Orange County

Chapel Hill Town Council pushes for more affordable housing spending in budget

George Cianciolo
George Cianciolo Contributed

Town Council members made it clear Monday that they want to put a significant amount of money into affordable housing.

“Very frankly, if there isn’t more for affordable housing, I can’t support this budget and I won’t vote for this budget,” Council member George Cianciolo said in response to Town Manager Roger Stancil’s $106.8 million budget proposal for next year.

The draft budget allots $5.2 million for affordable housing, including a penny on the tax rate — roughly $688,000 — and $2.3 million to fund 336 town-owned public housing apartments.

Cianciolo noted the town’s development push is bringing growth and potentially more commercial tax revenues. A recent revaluation, which accounted for eight years of growth, showed that commercial property now pays 20 percent of the county’s tax revenues — up from 16 percent — and residential pays 80 percent.

Chapel Hill’s commercial tax base has grown by 41 percent since 2009, tax officials said.

Cianciolo noted the recent sale of the Alexan apartment building on South Elliott Road for $73 million challenges the often-cited notion that it would take two University Place-sized developments to shift the tax burden by 1 percent.

The revaluation set the Alexan’s property value at $61.6 million during construction, making another increase possible. University Place, on the other hand, is valued at $38.6 million.

“If we as a community really want the teachers, the town staff, the public safety officers, the nurses and even the young doctors to be able to live here, we need to do more to do it,” Cianciolo said.

Council member Sally Greene agreed, saying the budget priorities are not quite right when it comes to housing. Uncertainties at the state and federal level mean it’s a good time now for the town to invest more money, she said, noting the Housing Advisory Board has been judicious in how it uses existing funds.

“They have not been able to hold onto to what they thought they could set aside in savings, because they needed it for immediate needs,” she said. “I think they’ve made a really compelling case that they need more money. I think the community has expressed that we have a deep interest in investing in affordable housing.”

Council member Ed Harrison and Mayor Pam Hemminger also supported establishing a cushion against federal housing program cuts, while Council member Michael Parker pressed for the town to work with its partners, including Carrboro and Orange County, to make the most of available resources.

The immediate need, Parker said, could be met by providing lower-income residents with subsidies to help them live in existing but more expensive housing.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb