In 2005, EmPOWERment, Inc., a local affordable housing nonprofit, owned 12 rental units. Now the organization owns 65 rental units — and has become one of the largest nonprofit landlords in Orange County.
EmPOWERment is currently building a multi-family apartment complex of 10 rental units for families earning 30 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). This development called the PEACH apartments — Pine Knolls, EmPOWERment, Affordable, Community, Housing — will be built in Pine Knolls, a historically Black neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
Delores Bailey, the executive director of EmPOWERment, said families that need housing the most in Orange County are those that live at 30 percent AMI and below. Chapel Hill's household AMI is $77,037, meaning those that will live in the PEACH apartments would be earning less than $23,111.
“This housing is for people who work and happen to only make a certain amount of money,” she said. “They’re not making $15, $20, $30, $40 an hour. They’re still making $7.50 an hour.”
Yvette Mathews, an office and community organizer for the Community Empowerment Fund, said she has been spreading the word about PEACH apartments. She said she is concerned about gentrification arising in Chapel Hill.
“I think that Delores and her building, PEACH, is one of the options that we have now,” Mathews said. “At least we have someone now who is supportive of this population, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
She said some community members earning a fixed income, no income or a low income do not have phones or computers, so she connects with them through the CEF to share affordable housing opportunities. She also said many people earning fixed and low incomes work 2-3 jobs, and live in cars, tent communities and cardboard boxes.
“I think it’s only fair that people recognize that this is just a first step, that there have to be more steps,” Mathews said. “And I think that PEACH would be the leader of that.”
Bailey said building for families that earn 30 percent AMI is expensive and the goal of PEACH apartments is not to charge market rate to renters, but to charge something more reasonable.