other residents.
"This is my home," Atwater said. "I've been here all my life. I love my community, I love the neighbors."
Viñas said that several hundred units of affordable housing could be supported by this historic funding. Additionally, the funding could support the preservation of affordable units that already exist.
The Town will hold a virtual information session for organizations and agencies interested in applying for funding on Sept. 1 at 2 p.m.
Residents interested in the information session can email Nate Broman-Fulks at firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
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