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Chapel Hill adopts first comprehensive affordable housing plan, aims to build 900 homes

Sarah Viñas, Director of Chapel Hill Afforable Housing, poses outside of Chapel Hill Town Hall on Aug. 16, 2022.

The Chapel Hill Town Council introduced and approved its first comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan and Investment Strategy during its Sept. 13 meeting.

In order to achieve the plan's goal of building 900 new homes and preserving 400 existing affordable homes, Chapel Hill Affordable Housing requested $10 million annually from the Town.

The plan also outlines four goals to address affordable housing challenges over the next five years — reducing barriers to building affordable homes, expanding affordable homeownership, preserving existing affordable rental housing and increasing staff and funding capacity.

Sarah Viñas, the director of affordable housing and community connections for the Town, said Chapel Hill Affordable Housing partnered with staff, community stakeholders and a national consulting firm to create the plan. 

She said data collected from the American Community Survey was also useful for getting a sense of what local housing needs are and what strategies might be most appropriate to address them. 

“The housing market has really changed dramatically through the pandemic,” Viñas said. “So housing costs have skyrocketed, as have development costs. We’re seeing that there's a really limited housing supply.”

She said the Town has exhausted all of its major resources for affordable housing. 

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said housing prices have soared in the region quite dramatically, especially since 2018, which has been pushing even more people out of the community. 

She said over 40,000 people commute to Chapel Hill every day for work.

“I do think we have the opportunity to make a huge difference here by having a strategic plan and by dedicating resources to it,” Hemminger said.

Delores Bailey, the executive director of EmPOWERment, Inc., said the new plan directly speaks to all of EmPOWERment’s core principles. She also said that a lot of nonprofits like EmPOWERment were able to give some input on this plan.

EmPOWERment works to serve Chapel Hill through community organization, affordable housing and grassroots economic development, according to its website.

Bailey said the housing needed most in Orange County is for families living at or below 30 percent of the area's median income.  

“It's important that the Town has approved this because nonprofits who are doing most of the providing and producing of this affordable housing — there's just not enough money,” Bailey said.  

Alice Jacoby, the vice president of policy and advocacy for Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, said the organization was involved at different points of the plan's development and the Town was proactive in reaching out to different partners in the community. 

She said it was alarming to see in the plan that Black homeownership has dropped by more than 30 percent since 2010. 

“To see the report really intentionally center racial equity is important, and something that we're really happy to see from the Town,” Jacoby said. 

She said organizations and government bodies in the county are working to prioritize housing repairs, protecting existing housing in the area and making sure people are living in their homes safely. 

“While the vote in support of the plan shows a really exciting commitment, it's really going to matter how the plan is implemented and what areas, council, Town staff and community partners decide to really lift up and prioritize,” Jacoby said.

@DTHCityState |

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