Public property around the planned light-rail stations at Alston Avenue and Dillard Street offers good potential for building affordable housing, according to a UNC study.
For affordable housing around the eight other Durham stations along the planned Durham-Orange Light Rail Project, the city and county governments need something more. City and county officials will get updates on both Wednesday morning.
Rules for an enhanced version of Durham’s never-used “density bonus” and some developer relief for from parking requirements are on the agenda for the Joint City-County Planning Committee’s meeting at 9:30 a.m.. At the same meeting UNC planning students’ will present their “Opportunity Sites for Affordable Housing Development” report (nando.com/18p).
The city and county want at least 15 percent of all housing within a half mile of each station to be affordable for households earning 60 percent of the area median income – about $911 a month for rent.
Experience elsewhere has shown that property values, and rents with them, go up along mass-transit lines. The UNC study found:
▪ 9,488 – houses and apartments in the 10 station areas currently meeting the 60 percent AMI affordability standard;
▪ 19 percent – affordable units that are rent-subsidized, so
▪ 4 out of 5 – affordable homes are subject to rising market values.
The study analyzed real-estate parcels at each station area for property where affordable-housing development looks “more,” “somewhat” or “less” feasible – using factors such as terrain, size and shape, zoning, and existing easements.
It put particular emphasis on public land available for building or rebuilding by government or nonprofit agencies. All 10 sites had some “more feasible” acreage, but at only two was there a significant amount in public hands:
▪ Alston Avenue, with 34.5 acres;
▪ Dillard Street, with 16.8 acres.
▪ Other sites, from 2.38 acres to zero.
Alston and Dillard, though, already have substantial percentages of subsidized affordable housing in their total units – 25 percent and 57.7 percent, respectively, according to a planning department survey (nando.com/rm). At the other station areas, percentages range from 10.6 percent in downtown to zero at five sites.
Given the goal of 15 percent affordability at each site, and of avoiding concentrations of low-income residents, other measures will be required to match need for public transit with ease of getting to it.
The UNC report has several suggestions, including a revolving loan fund, simplified permit processing and fee rebates. In a separate report this morning, the planning department analyzes two more, the density bonus and parking standards.
Bonus and cost
▪ Durham’s current density bonus lets a developer build one market-rate house or apartment more than zoning allows for every affordable house or apartment included in a project.
▪ To make that never-used bonus more attractive, city-county planners suggest making it three for one. For example, if 45 units in a 300-unit apartment complex are designated affordable, the developer could build another 135 units to rent for whatever the market will bear – a total of 435, regardless of zoning limitations.
▪ In addition, the developer would not have to provide parking spaces for affordable units in the “compact neighborhoods” around transit stops – leaving more land available for profitable use and saving the developer thousands of dollars for each parking space eliminated.
Bonus units would have to remain affordable for at least 15 years. Committee members, who first saw the three-for-one proposal in March, asked planners to consider 30 years instead.
In a response prepared for the meeting (nando.com/18q), the planning department sticks to 15 years, pointing out that longer affordability cuts significantly into the developer’s long-term return.
▪ Current monthly rents for market-rate, two-bedroom apartments in Durham average an affordable $874;
▪ Monthly rents for new, two-bedroom station-area apartments range from $890 near suburban Patterson Place to $1,500 in the Ninth Street area and downtown;
▪ Thus, bonus apartments would be renting for as much as $600 a month below market rate – a prospect far less attractive at 30 years than at 15, requiring more incentives to interest developers;
▪ In other places, however, density bonuses have proven most effective when offered in combination with other incentives to build affordable housing.
Park, no park
Committee members also wanted to know more about benefits from removing the minimum parking requirement. Planners report:
▪ Nationally, surface parking costs about $3,000 per space, not counting the price of land or ongoing maintenance;
▪ In Durham, building the new parking deck at Erwin Square cost about $17,533 per space; underground parking at Crescent at Main, $17,500.
▪ A UCLA study found that lesser parking requirements have led to more affordable housing; tighter requirements, to a lack of affordable housing as well as more parking space than actually needed.
In sum, the planners conclude that a zero parking requirement for affordable dwellings “supports policy goals” of more affordable places to live and more travel by public transit, and “less reliance on the automobile.”
The Joint City-County Planning Committee meets at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 6 in the second-floor Committee Room at City Hall.
Meetings are open to the public, but public comment is allowed only by prior arrangement with the committee chairwoman.
The committee is an advisory body to the City Council and Board of County Commissioners, and the city-county planning department.
About the project
The proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail project is a 17-mile line between UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and Alston Avenue in East Durham, with trains running every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 20 minutes at other times, every day. Fares would be comparable to those for bus travel.
GoTriangle (formerly Triangle Transit) is leading the project along with local governments in Durham and Orange counties.
Its cost is estimated at $1.34 billion in 2012 dollars, or $1.8 in “Year of Expenditure” dollars, a figure that factors in rising construction costs and inflation between now and the time money is actually spent.
Voters in the two counties approved a one-half cent sales tax to fund the local share of the light rail project along with new and expanded bus service. Additional funds, covering up to 75 percent of construction costs, are expected from state and federal sources.
In 2014, the Federal Transit Administration gave Triangle Transit the go-ahead to enter Project Development. In 2014, Durham-Orange Light Rail was one of only two light rail projects nationwide given U.S. Transit Administration go-aheads for further research and planning necessary to apply for federal funding.
Construction is anticipated to start in 2020, train service in 2026.
More information: nando.com/rm.