Chapel Hill News

CASA gets grant, makes plans for Carrboro-Chapel Hill housing project

Debra King, CASA’s longtime chief executive officer, died at 59.
Debra King, CASA’s longtime chief executive officer, died at 59.

A Raleigh-based nonprofit wants to build affordable housing for lower-income and homeless residents on Merritt Mill Road next to the school district’s Lincoln Center campus.

It would be the “single largest new construction project CASA has undertaken in our 25-year history,” CASA Chief Executive Officer Debra King said.

A concept plan submitted to the town of Chapel Hill for Merritt Mill East proposes 24 two-bedroom apartments on an acre at 800 S. Merritt Mill Road in Chapel Hill. The Town Council would have to rezone the property if CASA builds more than seven apartments and also could ask the agency to meet other conditions.

Concept plans are not official applications and are submitted only to get feedback that can be used to improve the final proposal.

CASA also has been talking with Carrboro about building Merritt Mill West, which could include 16 to 36 one-bedroom apartments on roughly 2 acres at 802 and 806 S. Merritt Mill Road. Stormwater planning will be important, since the sloped property drains toward South Greensboro Street. Many large trees along Merritt Mill Road are slated to remain.

CASA’s plan is to house families earning less than 50 percent of the area median income, or up to $24,750 a year for an individual. Priority would be given to those who are homeless, disabled or veterans, and rent would be no more than 30 percent of a resident’s income. The focus at Merritt Mill East would be families.

The projects would share a driveway and are expected to meet a critical need. More than 300 families are on Orange County’s affordable housing wait list, while CASA has more than 1,000 families on a wait list for its 56 rental properties in Orange, Durham and Wake counties.

The Board of Aldermen gave CASA a $357,208 grant on March 21 to help buy part of the land. CASA also is seeking money from Orange County, the N.C. Housing Finance Agency and Federal Home Loan Bank.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said the decision signals that the town is “putting our money where our mouth is,” when it comes to affordable housing.

The grant is slightly more than half of the $665,628 in Carrboro’s affordable housing fund and is the town’s biggest expenditure to date. Since 2008, the town has spent $131,909 on affordable housing projects, including purchases, land banking and critical repairs.

Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said it’s hard to tackle the growing need for affordable housing with small-scale, incremental funding.

“I want to thank you for being brave in asking us for such a large amount,” Chaney told CASA Chief Operations Officer Mary Jean Seyda.

CASA could submit an application to Carrboro this year and begin construction in 2018. The apartments, if all goes well, could be rented by 2019.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

At the meeting

Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen authorized traffic-calming measures on March 21 for Blueridge Road and Tallyho Trail.

Town staff will test a combination of temporary curb extensions, signs and speed tables to see if it makes drivers slow down. If successful, the devices could be installed permanently.

Alderwoman Jacqueline Gist asked a crowd of Tallyho Trail residents who was speeding along the winding, narrow road on the northern edge of Carrboro.

“It’s us,” they responded in a moment of candor.

“Y’all need to slow down,” Gist replied.