Chapel Hill News

June 26, 2014

Board of Aldermen hear affordable-housing suggestions

Ideas raised at a recent public hearing on increasing affordable housing in Carrboro included converting shipping containers into houses and raising taxes.

Ideas raised at a recent public hearing on increasing affordable housing in Carrboro included converting shipping containers into houses and raising taxes.

The town’s Affordable Housing Task Force recently finished a two-year study on expanding rental and home-ownership opportunities for people with small or no incomes who want to live in Carrboro.

Residents, directors of affordable housing organizations and a few residents struggling to pay their rent spoke at the June 15 Board of Aldermen meeting.

Delores Bailey, executive director of Empowerment, said her agency owns 30 rental units, 12 of them in Carrboro. Each month, Empowerment gets 50 or more applications from people looking for a place to live, she said.

One person lived in a hotel for a year while trying to find a place to live. Another young woman had a job and a place where she could stay, but she didn’t feel safe there, so she lived in her car for six months looking for places to wash up so she could go to work, Bailey said.

She suggested that people who own rental units could be encouraged to convert them to affordable units.

Terri Buckner said the town should support seniors who want to age in place. Ways to help would be to provide transportation for them and to identify ways they could save on their utilities, she said.

The aldermen agreed with her suggestion and later voted to add the goal of helping seniors stay in their homes to the list of affordable housing goals and strategies.

Braxton Foushee, a member of the planning board and former alderman, said it may be time to raise taxes to support affordable housing, as Chapel Hill and Durham have done recently.

“I would suggest that you really consider next year looking at a one cent increase in tax to support affordable housing,” he said. “Over a period of three to five years ... we will have enough income to make a significant difference in this area.”

Emily Gordon, who said she is a semi-retired social worker, know of seniors who have had to move away or live in their cars.

“They have (had) cars that are parked in the Seymour Center at night with seniors who are sleeping in them,” she said.

She has friends who have been on a waiting list for housing for seniors for more than two years, she said.

“Nothing is moving,” she said. “It’s becoming more and more of a crisis.”

Russell Day said he wants to use shipping containers to build affordable housing and asked for the aldermen’s help with that project.

Robert Downing, director of the Community Home Trust, commended the task and suggested the aldermen provide incentives for developers building new neighborhoods: for example, encouraging affordable housing units instead of open space.

“This is the kind of decision you control,” he said.

The aldermen thanked all those who spoke at the public hearing, including those who suggested the town hire someone dedicated to working on affordable housing.

Alderwoman Michelle Johnson told them next year’s budget includes money to hire someone to work on affordable housing.

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