2016 County Bond Should Include Affordable Housing

Local governments across the state and country are struggling to meet basic needs in this era of tax breaks for the wealthy and austerity for the rest of us.

Here in Orange County, we have a variety of pressing needs from overdue school maintenance to the burgeoning senior population to general poverty and housing affordability. In response, the County Commissioners decided to put a bond referendum on the ballot in 2016.

In the discussions leading up to that decision, the needs of the school systems were justifiably a consensus priority since it would be foolish to forego needed maintenance on the school systems’ infrastructure. Yet, while most of the commissioners had also expressed support for other issues - most prominently affordable housing – they surprisingly voted with little public input to dedicate the bond solely to schools.

The issue of affordable housing is receiving more attention than at any time in recent history. We have a huge identified need. We have affordable housing providers who have a proven track record of delivering successful projects. The major missing ingredient is funds.

We won’t see another bond issue for many years. Now is the time to dedicate a significant portion of the bond for affordable housing. The Commissioners can reconsider the make-up of the bond and provide the leadership we need to deliver a solid investment in affordable housing that will strengthen our communities for years to come.

Please contact the Commissioners and urge them to include affordable housing in the 2016 bond.

 

Issues: 

Total votes: 252

Comments

In the May 24, 2015 edition of the Chapel Hill News the following column authored by Travis Crayton and myself ran:

On April 21, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with plans for a 2016 bond referendum. Rather than a multi-issue bond, for which some commissioners had previously expressed support, and which had been discussed with the elected officials of Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough at the November 19 Assembly of Governments, a slim majority of commissioners voted to restrict the referendum to school-related funding.

Supporting and improving our county’s schools is a commitment our community has made. We have demonstrated that commitment time and time again through previous referendums and the nearly 50% of the county budget that goes to the schools every year.

What about the other values our community holds? What about our efforts to improve housing affordability, access to transit, parks and recreational facilities, and our community’s walkability and sustainability?

In the previous 20 years, there have been two county bond referendums. Both have included funding for multiple issues. The 2001 bond referendum alone included funding for schools, parks and recreation, and senior center projects. The 2001 bond referendum also included $750,000 for affordable housing. The Phoenix Place Habitat for Humanity development in the Rogers Road neighborhood would not have happened without that funding.

Bond referendums empower citizens to decide the priorities our government should focus on and allow citizens to commit themselves to these priorities through a dedicated funding stream. By voting to restrict the 2016 bond to school-related funding, the county commissioners have denied Orange County citizens their first chance to set these priorities since the last bond referendum in 2001—and therefore address some of the major challenges that have emerged in our community over the past 14 years.

All Orange County residents have steadfastly supported our schools, as we should, even though many of us do not have—and likely will never have—children in either school system. These residents include our large population of university students and our seniors, who are the largest growing population in our county. The needs and priorities of these groups should also be honored through improved transit, expanded recreational options, and investment in affordable housing.

If the commissioners stick with their decision to go forward with a schools-only bond, they need to place these other commitments in the county budget for the coming fiscal year instead, especially if they want and expect the support of the many residents and advocates who were hoping for a multi-issue bond.

Orange County’s public schools are the best in North Carolina. Yet, Orange County has the highest income inequality of any North Carolina county and the most unaffordable housing market in the state. For us to be a truly progressive community, we have to make real progress to improve on metrics other than school quality. But without government funding dedicated to tackling these issues, we never will. To be the inclusive, welcoming, and diverse community we see ourselves as, our budget priorities have to align with the values we hold.

The county commissioners should find funding for all of our community’s priorities. If that will not be through a 2016 bond referendum, then it needs to be in the 2016 budget.

Making tough financial choices is not easy. It requires real leadership to balance competing interests and goals in a way that aligns our values with our budget priorities and creates meaningful, positive change for everyone who calls Orange County home.

We hope the county commissioners will provide that leadership now so that our community can live up to the image we project and so that we can truly live our values.

Further,  the Orange County Housing Authority submitted a memo to the Orange County Board of Commissioners on May 28, 2015 calling for a reconsideration of the restriction on the uses of the bond, enabling affordable housing to be included in this bond, and asking for extensive public input.

There has been some discussion about including more funding for affordable housing in the upcoming budget (the county already gives about $800,000 per year for affordable housing). The BOCC will be discussing the budget at their meeting this Thursday at Southern Human Services.

 

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