Who belongs?

Yet another Town Council meeting ended after midnight last night. That’s late for the members of the deliberative body making decisions about what’s best for our town. I believe all nine council members hold some type of job other than to represent us. I doubt they serve on council solely to support themselves. When you amortize their pay for council across the time it takes to review sometimes more than 100 pages of documents before each meeting, not to mention meetings that run long enough to qualify for a second shift, they’d be better off, from an earnings standpoint, delivering pizzas.

By the time council took up the question of whether Chapel Hill taxpayers should subsidize housing for people who don’t currently live or work in Orange County – 16 minutes before midnight – most council members had already put in the equivalent of two days’ work since they got up that morning. The issue had been slid in among the consent agenda items, but given that it was a policy-making decision, Matt Czajkowski asked that it be pulled for discussion.

Robert Dowling, executive director for the Community Home Trust, was pretty much the only person left in council chambers not sitting on the dais once the debate began. Contrast that with the start of the council meeting, when groups made their pleas for a dwindling supply of Community Development Block Grant and HOME Program funds. (CDBG money is down 22 percent and HOME funds have shrunk by 48 percent this year.)

Community Home Trust is having trouble selling some of its affordable units and wanted permission to sell to qualified buyers who did not (yet) work in Chapel Hill and who lived outside of Orange County. Czajkowski pointed out that the purpose of the taxpayer subsidies was to enable people who work in Chapel Hill to live here. He wondered whether affordable units lingering on the market meant the affordable housing market had been saturated.

Dowling explained that while some units were not selling, others had a waiting list. The market slowdown was a consequence of tighter lending standards shrinking the pool of qualified buyers and people’s reluctance to purchase homes that could conceivably go down in value. Owning a home has long been part of the path to build wealth, but that only works if real estate values continue to rise. When resale prices fall, as they have precipitously in recent years, people of limited means are particularly reluctant to take on so much debt for an investment in which they might lose money.

Council voted to allow Community Home Trust to sell to buyers who work outside of Orange County, as long as the organization had actively marketed the property to Chapel Hill employees for 120 days first.

Other towns nearby have affordable housing options. Homebuyers who choose to live in Chapel Hill most likely will contribute to the community, even if they don’t work here. We run into a catch-22 when we limit commercial opportunities, then prevent people from living here if they don’t already work here. A more effective restriction might be to require buyers to shop in Orange County stores whenever possible. Patronize the Hillsborough Walmart, not the one in New Hope Commons. Buy groceries at University Mall Harris Teeter, not Costco in Durham. In fact, that’s a commitment all of us could make.
– Nancy Oates

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7 Comments

  1. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 14, 2012

    I do shop in Chapel Hill; Costco takes 35 minutes and a gallon of gas to get to, and another gallon-and-35 to get back. The day’s too short for that. Now, if Costco came here…

  2. WJW

     /  February 15, 2012

    “A more effective restriction might be to require buyers to shop in Orange County stores whenever possible. Patronize the Hillsborough Walmart, not the one in New Hope Commons. Buy groceries at University Mall Harris Teeter, not Costco in Durham. In fact, that’s a commitment all of us could make.”

    What a great idea!! We could hire govt inspectors (more jobs) to go to these people’s houses and force them to produce receipts from Costco and Harris Teeter (I’m guessing the Food Lion in Rams Head Plaza would be acceptable as well?)

    In fact, if you have kids in Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools, then these inspectors should come to your house as well. Hey, if you use the parks, ride the bus, etc, then proof of committment to Chapelboro should be required by law or face fines.

  3. Anita Badrock

     /  February 15, 2012

    Nancy thank you for this post and for the CHTC’s realization that this policy change will benefit its affordable housing program and the town.

    here’s one example–we receive operating funds from the town. Local businesses provide tax revenue that is used to support us. Yet someone who is hired by a local business to come to work there, but hasn’t yet started, and doesn’t currently live in Orange County cannot buy an affordable home through the Home Trust. Access to our program might help some businesses recruit good employees.

    Teachers or recruited town employees moving here with employment contracts in hand currently cannot purchase one of our homes, though they otherwise qualify.

    We have current residents who would like for their aging parents to relocate here. Their parents cannot purchase one of our homes even if they otherwise qualify.

    One might argue that these people can buy a home once they live in OC for a year. Yes, that’s true, but here are some reasons why that doesn’t work too well:

    1. a current homeowner with a home to sell needs to sell it NOW, not a year from now. That out of area buyer may keep a current homeowner out of foreclosure or allow him to relocate for a job without the stress of maintaining two households.
    2. in many cases the mortgage on one of our homes is less than renting in the area. For a person of modest means, buying one of our homes provides them with more financial stability than renting.
    3. Moving twice in one year is hard on anyone, and there is no guarantee for a buyer that a suitable home will be available to purchase a year from now. The home they want, and can afford, in this communtiy is available NOW.
    4. once they are settled in this community, they contribute to the community.
    5. And, unlike you or me, our homeowners don’t have the option of renting their homes if they cannot sell them. Homes must be owner occupied–that’s another policy of this organization and its funders. that’s another reason why allowing us some flexibility to expand the potential buyer pool is so important. We cannot waive the income requirements, we can’t make the bank loan to people they don’t want to loan to. We can do everything we can to market to local people, but we can’t make people buy if they don’t want to buy or are unable to buy.

    Sometimes it’s just about timing. But timing is everything when you need to sell your home.

    This policy change is simply another tool that helps us sell homes for people in a very challenging market. We will continue, as we do always, to focus our marketing efforts on current live/work members of the community. We won’t be placing ads in the NY Times!

  4. John Kramer

     /  February 15, 2012

    This is just more proof that you cannot improve on the free market. What an incredible waste of time and effort the whole affordable housing thing has been. It is another failed attempt at social engineering.

  5. Young Townie

     /  February 18, 2012

    Hey Nancy after the election in 2009 and the appointment process, Donna Bell was selected, in part, because we as a town wanted to continue an African American legacy on Town Council. I also think it’s important to have female representation on council, especially with some of the ridiculous behavior we’ve seen on the national level lately. If Penny Rich is successful in her bid for BOCC (which I suspect she will be) we’ll have another appointment. Councilwoman Oates?

  6. Road Warrior

     /  February 19, 2012

    I am going to take issue with John Kramer on this one. Free Market Religion is still a religion.

    The reason you cannot find people already working in Chapel Hill for affordable units is not that the market is saturated. It is that there are not enough jobs in Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill’s UNC Disney policies are choking the Free Market, but not in housing, but in jobs.

    If you do not work for the University or at home or in a business with less than 50 employees, you probably do not work in Chapel Hill. To say this is a Free Market thing is about as silly as saying that we want the working poor and lower middle class in Chapel Hill or have anything for them to do.

  7. John Kramer

     /  February 20, 2012

    Wow, Roadie, you lost me on that one. How exactly is the government controlling housing choices in Chapel Hill???? Other than their failed attempt at subsidized housing of course. The McMansions did not come from a Town Council decree did they???

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