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Affordable housing explained: A look at public developments in Chapel Hill

There are more than 300 affordable housing units situated in the twelve public housing communities in Chapel Hill

The Town of Chapel Hill operates more than 300 Town-owned affordable housing units for low-income residents in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro. These units are administrated through the Chapel Hill Department of Public Housing and include single units, duplexes, triplexes and row housing complexes. 

Sarah Viñas, director of affordable housing and community connections for the Town of Chapel Hill, said it is unique that the Town owns and operates public housing.

The Town's public housing locations in Chapel Hill are Airport Gardens, South Estes Drive, Rainbow Heights, Colony Woods West, Pritchard Park, Eastwood, North Columbia Street and Caldwell/Church Street. Its Carrboro locations are Craig-Gomains, Lindsay Street, South Roberson Street and Oakwood.

According to the Department of Public Housing’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy, to qualify for the Town’s public housing programs, applicants must earn below 80 percent of the Area Median Income, be elderly, unhoused or living with a disability — among other things. Currently, the qualifying AMI for a four-person family in the Chapel Hill-Durham metropolitan area is $76,400.

“Our public housing department accepts applications directly from residents and they have a process in place that’s consistent with federal government requirements,” Viñas said.

The Department of Public Housing operates two programs to support the economic literacy and development of its residents: the Community Service & Self Sufficiency Program (CSSSP) and the Transitional Housing Program.

Individuals living in public housing who are over the age of 18 and work for less than 20 hours a week must participate in the CSSSP. It requires that public housing residents must perform eight hours of community service or activities that "encourage, assist, train or facilitate economic independence" a month. Elderly individuals and people with disabilities are exempt from this requirement. 

Though the Department of Public Housing provides multiple options for low-income individuals searching for housing, Chapel Hill is currently in a deficit of more than 5,000 affordable homes, according to Chapel Hill Affordable Housing’s most recent quarterly report.

“What we are focused on, working together with our community partners, is we’ve established a strong pipeline of units to slowly chip away at (the deficit),” Viñas said. 

Chapel Hill Affordable Housing is looking to aid in the redevelopment of Trinity Court, a public housing location that has been vacant since 2018 due to poor infrastructure, according to the organization’s website. 

“If something is affordable housing or a significant component (of a development) is affordable housing, we are mindful of how we can help them through the process and stay on track,” Corey Liles, Chapel Hill’s planning manager, said.

Due to the deficit of affordable homes in Chapel Hill, many residents in need of affordable housing have to look beyond the public housing program to community organizations that the Town may support, according to a 2023 quarterly report from Chapel Hill Affordable Housing. 

“There’s a strong community of non-profit affordable housing providers for both rental and home-ownership in Chapel Hill and they have their own application processes that are individual and specific to the eligibility criteria that they have,” Viñas said. 

Eric Bredesen, a resident of Meadowmont, was able to buy a home 17 years ago through one of these organizations — Community Home Trust. 

CHT is a land-trust program that sells and rents homes and apartments to individuals earning below 80 percent of the AMI. Bredesen was connected with CHT after finding out he was unable to afford private housing options in Chapel Hill. 

“I was so naive as far as what I was qualified for,” Bredesen said. 

He said CHT made his home purchasing process accessible as he didn’t have to pay for a real estate agent or narrow down housing in his price range.

CHT along with organizations such as CASA, Habitat for Humanity, EmPOWERment Inc., Community Empowerment Fund and Self-Help, provide affordable housing in Chapel Hill outside of public housing programs.


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Walker Livingston

Walker Livingston is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer city & state editor. Walker is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and American studies, with a minor in data science.  

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