Plans vs. promises

At its March 10 meeting, Town Council passed an Affordable Rental Housing Nancy OatesStrategy that was such a foregone conclusion it should have been on the Consent Agenda. But without the fanfare of a staff-narrated PowerPoint and a time for public comment, council members and town staff would have been deprived of a feel-good moment. And while the document puts the spotlight on an area of need that has long been ignored, and the strategy does include some good ideas, that feel-good moment is going to have to last a long time before we see any tangible results.

Some proposed tactics are simple and can be implemented at little cost: Designate a town staff member as the point-person for affordable rentals. That way, developers interested in providing affordable rentals would know who to contact to learn the process, perks and pitfalls of doing so.

Another: Implement expedited reviews for subsidized affordable housing developments. To do this, staff must work with the town attorney on what is legally enforceable. We like to think that Chapel Hill can do what it wants within the confines of its own liberal-minded bubble, but we are smack in the middle of North Carolina and subject to all the draconian laws passed by the state General Assembly and the governor. To structure a deal that will guarantee affordable units requires a keen legal mind, which we have in Ralph Karpinos. Town staff just have to ask him.

Other suggestions in the strategy are more pie-in-the-sky: Encourage the production of affordable rentals through incentives. Good luck with that one. In order to get DHIC, a developer with a track record of building affordable rentals in Raleigh, to commit to building affordable units in Chapel Hill, the town had to give DHIC $2 million worth of town-owned land, and then agree that the units would be affordable only for 30 years. After that, DHIC can convert the units to market rate or above, as is happening to the Colony Apartments in Ephesus-Fordham and to other 30-year-old apartment complexes in town that comprise organically affordable housing but have been resold to private equity investors who exploit the potential for maximum profit.

The plan includes a tax hike of 1 cent per $100 of property valuation, or $40 a year for the average $400,000 house in Chapel Hill.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Eubanks Road Convenience Center will get water and sewer before the Rogers Road neighborhood. Until we make good on our 40-year-old promise to provide water and sewer to an affordable neighborhood that has taken one for the team for two generations, all our lofty strategizing is only so much hot air.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Mark Marcoplos

     /  March 24, 2014

    I visited the Sampson County landfill, where CH, Carrboro, & UNC trash goes, and there is a low-income African-American neighborhood much closer to that landfill than the Rogers Rd. community. In fact it is adjacent. The road ditches approaching the landfill gate are heavily littered.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  March 24, 2014

    “Meanwhile, it looks like the Eubanks Road Convenience Center will get water and sewer before the Rogers Road neighborhood.” This is a campaign gotcha Bonnie Hauser perpetrated at last week’s forum. Sad to see it repeated here. The statement implies that these are equivalent projects, but they aren’t, and I’m betting those making the claim have no idea what it means either technically or financially. Running sewer service to the convenience center can be done for minimal cost since the Animal Shelter is so close to the convenience center. Technically, it means running a lateral off the existing sewer main. Financially, it’s estimated at around $200,000.

    Socially, I sincerely hope that no one believes the solid waste staff don’t deserve something better than a port-a-potty if it can be achieved without great expense. This has nothing to do with Rogers Road project where there has to be one or more sewer mains run to provide the service. Installing new sewer mains mean tearing up roads, acquiring easement access, etc., none of which can be achieved without great expense.

  3. Nancy

     /  March 24, 2014

    Mark — I believe UNC law school’s Center for Civil Rights is looking into the phenomena of landfills being cited adjacent to low-income black neighborhoods.

    Terri — Of course it would be much more expensive to run water and sewer to Rogers Road than Eubanks Road, and that is an oft-cited reason the town has not fulfilled its promise to Rogers Road. But it’s time now. Once again, all sorts of projects the town wants to spend money on are elbowing out Rogers Road. Port-a-potties aren’t pleasant, but neither is funky well water. We can’t keep coming up with excuses for not being true to our word.

  4. Mark Marcoplos

     /  March 24, 2014

    Elected officials should take the time to visit locales that their policies are affecting.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  March 24, 2014

    It isn’t an either or proposition Nancy and shame on you and Bonnie for framing it that way.

  6. many

     /  March 24, 2014

    Terri (please note the “i”).

    I think it is a question of perspective. From your perspective it seems to be a trivial change.

    From the perspective of living on Rogers Road and the history of all of the un-kept promises, I imagine it is yet another insult and reason to be suspicious despite all of the claims to the contrary.

  7. Bruce Springsteen

     /  March 26, 2014

    If elected politicians should visit the locales that their policies are affecting then it should like the problem of making a dichotomy our of a continuum. What effect is enough of an effect that local politicians should visit the locales?

    I don’t know anything about Sampson County or that landfill but the policies of politicians in Chapel Hill and Carrboro sure as heck affects surrounding areas already.

  8. many

     /  March 26, 2014


    I do not see any solution to landfill policies suggested either.

    The notion that citizens should take responsibility for their own garbage is a just idea, but when the implementation is examined it ends up being the same injustice from the same sources, just more localized.