An article in the Real Estate section on Aug. 7 provided a dramatic example of our own local income disparity and how it is reflected in our community housing. It featured a super-mansion in the style of a French chateau located on 35 acres in rural Orange County and selling for $2.25 million. Ironically, it was next to a column by Robert Dowling, executive director of the Community Home Trust, about the severe shortage of low-income housing in Orange County.
This is not to say that the owners of super-mansions aren’t good people. Or give generously to “good causes,” maybe even to help low-income people in our county. But it is hard to not draw conclusions and feel outrage at the disparity.
I am particularly tuned to the problem as two times in the last three years I have helped a disabled lady and her family find a new home when landlords evicted her because they no longer accepted housing vouchers. She called countless apartments. Nothing. I spent countless hours, energy, and utter frustration, contacting 19 organizations, agencies and departments for help before I found Community Empowerment Fund – a wonderful resource – which at the last minute found landlords who would take her voucher.
This family was not alone. Eighty people lost their homes when GSC bought 19 apartment complexes and evicted (legally) all the Section 8 voucher holders (except one disabled young man it was too embarrassing to evict after the mayor’s press conference used him to call attention to the effect of the crisis.)
Two years later, it happened again.
Admittedly the apartments were very old and needed major renovations resulting in significantly higher rent which voucher holders could not afford.
The severe lack of affordable housing was apparent to all who worked to find housing for those 80 now-homeless people. Even the homeless shelter wasn’t a possibility for my lady, because it can’t accommodate the disabled.
In the midst of my frustration and Herculean efforts, I realized that if we were in Europe, this would not have happened, because they provide for their poor and disabled with government housing. This capitalist country hopes the private sector and market-driven supply will be the solution. I can tell you it does not.
Many organizations are working hard on this problem. Empowerment has dedicated its 46 units specifically for low-income renters and is working with a developer on Rosemary Street for 30 more units. Habitat provides home-ownership, CHT has a network, CASA has housing for the disabled. Chapel Hill is building 149 units on Legion Road and has dedicated one penny on the tax dollar to affordable housing. Carrboro has dedicated $500,000. In November we will vote on an Orange County bond for $5 million of affordable housing. It’s a start, but insufficient as shown in the Orange County Affordable Housing Study of the need for 1,000 units in the next five years, if not right now.
It is a disgrace that we have little money for the large number of low-income people right here in our county, while some seemingly have enough for a $2.25 million dollar “chateau.” Disparity for sure. Right here.
Ellie Kinnaird, a former state senator and Carrboro mayor, lives in Chapel Hill.