Just in case there is any question as to why I think affordable housing is important, please allow me to explain. I believe we need regular working folks, like teachers, bus drivers and legions of people who work at the hospital to be able to live within our community, send their children to our schools and be close to where they work. Just imagine a future in which these folks, and many others, determine that it’s not worth it to commute here to work. That would not be good for any of us.
But an even more important reason to provide affordable housing within our community is that we all benefit from having different types of people in our midst — young, old, differing ethnicities, religions, races and incomes. A community that welcomes everyone is stronger and richer for it.
Although we have made great progress over the years, we continue to play catch-up as more and more students, retirees and higher income folks move into our community. They increase demand for housing which can lead to higher rents and prices.
What more can we do to address this community challenge? I think the time is right to incent the private sector to provide more affordable housing. After all, who will build the vast majority of new residences over the next twenty years? Private sector developers may build thousands of residential units, while nonprofit organizations may only build a few hundred homes during that time.
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Imagine if we could figure out how to incent developers of both ownership and rental housing to gladly provide 10 percent of the units they build as affordable. That could result in hundreds of affordable apartments, condos and townhomes. The Chapel Hill Town Council led the way with its inclusionary housing policy more than a decade ago. More recently, the town council has negotiated some affordable apartments from local developers.
I am not suggesting that we nonprofit organizations stop developing housing. Nonprofit organizations are the only hope for very low income people who can only afford $300 a month (or less) for rent. I don’t expect the private sector to be able to serve people at that income level.
But suppose we created incentives that really enticed developers to build affordable homes? What would it take for a developer to offer 10 percent of apartments for $650 per month — or even less? That might be a question worth asking.