Unintended consequences

We’ll give Jim Ward the benefit of the doubt that his heart was in the right place when he directed Loryn Clark to focus affordable housing funds on the people who make 30 percent of the Area Median Income.

At the March 18 Town Council meeting, Clark, the Planning Department’s neighborhood and community services manager, made a pitch for how Community Development Block Grant and HOME funds should be spent on affordable housing. CDBG funds and HOME funding come from the federal government, and Clark expects that they will be cut by at least 5 percent. That, combined with difficulties modest-income people have in getting mortgages under the tighter criteria imposed after the economic meltdown in 2008, make affordable rentals all the more important.

Cutoff points for receiving financial assistance frequently are tied to the Area Median Income (a number set by U.S. Housing and Urban Development) and the number of people in the household. The Metropolitan Statistical Area that Chapel Hill falls into has an AMI of $67,700. To be eligible to purchase a home from Community Home Trust, for instance, buyers for the most part can have an annual household income of no more than 80 percent of the AMI, which, for a two-person household is $43,350.

Donna Bell pointed out that the combined income for a couple who both work at modest-income jobs could easily exceed that limit, and it didn’t seem fair to shut them out of decent housing. Exactly. That’s what people have been trooping up to the Town Council podium to plea for week after week: the preservation of modest-income housing.

Of course, people who make 30 percent of the AMI need taxpayer support. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of the people who work to keep our town running – those who serve us the multiple lattes we order every week, who keep the buildings and grounds of UNC and the hospitals in ship-shape, who clean us up in the hospital when we’re incapacitated by illness, who whisk away our garbage and sort our recycling, and many, many more folks who perform similar low-profile services in return for modest paychecks. Those folks should not have to commute in from miles away. They are a part of our community, and they deserve to live in decent housing in town.

Shunting more aid to the destitute consequently punishes those working hard to become upwardly mobile. Ward means well, but he needs to step back and let Loryn Clark do her job.
– Nancy Oates

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