Many people in Chapel Hill spend well above 30 percent of their income – the amount that financial experts consider sustainable – toward housing. And more than half of our residents rent housing.
Thoughtful and dedicated community partners are looking for new ways to make Chapel Hill a more diverse and inclusive community. The theme “Create a Place for Everyone” from the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan reflects our community’s values and vision.
The Town of Chapel Hill has set aside $688,000 of general funds in the current budget to support affordable housing development and preservation, an amount equal to nearly one penny of the property tax rate. The Town Council, along with the Housing Advisory Board and community partners, is exploring ways to use the funds wisely. To help us look differently at how we approach affordable housing, we organized a series of affordable housing sessions from January through April 2015.
These sessions were well attended with an average of 40 to 50 people participating at Town Hall, and many more viewing online. They provided comprehensive information on the Chapel Hill housing market, demographics and our strategies to increase affordable housing. Our takeaways from the various sessions are as follows: 1. Build housing, 2. Reduce the cost burden to the town, and 3. Build partnerships to develop town-sponsored affordable housing projects.
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In Session 1 (Affordable Housing Overview), we learned that Chapel Hill has become a much older and wealthier population in the past 25 years. Census data shows that household incomes over $100,000 grew by 332 percent between 1990 and 2010. The older population is growing, while we have challenges with attracting young adult permanent residents.
We received data in Session 2 (All About Housing: National, State, and Local Housing Trends) showing substantial growth in the upper-end of our housing market, and in fact, our housing value growth has outpaced our income growth. Contract rents have grown dramatically in the upper-end of the market. Meanwhile, our housing market – both renter and owner occupied – has a strong unmet demand.
Demographic and economic trends that respond to needs for affordable housing include smaller homes, multi-family housing and rental housing. Increasingly, residents prefer to live close to jobs, transit and amenities. We are seeing that millennials, seniors and families competing for the same types of housing.
Some national strategies to increase affordability focus on expanding development opportunities; capitalizing on market activity; reducing the cost of creating affordable housing; preserving existing assets; recycling resources; and generating local capital.
In Session 3 (The Real Cost of Housing: What it Costs to the Town), we shared that since 2003 the town has provided about $3.6 million to develop, create, or maintain of affordable housing opportunities; and another $25.4 million to operate/manage/renovate the town’s public housing apartments. We manage 336 public housing apartments in 13 neighborhoods throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro. About 1,000 residents live here. At any given time, about 300 people are on the waiting list.
In Session 4 (Recommendations and Strategies) we heard the idea that affordable housing is as important to a community as streets and lighting. There was a strong link made between housing needs and economic growth. “You won’t have job growth if you don’t have a place for workers to live,” said Lisa Sturtevant, vice president for research at the National Housing Conference.
We have seen that housing challenges and opportunities in Chapel Hill arise from demographic trends that are transforming America. The good news is that the town’s current affordable housing strategies and polices are consistent with national best practices.
If you are interested in these issues, more information is available at townofchapelhill.org/comelearnwithus
Loryn Clark is the Chapel Hill’s housing and community executive director.