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When Matthew Bhagat-Conway moved to Chapel Hill three years ago, he knew he did not want to drive to work every day.

To commute to his job as an assistant professor of city and regional planning, he biked to UNC’s campus most days. He now lives in Durham and takes a bus to work.

Bhagat-Conway said, because he can afford to live close to a major transit route, he saves money on car-related expenses. But, not everyone has the luxury of avoiding driving, and housing costs are often higher where public transportation is more accessible, Baghat-Conway said.

Households in car-dependent neighborhoods spend up to 25 percent of their income on transportation, compared to nine percent in neighborhoods with more alternative options, according to the HUD. Most Chapel Hill residents spend 65 percent of their income or more on housing and transportation combined, according to the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

Caroline Dwyer, Chapel Hill Transit planning manager, said Chapel Hill Transit has a somewhat limited service that primarily serves the denser parts of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and that housing costs are often higher in areas with accessible transit.

“We don't really provide much service in some of the further areas, and as we get deeper into neighborhoods, where there's more houses and fewer other activities, we do tend to have less service,” she said

Chapel Hill Town Council member Melissa McCullough said she is looking toward prioritizing transit-oriented development and increasing housing density near transit routes.

In August, the Town finalized its plans for the North-South Bus Rapid Transit line, an 8.2-mile route that will run from Southern Village to Eubanks Road along one of the busiest commuter routes in Chapel Hill. The town council also recently approved an extension of its water and sewer boundary to increase housing south of Southern Village.

“If we can have people who are living where they can hop on the BRT to get into work or school, instead of living farther out and driving that route, it will help with the traffic, it will help with the air emissions, it will help with our tax base and it will help the people who get to move there,” McCullough said.

Sarah Viñas, the director of affordable housing and community connections in Chapel Hill, said the Town is committed to creating affordable housing opportunities close to the public transit system.

In December, the Town selected a developer to build affordable housing units on a Town-owned property off of Legion Road, and the Town will be working to ensure that the housing, if approved by the town council, is in close proximity to a variety of transportation options.

To obtain a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit — a federal credit Viñas said could leverage millions of dollars for the property — the Town must prove there is a bus stop within a quarter of a mile, among other measures, such as adequate sidewalks.

Dwyer said improving existing transit infrastructure, such as shelters at bus stops, will make the project more competitive for this funding. The D bus route currentlyserves the Legion property.

"There's already transit services available on that site," Viñas said. "And so, of course, the development of affordable housing on that site and creation of a park on that site will only increase the interest in continuing to enhance transit over time there."

While this type of tax credit is highly competitive, Viñas said it is a critical piece that will allow the Town to pursue affordable rental housing developments and deliver a larger number of units with less town subsidy.

Trinity Court, Jay Street and Homestead Gardens — three already-approved affordable housing projects accessible to transit — are expected to break ground within the next several months.


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