Chapel Hill may dedicate penny on tax rate for housing

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2014 

— The Town Council adopted a wide-ranging strategy Monday for working to develop and pay for more affordable rental housing.

Council member George Cianciolo asked Town Manager Roger Stancil to plan next year’s budget with an extra penny for affordable rental housing projects. A penny on the town’s tax rate raises roughly $729,000.

“I think it’s time we started investing in something that the citizens have said repeatedly that they want to see,” Cianciolo said.

Council member Lee Storrow said he also would like to see a three- to five-year plan for how to afford some of the town’s housing goals.

“When I came on the council and really realized the limited amount of funds the town was spending on affordable housing, it did make me feel uncomfortable,” Storrow said.

“We are fortunate to receive a good number of financial resources from the federal government, and I wouldn’t want to deny the important work that our town planning department staff does,” he continued. “But actually getting dollars and cents into the hands of providers and using those resources to benefit actual homes is how we really build a program that’s sustainable and effective in the long term.”

Mayor’s committee

A Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing was appointed last May to develop an affordable rental housing plan. The group, led by council members Donna Bell and Sally Greene, also included nonprofit housing advocates and development representatives.

The resulting strategy outlines short-, medium- and long-term steps the town could take, from assigning a staff member to work with the new Housing Advisory Board to developing public-private partnerships and finding more financial resources for future projects. Council member Jim Ward pointed out public transportation also is important for keeping Chapel Hill an affordable place to live.

The pool of state and federal money is shrinking every year, housing advocates said. Several local nonprofit leaders spoke at Monday night’s Town Council meeting in favor of the town’s plans and the penny tax to pay for it.

More than half of Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents live in rental housing, and many are paying rent and utilities totaling up to 50 percent or more of their annual income, officials have said. Financial experts recommend paying no more than 30 percent in income for housing costs.

Using that formula, a person earning $25,000 a year should pay no more than $625 a month for rent and utilities. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Chapel Hill is about $800 a month. That doesn’t include utilities.

Tish Galu, the chairwoman of the grassroots Justice United organizing group, said UNC really should be at the table, since many university employees benefit now from local housing programs. Council member Maria Palmer agreed, but noted the plan is vague about what that means.

That was intentional, Greene said.

“What it does recognize realistically is we can’t force them. This is a commitment to keep a standing conversation going with officials at all levels of UNC and the hospital to work to encourage those collaborative conversations,” she said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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