A bond without a plan

When it comes to taking on the challenge of increasing the amount of affordable housing,Nancy Oates Orange County commissioners would do well to heed the wise counsel of Yogi Berra: “When you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

County commissioners proposed two bond referenda for the November election: $120 million to repair aging schools and $5 million for affordable housing. The school boards of Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have figured out already how to split up the money between them, should voters approve the bond, and they know exactly how they’ll spend it.

But commissioners have no plan for how to spend the affordable housing allocation.

This should come as no surprise to Chapel Hill voters. In 2014, Town Council agreed to set aside one cent of its property tax rate (which is about $1.68 per $100 of property valuation for most homeowners in town, not counting fees) to be used to increase the supply of affordable housing. That Penny for Housing program generates about $700,000 per year. But the town has no plan for how to spend it.

Not that the money sits unused. Last year, the town committed $200,000 to Self-Help Credit Union as an investment management fee for the $3 million UNC agreed to loan interest-free for 10 years to reclaim homes in Northside. The town gave the remaining $500,000 to DHIC to shore up its financials so it could attract grants more easily. DHIC plans to build nearly 149 affordable apartments on unused cemetery land the town donated.

I support both of those projects. I have full confidence they will benefit families and senior citizens living on limited incomes. That may very well have been the best use of taxpayers’ $700,000 investment. My quibble is that the town has never put forth a plan for affordable housing, and that lack of planning may be why we struggle to increase our supply of affordable units.

During my trip to Boulder, Colo., last month, organized by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, I visited a mixed-income community built on land purchased by the town. Through a public-private partnership and with the aid of several nonprofits, the Holiday neighborhood provides a sustainable mix of market-rate and affordable units. But it took planning by the town to make it happen.

It’s never too late to start planning. With thought and strategy and partnerships, $5 million could go a long way toward boosting our supply of housing for the modestly paid. But first we need a plan. Please urge Orange County commissioners to develop a plan for putting that bond money to its highest and best use.
— Nancy Oates

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4 Comments

  1. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  October 11, 2016

    Are you saying that neither the county or the town of Chapel Hill has a plan for affordable housing, even though both are collecting substantial funds for it?

  2. Plurimus

     /  October 12, 2016

    Not only that, both school systems have allowed their facilities to fall into disrepair.

    The county is floating a bond to “fix” schools, but the money is not going to be used by the school system to actually fix the buildings in question. Whats more, they have no plan to fix the budget so this does not happen again.

  3. Nancy

     /  October 16, 2016

    No plan that they’re sharing. Many of the partner agencies have lots of good ideas, but without the town and county committing to a plan, we can’t take on a substantial project. Town staff are hosting a work session at the library this coming Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 6:30 p.m. to talk about affordable housing. I’m hopeful we’ll hear something substantive.

  4. Got the OC PR piece “promoting” the bonds today and was surprised to see claim $5M housing bond would “create up to 1,000 affordable housing units throughout the county for rental and ownership.”

    I looked for justification of that number but didn’t find concrete calculations showing how $5,000 per unit would work over long term.

    Appreciate any pointers to those calculations.

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