The federal government estimates a single person has to earn more than $14 an hour, working 40 hours a week, to afford a one-bedroom apartment this year in Orange County.
A family would need at least one person earning almost $17 an hour – or two people earning roughly $9 an hour each – to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair market rents. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
The hurdles that lower-income families face nationwide to get affordably priced rental and for-sale housing are big and growing.
Orange County’s housing stock has been stressed further by the sale and renovation of older apartment complexes in recent years, resulting in higher rents, and by the loss of landlords who accept federal housing vouchers.
Affordable housing is defined as rent or mortgage and utilities payments costing no more than 30 percent of a household’s annual income. More than 28 percent of renters and 7 percent of homeowners in Orange County pay 50 percent or more of their annual income for housing.
“You want an affordable housing stock that cuts across all of the careers and fields that this community needs to be a vibrant community, whether that be a teacher or construction worker or somebody that works in retail,” said Audrey Spencer-Horsley, the county’s director of Housing, Human Rights and Community Development.
“Right now, that’s few and far between in this county,” she said.
The work won’t be finished anytime soon, she said, but the county, Chapel Hill and Carrboro are already setting aside money, including $1 million in the county’s future construction budget. About 80 percent of the county money could pay for rental projects, officials said.
It would be the first phase of a long-term plan that could be boosted next year, if voters agree, with $5 million in county bond money.
Affordable rentals typically target residents earning 50 percent or less of HUD’s area median income for a community. That is now $23,600 a year for a single person in Orange County, or $33,700 a year for a family of four.
Affordable for-sale housing addresses those earning up to 80 percent of AMI, or $37,750 a year for a single person ($53,900 for a family of four).
The county and all three towns have been assessing local needs and the available affordable housing, in part because HUD requires that information from communities seeking federal HOME Program and Community Development Block Grant funding.
Orange County is the lead agency for the local consortium in seeking federal HOME Program funds. The consortium secured $311,832 this year, an 11 percent drop from last year’s $351,540, and 57 percent less than in 2010-11, when local governments got $733,311.
Chapel Hill also receives federal Community Development Block Grant housing funds, averaging $406,000 in the last four years. The town’s federal CDBG funds also have been cut – by more than 39 percent in the last decade.
All four governments must approve a five-yearconsolidated housing plan for HUD. The commissioners could receive an annual update to the plan Dec. 15. Two other reports expected early next year will address local barriers to equal housing and credit, and how local money could be used to boost federal and grant funding.
“When we finish that,” Spencer-Horsley said, “we will have a good framework for some basic information about what our housing stock looks like, who’s in need, and where there’s some opportunities for affordable housing.”
They are weighing several options, including apartments, banking land for future building projects, and creating mobile home parks or tiny homes, which many communities are looking at as a low-cost, high-density option.
A typical tiny home is 75 to 200 square feet of kitchen, bath and living space built on a trailer. That makes them recreational vehicles under county rules and limits where they can be parked. Changes in zoning and density rules could make it possible to build more than one tiny home on a lot and build them in more locations, county planner Craig Benedict said.
Local zoning rules also limit where mobile homes and parks are built; many existing mobile home parks predate and are exempt from current rules.
A county survey found 4,256 mobile homes, roughly half in 100 mobile home parks, and many near major roads, transit and towns.
It also found 836 vacant mobile home spaces, possibly because of well and septic issues, Benedict said. Roughly 82 percent of the mobile home parks have on-site septic systems, staff reported, and 49 percent get their water from a community well.
The number of mobile homes has fallen since 2000, when staff reported 5,114 homes. Local officials fear the number could keep falling, particularly in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, where mobile home parks are surrounded by new and planned development.
That’s a big part of why the commissioners set aside the $1 million, Spencer-Horsley said.
“I think they’re looking at where development is taking place and (how), as land in our community gets scarcer and more in demand, that’s going to put more pressure on certain parks,” she said.
County and town officials also are identifying land available for future mobile home parks and housing projects, including 18 acres south of Eubanks Road. The governments jointly own the land, part of the 104-acre Greene tract.
Commissioner Barry Jacobs also suggested looking at county park lands and more than 100 acres on Mincey Road, north of Hillsborough.
It’s an exciting idea, Commissioner Mark Dorosin said, especially if the land is leveraged to get more from housing partners. An example is Chapel Hill’s partnership with nonprofit housing provider DHIC Inc. to build senior and family apartments on Legion Road, he said.
“One of the things I think that’s critical in our broader housing strategy is being able to find other ways to subsidize, particularly if we want affordable rental housing,” Dorosin said. “One of the ways to do that is with land, instead of just a cash contribution.”
▪ Tiny home: 75 to 200 square feet, including living, kitchen and bath spaces. State considers them recreational vehicles only allowed in RV parks
▪ Cottage home: 300 to 800 square feet on a permanent foundation; can be on single-family home lots
▪ Manufactured housing: Also called mobile homes. Those built after 1976 are Class A, which has an improved appearance, including siding and foundations, and Class B, which may only meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards
Each government has its own mobile home rules:
▪ Orange County: Mobile homes allowed on any single-family lot.
▪ Chapel Hill: Parks are possible, with council approval, in three zoning districts: planned development housing or mixed use, plus a new development agreement district. Class A homes are allowed in most zoning districts, while Class B is mostly limited to larger parcels
▪ Carrboro: Class A mobile homes allowed in most residential zones; Class B rules are more restrictive
▪ Hillsborough: Special overlay district allows mobile homes in residential areas surrounding the town, if more than half of the new district’s homes are mobile homes. The town also has a high-intensity mobile home park district, which requires certain amenities, such as public water and sewer.
Banking for future
The county is not alone in saving money for affordable housing. Other plans:
▪ Chapel Hill: Affordable housing fund established in 2002, funded with local money, grants and developer payments. The Town Council started setting aside a penny on the town’s annual tax rate, or roughly $755,000, last year for affordable housing.
▪ Carrboro: Affordable housing fund established in 2007, and the Board of Aldermen added an affordable housing plan last year. The aldermen also set aside a penny this year on the current tax rate, or about $200,000, for housing.
▪ Hillsborough: The Town Board is drafting its affordable housing policy.