Getting the call about an apartment at Greenfield Place on Legion Road, where his mother could be closer to her doctor, was a blessing, BJ Johnson said.
The 80-unit complex opened in January, with more than 70 people who did not get in on a waiting list. The Johnsons were on the list, too, until someone else dropped out. Greenfield is nice, affordable and convenient to his classes at N.C. Central University in Durham, Johnson said. They’ve gotten to know all of their neighbors.
“It’s like any other place. It’s what you make of it,” he said. “God blessed us with a good home, so we’re going to maintain it and keep up a good home.”
But Greenfield might not have happened without a town partnership with DHIC Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit housing provider.
$10 million on ballot
The town of Chapel Hill hopes to replicate the Greenfield model and try other creative solutions, such as tiny houses, by asking voters to approve a $10 million affordable housing bond on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Early voting runs began Wednesday and runs through Nov. 3. A Souls to the Polls rally and early voting march Sunday at Peace and Justice Plaza on East Franklin Street will focus on the housing bond.
The money could help build 400 new housing units and preserve 300 existing units over five years. The Town Council will accept proposals if the bond is approved and decide which ones to fund.
Paying off the bond could add another penny to the town’s tax rate of 52.80 cents per $100 in property value — another $40 a year for the owner of a home valued at $400,000. The town anticipates repaying the debt over 10 to 20 years.
The town allotted $6.2 million last year to affordable and public housing. Orange County also launched an affordable-housing drive, using a $5 million bond that voters approved in 2016.
Data shows even those efforts won’t help all those who need it.
A family of four earning 80 percent of the area median income — $64,500 a year — cannot afford 75 percent of the town’s available rental and for-sale housing, town staff says.
The median cost to buy a Chapel Hill home is $362,700, and rents are approaching $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Meanwhile, developable land is becoming scarcer and expensive, and the town’s ability to negotiate with developers for affordable apartments is primarily limited to incentives. State law prohibits rent control, although the town does require 15 percent of for-sale housing in new developments to be affordable.
That makes partnerships with other governments and nonprofit agencies critical, town officials say
The bond will help leverage those partnerships. Government grants and annual contributions to the town’s affordable housing programs are expected to cover another $5.8 million, with a priority on providing housing near transit routes and for lower-income households and vulnerable populations, including veterans, seniors and people with disabilities.
‘A little more affordable’
Greenfield meets many of those needs with the Greenfield Place apartments for families and individuals, and Greenfield Commons, a 69-unit apartment building under construction for adults age 55 and older.
The $12.8 million project was built on 8.5 acres of town land, which DHIC bought for $100. The town and county also contributed $300,000, with private-sector partners and N.C. Housing Finance Agency tax credits and loans providing most of the money.
The apartments are reserved for people earning less than 60 percent of the area median income, or $48,360 a year for a family of four. Apartments rent for $271 to $870 a month, depending on household income and the number of bedrooms.
Carey Clay, who lost his legs after being shot while attending N.C. Central University, uses a wheelchair to navigate his Greenfield apartment. It has wood floors, low cabinets and wide doors for easier access. He has consulted with the management on ways to improve the landscaping, sidewalks and parking lot, he said.
The East Chapel Hill High School graduate, now 33, runs his graphic design company from home. He’s glad to be in Chapel Hill, where resources are available and his daughter is nearby, he said.
“I like the fact that they’re opening more, bigger communities like this around here,” Clay said, “because it’s getting to the point where everybody needs something a little more affordable to stay within a community with good schools like this.”
Chapel Hill built 99 housing units, including Greenfield Place, and preserved 23 between July 2017 and June 2018. The bond is part of a multi-pronged approach for addressing the problem. The town dedicates a penny’s worth of taxes each year — over $688,000 — toward housing. It also created a $600,000 Opportunity Fund last year that could be used to support affordable housing projects.
The Northside Neighborhood Initiative also bought eight properties and sold eight properties to families last year. That partnership, which includes the Jackson Center, the Durham-based Self Help financial institution, UNC and housing providers, uses a $3 million loan from the university to buy and preserve affordable family housing in the historically African-American, working-class neighborhood near downtown.
To track the town’s progress, staff has developed an interactive database.
“We utilize that to create these reports on a quarterly and annual basis,” affordable housing manager Nate Broman-Fulks said. “But we also thought since we have all this data, and the community is very interested in it and wants to see what we’re doing, wouldn’t it be great if we could also create a tool where folks who come to our website could also see up-to-date information that day, and not only see the data, but be able to interact with it and delve into it more.”
Still many needs
Currently, one in five of the town’s 59,000-plus residents, including UNC students, live below the federal poverty line. Roughly 52 percent of renters and 22 percent of homeowners spend over 30 percent of their income — the amount recommended by financial experts — on housing-related costs.
The bond could help with a few new development projects, including a mixed-income community slated for 15 acres of town land at 2200 Homestead Road. Staff has said 150 housing units are possible, including apartments and tiny homes of up to 400 square feet.
The money also could fund solutions for residents threatened by mobile home park redevelopment.
The town has been working with those residents and the county, which created a rapid response team for housing emergencies. The town also has three potential housing sites for displaced mobile-home tenants: Jay Street in the Northside neighborhood, Dogwood Acres Drive near Southern Community Park, and Bennett Road, off Mt. Carmel Church Road.
Mayor Pam Hemminger said they’re working with developers to give families time to relocate.
“We’ve talked with the mobile-home-park owners,” she said. “We don’t feel like anything’s going to drop immediately. There’s going to be time to figure these things out as we move forward.”
March for housing
The Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition and Justice United will hold a Souls to the Polls rally and early voting march at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Peace and Justice Plaza, 179 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill.
The rally will emphasize the need for the affordable housing bond. Participants then will march two blocks to the Early Voting site at Chapel of the Cross on East Franklin Street.
Sign up for the march online or text the word “housing” to 919-328-3966.
Chapel Hill housing stats
▪ Median home value: $362,700
▪ Average rent: $949 for one bedroom, up 16 percent from 2009 to 2016
▪ Area median income: $73,300 a year for a family of four
▪ Cost burdened: 52 percent of Chapel Hill renters and 22 percent of homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing-related costs; that includes over 75 percent of extremely low-income families
▪ Affordable housing: 5,464 affordable units, including 62 percent rentals, 20 percent resident owned, and 18 percent subsidized by the town. Town subsidies support 364 homes, 336 public housing apartments and 368 rentals
▪ New housing: Chapel Hill and its partners built 99 units and preserved 23 existing units from July 2017 to June 2018; the town’s goal was to build 80 units and preserve 55 units
▪ Budget: Chapel Hill spent $6.2 million in taxpayer money on its housing department and programs in fiscal year 2017-18
▪ Public housing: The town has 13 public housing communities; 43 percent of new residents are experiencing homelessness
Source: Town of Chapel Hill