The $5 million affordable-housing bond on this year’s ballot could help complete a $13 million, five-year plan to serve over 1,000 families and individuals in Orange County, its supporters say.
The $5 million bond would supplement another $8.5 million that the county and towns expect existing resources to provide.
To be affordable, housing shouldn’t cost more than 30 percent of a household’s monthly income, experts say. The lack of affordable housing has become a national problem in the last few years, and both Greensboro and Asheville have $25 million affordable housing bond referendums on their ballots this year.
In Orange County, it’s getting harder for even middle-income families to find affordable rental and for-sale housing, as rent climbs for new and renovated apartments, and more landlords reject federal Housing Choice (formerly Section 8) vouchers.
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The U.S. Census reported in 2010 that nearly 40 percent of Orange County residents were considered low to moderate income. Just over 14 percent were estimated to be living below the poverty line in 2014.
Roughly half of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, and about a third are paying more than 50 percent. The news for homeowners is not much better; the average closing cost to buy an Orange County home rose to $342,172 this year.
In addition, most affordable housing is also decades old and, in some cases, poses a risk to health and safety. Roughly 8 percent of the county’s housing is vacant, and reports show one in five households have severe housing problems, including overcrowding and incomplete kitchen or plumbing facilities.
The Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition notes that nonprofit housing agencies now provide 1,678 affordable, mostly rental housing units. Roughly 62 percent serve families earning less than 65 percent of the area median income, or up to $32,000 a year for one person and $46,000 for a family of four.
The coalition, which includes government and nonprofit partners, has spent over a year planning how to address the problem.
Q. What is the plan?
A. More than $1.7 million of the $13 million five-year plan would provide exterior and critical repairs to over 240 existing homes and apartments.
The cost of building 314 new affordable rentals and 124 new for-sale homes has been estimated, respectively, at $6.7 million and $4.6 million.
Another $250,000 is slated for “community solutions,” including a person to help residents find affordable housing and recruit more landlords to take vouchers.
Half of the money would address the biggest needs:
▪ Families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income, or up to $24,850 a year for an individual and $24,300 for a family of four
▪ Special needs, including seniors, people with disabilities, the homeless or those at risk of homelessness, and domestic violence victims
The plan then serves workforce employees – maintenance workers and nursing assistants – and working professionals – teachers, public safety employees and small business owners. Those groups earn between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area median income. That’s up to $39,600 a year for one person, and up to $56,550 for a family of four.
Q. Is there a list of projects?
A. Some projects are more certain, but most would be decided as money becomes available.
The county and towns have identified public lands, including part of the Greene tract off Eubanks Road, that could support housing. St. Paul’s AME Church has land nearby for up to 80 affordable homes at its future campus. Chapel Hill could redevelop its public housing communities.
The challenge with affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity executive director Susan Levy said, is having money available when an opportunity or need arises.
The county would decide how much to spend each year and seek proposals from public and private developers. Housing officials and advisers would weigh the proposals and give the Orange County Board of Commissioners a final list for consideration. Standards that housing partners must meet are being developed.
Q. What money already exists?
A. The governments have saved money and expect to get federal HOME money and Community Development Block Grants.
▪ Chapel Hill: Expects $5.3 million over five years, from its annual Penny for Housing program – a penny on the town tax rate, or about $688,000 – and federal Community Development Block Grant funding. The awards have fallen in recent years, to $387,702 this year.
▪ Carrboro: Roughly $675,000 from an affordable housing fund
▪ Orange County: Expects $1.5 million in federal HOME grants over five years. The county received $310,196 in 2016 and is required to pay 25 percent of project costs. The county also set aside $1 million last year to buy land for mobile homes, especially those facing increased urban development pressures.
Q. How long would those homes stay affordable?
A. Federal HOME funds require housing to remain affordable for five to 20 years, depending on the amount invested and the type of project. Only some CDBG projects – such as revitalization and infrastructure – require a period of affordability. CDBG funds cannot be used for new construction.
The county’s policy is to use restrictive convenants and include a right of first refusal to keep housing affordable for 99 years. Buyers who move can sell or transfer their home to another low-income homebuyer; the county gets a portion of the proceeds.
Early voting continues through Nov. 5; the general election is Nov. 8. There are two Orange County bond referendums on this year’s ballot, including $120 million for school repairs and renovations. The $5 million “Orange County Low and Moderate Income Housing” bond question states:
“Shall the order authorizing Orange County general obligation bonds in the maximum amount of $5,000,000 plus interest to pay capital costs of providing housing for persons of low and moderate income and paying related costs, and providing that additional taxes may be levied in an amount sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds, as adopted by the County’s Board of Commissioners on May 5, 2016, be approved?”