Town officials have wrestled with a growing need for affordable housing, making a few inroads in the Northside neighborhood and in setting aside money for nonprofit development projects.
Chapel Hill’s Penny for Housing program, for instance, banks nearly $700,000 each year in property tax revenues for affordable-housing projects.
But making a bigger impact will require working with Orange County, Carrboro and Hillsborough, said Loryn Clark, the town’s executive director of housing and community. The county’s $5 million affordable housing bond has created exciting new opportunities, she said.
“We recognize we can’t solve the affordable housing problem by ourselves here in Chapel Hill. There’s no one jurisdiction that has the answer,” Clark said.
UNC has been another partner, creating a $3 million, 10-year no-interest loan fund for buying houses and land in the Northside neighborhood near downtown. The partnership has bought 15 properties, built 12 affordable homes and duplexes, and made 31 critical repairs. Clark said more is possible in the coming year.
An affordable housing report from David Paul Rosen and Associates looked at rental and for-sale housing, potential incentives and strategies for attracting public and private investment.
The study identified five areas that could provide more affordable housing:
Roughly 39 acres are available off Sunrise Road, near Interstate 40 and the Carol Woods Retirement Community. Habitat for Humanity owns about 20 acres, and private citizens own the rest. The town previously approved a 60-unit, market-rate and affordable housing subdivision for the land, but the developer didn’t follow through. The town continues to work with Habitat, residents and potential developers to find a solution.
The Greene Tract includes 100 acres that Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County own together, and another 60 acres of county land between Eubanks and Homestead roads. Previous plans have designated 18 acres for affordable housing.
While some residents oppose any development on the Greene Tract, others think it could meet a need for small businesses and jobs, senior housing and other amenities. The concern is how to keep housing affordable for current and future residents.
“I don’t know if it will be (developed) this year. It depends on how everybody comes together in sharing the common interests and how we can come up with something that everybody supports, but it presents some exciting options,” Clark said.
The Rosen study identified the town’s form-based code district as “well suited to affordable housing and mixed-income residential development.” The district stretches from East Franklin Street to Legion Road, Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road. It is surrounded by shopping, jobs and transit stops.
The consultants suggested letting private developers build more dense projects with more market-rate housing, if they also provide affordable housing. The study also noted the town has leverage through federal tax credit programs and the county’s $5 million affordable housing bond.
The town previously leveraged its land on Legion Road for a partnership with Raleigh-based housing developer DHIC Inc. The project could create half of the 300 affordable housing units planned for the Ephesus-Fordham district.
The first phase, Greenfield Place, could wrap up 69 affordable family apartments by December 2017 beside Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. The second phase, Greenfield Commons, could add 80 affordable senior apartments by the end of 2018.
The town also has an affordable housing opportunity in the American Legion Post 6 site on Legion Road, the consultants noted. Although a private developer was planning up to 400 market-rate apartments and two commercial buildings for the site, the council agreed in December to buy the 35 acres for $7.9 million.
The deal could close by March and be paid over the next two years, giving the town time to decide the land’s best use. That could include affordable housing.
Chapel Hill has 336 housing units in 13 public housing communities, all but one of which was was built more than 30 years ago. The town has renovated its housing over time using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, but many buildings need to be repaired or replaced, the Rosen study found.
Much of what exists now is low-density duplexes and row housing, Clark said. South Estes Drive, built in 1970, is the largest community at 44 rowhouse units. The smallest is on Lindsay Street, where the town has nine triplex units.
While changes are long term, the town could sell the land and build new housing somewhere else, Clark said. It also could reuse some site, making them more dense.
The town also could partner with housing developers through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which shifts public housing to the federal Section 8 program, so housing agencies can leverage public and private resources to renovate and build more housing.