Bravo to the Chapel Hill Town Council for negotiating a great affordable housing deal for Obey Creek. As a long-time advocate and provider of affordable housing, I was pleased to see a productive process where a developer and council came together to create a plan that best suits the needs of Chapel Hill.
To that end, several subcommittees related to the development were formed by Town Council to address the specific needs of our Town. I participated in the Subcommittee on Affordable Housing at Obey Creek, along with council Members Greene, Ward, and Cianciolo, and a number of local affordable housing experts.
After an extensive discussion about the needs in town, the group concluded that there was very little being done to assist very low income families and individuals, those earning between 30 percent and 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) who qualify for housing vouchers, such as Section 8 and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. Few landlords will accept these vouchers and it is impossible for the private housing market to build new housing at the rents permitted by HUD for these subsidies. However, East West Partners listened carefully and agreed to make half of their affordable units at Obey Creek available to these renters. In addition, these units will have all of the amenities associated with a high-end apartment community in a mixed-use environment with good access to public transit.
Some have lamented that only 5 percent of the rental units will be offered as affordable. That ignores that the developer responded to the town’s desire to serve very low income households and the additional cost associated with it. This is a voluntary offering from the developer, who will be providing 15 percent of the for-sale units as affordable, as required by the town’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. It also ignores all of the other things that the Town has negotiated from the developer.
Some of the benefits this developer has offered:
▪ Two-thirds of the property (80 acres) will be dedicated as a permanent conservation area, where they will build and maintain a network of trails that will be open to the public;
▪ An active urban park, open to the public;
▪ A bike and pedestrian bridge across 15-501 connecting the project to Southern Village and the Park and Ride lot;
▪ A commitment to design standards for erosion control and stormwater that exceed requirements to protect the creek;
▪ An annual payment to subsidize night and weekend bus service not currently provided to the area;
▪ Traffic improvements that will address the existing traffic problems as well as the added traffic; and
▪ Energy efficiency and sustainability construction standards that far exceed any local requirements.
Finally, per the town’s business management director’s estimate, the tax revenue generated will exceed the cost of services to the town by approximately $1 million annually.
To argue that the town hasn’t gotten enough is unfair to a council that has done a very good job of negotiating benefits for our community. As a participant in the Obey Creek process and an advocate for affordable housing, I am pleased with the opportunities that await us in the southern part of Chapel Hill.
Holly Fraccaro is the CEO of the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties and serves as the chair for the town of Chapel Hill’s Housing Advisory Board.