An injection of at least $2.5 million in bond money could make 2017 a big year for Orange County’s affordable-housing efforts.
The money is half of a $5 million affordable-housing bond that voters approved in November, said Audrey Spencer-Horsley, director of Housing, Human Rights and Community Development. The Orange County commissioners could spend more bond money if more proposals meet its criteria, she said.
The commissioners have capped housing projects for middle-income wage earners at 20 percent of the available bond money. Those projects would serve people earning 60 percent or more of the area median income ($42,420 for a family of four).
There’s no cap on serving lower-income wage earners and special populations, including the elderly, people with disabilities, the homeless and domestic violence victims, Spencer-Horsley said.
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The need is growing.
County data shows roughly half of renters now pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing – the threshold at which housing is no longer considered affordable. About a third pay more than 50 percent.
At the same time, housing that remains affordable is decades old and some poses a risk to health and safety.
A county report noted one in five households live with severe housing problems, including overcrowding and incomplete kitchen or plumbing facilities.
The Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition has drafted a $13.3 million plan to serve over 1,000 households using local, state and federal funding.
The commissioners will get an updated housing plan and timeline in January. They could authorize staff to seek housing proposals from private and nonprofit developers – many of whom are already looking at potential projects – for evaluation in the spring.
The commissioners will have the final say on funding. They’ve already approved criteria that considers safety, disability access and financial stability, among other requirements, such as energy-efficiency and transportation to help keep housing affordable.
“We have such a great need at the lower end of income groups, but the board also wanted to make some room for workforce housing, so they tried to balance all those different needs with funding and resources that we’re going to have in the upcoming year,” Spencer-Horsley said.
“And they also ... had quite a discussion about what was important and about wanting to make sure the rural part of the county would be able to participate in the bond.”
Water and sewer in rural areas can require on-site solutions, such as community and individual well and septic systems. The county also is hiring a new transportation director, who will consider how to better serve rural areas.
Some projects could move forward this year, Spencer-Horsley said. The county has identified 10 publicly owned parcels that could help attract a nonprofit or private developer willing to build and manage affordable housing.
Mobile home challenge
Land also is key to one of the year’s biggest challenges – what to do about mobile homes – Spencer-Horsley said.
The owners of four parks in northern Chapel Hill are facing increasing pressure to sell their land because of development surrounding them, prompting the county to set aside $1 million to buy land.
“One of the primary issues is trying to prepare should there be an immediate need or a park being impacted, and how do you assist the residents in having stable or interim housing,” she said.
Multiple strategies are possible, she said, including successful models from other communities, such as 100-acre Southwood Mobile Home Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. Habitat for Humanity bought the park in 2007 with a short-term strategy of renovating the homes to keep them affordable and safe. The long term goal is to build a transportation-oriented neighborhood.
Chapel Hill already is talking with Habitat for Humanity about the town’s mobile home parks, said Loryn Clark, the town’s executive director of housing and community. That will continue to be a big conversation this year between the town and the county, nonprofit groups and mobile home park residents, she said.
Having property owners who are willing to work with the county will make the response quicker and easier, Spencer-Horsley said.
“If that park has the capacity and it’s economically feasible, is there an opportunity to partner to improve that, all the way to are they willing to sell and (let) the county try and redevelop it for some other use.”
“It really just depends on where the property owner is and what they want to do. We really want to do it as a partnership.”
Other opportunities include “tiny homes,” co-housing communities and faith-based partnerships, she said.