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Community organizations, Town officials look back at affordable housing in 2023

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107 Johnson St. recently underwent a goundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the Peach Apartments that will be built at that location.

In past years, local nonprofit EMPOWERment, Inc. has sought out money to purchase homes for their affordable housing inventory. This year, the organization worked chiefly to fund the construction of new affordable housing in downtown Chapel Hill. 

Delores Bailey, the executive director of EMPOWERment, said the organization's primary focus this year was to create housing for community members who make at or below 30 percent of the area's median income.

The PEACH Apartments, an affordable housing project sponsored by EMPOWERment, broke ground in October. The apartments will house individuals who make at or below 30 percent the area's median income.

Jackie Jenks, the president and CEO of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, said she thinks this year, there was an increased consciousness around the need for affordable housing for community members who earn low incomes, no income or a fixed income. 

“That has been a bigger focus for local government and the community in general, which is really heartening to see,” she said. 

In 2023, the Town of Chapel Hill approved 380 units of affordable housing — which Sarah Viñas, the director of affordable housing and community connections for the Town, said was a major highlight of the year.

She also said the Town’s first ever comprehensive affordable housing plan, which was approved in September, will serve as a roadmap for projects in the next five years. 

In June, Chapel Hill received a $5 million contribution from UNC Health to establish an affordable housing revolving loan fund, which will be used to create between 500 and 1,000 units of affordable housing.

“That's going to be huge to that we can be more nimble and jump on naturally occurring affordable housing and keep it affordable,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “We didn't have a way to do that before.”

Also in June, the Town passed a text amendment to its land use management ordinance, allowing more multi-family housing to be built on lots that were previously zoned for single-family residences. The text amendment was intended to create “missing middle housing.”

Since the text amendment was passed, there has not been an increase in applications for duplex housing projects. But Bailey said she was proud the Town decided to make changes to try to create additional affordable middle income housing.

Viñas said said the market conditions have made working to create affordable housing “exceedingly challenging” this year. Construction and development costs, as well as inflation, have been high this year, she said. 

Hemminger said she hears from developers all the time that projects that were financially feasible five years ago are not now.

The cost to build a unit of housing has increased $100,000 over the last five years, she said, which upsets the balance of the amount of units created at a certain budget.

“It’s one of the most challenging times to create affordable housing, yet the need is really greater than we've at least seen in a very long time,” Viñas said. 

Bailey said she thinks some people have not realized the lingering effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on housing. 

She said services to help community members get caught up with their rent during the pandemic, such as emergency housing assistance from Orange County, are decreasing while people are still struggling. Jenks said additional support for non-profit services provided at the height of the pandemic has also decreased.

The community is still seeing a significant need for housing for community members who are extremely low income and who are exiting homelessness, she said.

Bailey said that EMPOWERment plans to develop at least two properties in 2024 and create a minimum of 18 new units of affordable housing.

“This area in general is seeing a lot of success in drawing folks here, but that means that the housing costs are also going up,” Jenks said. “It's becoming harder and harder for people who have lived here their whole lives, who have really been part of this community for decades, to be able to stay here and to live sustainably.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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