The Orange County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is currently considering the makeup of a bond referendum that it plans to place before the voters in November 2016 in support of the schools in Orange County. I applaud them in anticipating the future needs of our school systems and in acting to ensure that public schools in Orange County remain among the best in North Carolina. Safe and healthy schools should be a priority everywhere.
Good educational outcomes are influenced by a number of factors, school facilities being among them. Another factor is the availability of safe and secure housing for families who supply the students to our school systems. Affordable and adequate housing for some members of our community is very difficult to obtain, at best, and a pipe dream at worst. I am writing in hopes that the BOCC consider including a portion of the referendum package that would support affordable housing in our county.
There is precedent for the county using bond funding to support affordable housing. In 2001, voters passed bonds that included $4 million for affordable housing.
Affordable housing non-profits used those funds to create housing opportunities for families and individuals unable to afford a decent rental or purchase a home in Orange County. A part of that funding helped Habitat create Phoenix Place, a thriving community in the Rogers Road neighborhood that 50 families call home.
These hardworking families typically earn approximately 48 percent of the area median income – or about $34,000 a year for a family of four (the average household size of a Habitat homebuyer). Without the support of affordable housing non-profits, who rely on private and public funding sources, families like those in Phoenix Place would be living in substandard, overcrowded, and unaffordable dwellings.
I mention Habitat because, as a board member, it is the affordable housing nonprofit with which I am most familiar. Habitat raises its operating funds from individuals, churches, businesses, foundations, homeowner mortgage payments, and government sources.
Government funds typically account for approximately 20 percent of our revenue. Federal funding, through the HOME program, has been a big part of the government funding we have received in the past. It has been cut drastically in recent years and appears to be going away altogether, jeopardizing our affordable housing goals. As a result Habitat, and other non-profits, are looking to local governments to help make up that shortfall and continue their mission.
Bond funding is used in a variety of ways in the quest for affordable housing. Land acquisition, lot infrastructure development (roads, water and sewer connections), second mortgages and land banking are among the ways the money is put to use.
Without bond funding, Habitat would not be able to purchase and develop land and build homes at the rate and cost that we currently offer to qualified homebuyers.
Habitat has projects in the pipeline over the next five to seven years that would add nearly 100 new affordable homes for families earning less than 65 percent of average median income. If we can continue to raise our private donations as we project, our plans would require an investment of approximately $3 million in bond funding over that period. This would be transformative for the families affected.
We at Habitat are sincerely appreciative of the support that the BOCC has shown for affordable housing through the years. We know that they have a difficult task in putting together the bond referendum package. I realize that they hear from many competing interests regarding how to spend those funds, and have to prioritize and evaluate requests for funding.
I can assure them that if they see fit to include affordable housing in the bond that the funds would be used well and wisely for the citizens of Orange County.
Brian Curran, a former Chapel Hill police chief, is a member of the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County.