We all make mistakes. Some hurt more than others, such as the town’s errors that led to the disappearance of affordable housing at Rosemary Village.
In 2002, the town issued a special-use permit for Rosemary Village Condos that specified, among numerous other conditions, that six of the 38 residential units be rented at an affordable rate to people earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income. But rather than sign the deeds over to Community Home Trust or Empowerment, the town allowed developer Tom Tucker to retain ownership of the units.
The condos were built in 2005, but Tucker, an original investor in Greenbridge, ran into financial straits a few years later, and two of the Rosemary Village condos, units 104 and 303, went into foreclosure. Harrington Bank took possession in 2012. In February 2013, the bank sold the units to Lyndon and Lisa Cooper, for $173,000 (#104, a two-bedroom, two-bath unit) and $125,000 (#303, a two-bedroom, one-bath unit). The deed made reference to a restriction that the units not be sold within three months for less than $199,680. Four months later, title was transferred to Oral Technology & Sciences, a limited liability corporation the Coopers formed in January 2013. The new deed makes no reference to any restriction.
Lisa Cooper declined to say whether she and her husband rent the units in compliance with the SUP, which is permanently attached to the property. Rent for a two-person household at the 80 percent AMI level would be $1,083. Comparable units in the complex rent for $1,600 to $1,800 a month.
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Tucker confirmed that he owns the remaining four units, but declined to comment further.
A real estate investor who buys and rents out residences at affordable rates contends that the six units have not been available to low-income tenants consistently for several years. When he saw that units 104 and 303 had been sold, he contacted the town, but saw no action. Some months ago, he contacted the mayor, who turned the matter over to a town inspector.
When I began asking questions of the inspector, Executive Director of Planning and Sustainability Mary Jane Nirdlinger stepped in and emailed that she is in discussion with the town attorney. She has not responded to follow-up requests for information, but Loryn Clark, executive director of housing and community, said the town has learned from its early mistakes.
What troubles me about all this, other than the loss from our already paltry supply of affordable rentals, is that the town would never have known that the units were not available as affordable housing had a community member not noticed and called it to the town’s attention. Though the Rosemary Village SUP and agreements with other multifamily residential development owners call for the town to monitor affordable housing, the town manager only recently filled the enforcement positions. Clark said reporting and accountability practices have been written in to recent SUPs for projects that include affordable rentals.
While some Town Council members seem genuinely concerned about the dearth of affordable housing options, the contracts and enforcement still don’t seem adequate to protect what little we have.
The SUPs and development agreements for recently approved or soon-to-be-approved large developments continue to show looseness with the language about affordable rental housing. Council members seem reluctant to push developers for any significant amount of affordable housing. And without adequate wording in the contract, even the small amount of affordability developers dole out is at risk of evaporating.
Nancy Oates writes the Chapel Hill Watch blog.