Local governments tackle affordable housing

During last week's Sierra Club forum in Carrboro, candidates were asked what they felt needed to be done to increase the stock of affordable housing in town. Each of the 4 candidates who addressed this question agreed that it is the most complex problem before the BOA.

Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill work from a version of inclusionary zoning that requires new developers to include affordable units along with their market priced units. In Carrboro developers who comply with the "small house ordinance" are given a density bonus to help them recover some of their lost opportunity. In Chapel Hill, developers can provide payment in lieu of compliance. New units developed through the Carrboro plan are deeded over to the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust as a means of ensuring they stay affordable. Buyers own the dwelling but not the land upon which the dwelling sits. Chapel Hill is currently clarifying the legal the language around their affordable housing options.

But what about existing housing stock? I've heard that houses along Rogers Road, a historically black community, are selling for $200,000. That's great for the sellers, but in addition to removing stock from the affordable category, it also increases the tax valuations for existing owners, making their homes less affordable. Tax valuations are made against comparbly sized/located properties sold within the past calendar year. For example, homes in Northside were valued against the condos from Rosemary Village during last years reassessment. Seems like a vicious cycle, doesn't it? That's why this issue is so complex.

Some facts from the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust:

  • According to the Triangle Multiple Listing Service, in early 2005 the average sale price of a home in Chapel Hill was $365,318. This included single-family homes, townhomes, and condos, new construction, and resale and is a 9 percent increase over the average price in 2004.
  • To purchase a new medium-priced single-family home in Chapel Hill-Carrboro with a 20% downpayment and a conventional mortgage in today's market, a homebuyer would need an annual salary of $155,000.
  • Between January 2001 and January 2005, the assessed valuation of all homes in Orange County increased, on average, 20 percent, according to the county assessor's office.
  • In Hillsborough and Carrboro, the assessed valuation jumped 25 percent for the same period.
  • In Chapel Hill, the four-year increase in assessed valuation on all homes was 27 percent.

And let's not forget homelessness. Homelessness is too often viewed as a problem for those currently designated as 'chronically homeless.' But in this community, we have way too many living doubled up or on the edge of homelessness solely due to the expense of living here. (There is a committee trying to determine the extent of this problem--we do not have numbers.)

Tonight the Assembly of Governments will meet at Carrboro Town Hall to discuss the complexities of affordable housing. The Assembly of Governments are elected officials from Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Orange County. They meet a couple of times each year to discuss items of mutual interest. While the agenda for Thursday's meeting is dedicated to affordable housing, don't be surprised if a few other related topics (Rogers Road?) are discussed as well. The session will be broadcast on the local public access channel (channel 18 in Carrboro).



I hope people go to this meeting so our elected officials will know the community is watching them and looking for some real leadership and action on affordable housing. I won't be able to attend because of a prior obligation.

I want to clarify the Chapel Hill affordability provisions. The way it is described in Terri's post above could be confusing. The only thing the Council is changing right now is the language, not any of the provisions.

For all developments over a certain size, Chapel Hill requires the developer to:

1. Make 25% of the units as "small houses" (under 1,350 square feet);
2. Make 15% of the units affordable;
3. Make a payment-in-lieu or Orange Community Housing and Land Trust; or
4. Propose some other alternative to make an equivalent of 15% of the units affordable.

See this memo for more details. Here is the actual proposed language:

“As a general policy, the Town should encourage developers of residential development of five or more units to 1) provide at least 15 percent of their units at prices affordable to low and moderate income households; or 2) contribute in-lieu fees where the amount of the payment shall be calculated by multiplying the number of affordable housing units to be provided as calculated in option 1 (without dropping fractions) by an estimate of funding that would be needed to make a homeownership opportunity in the proposed development available to individuals and families with annual income at or below 80% of the area median income; or 3) propose alternative methods so that the equivalent of 15 percent of the units will be available and affordable to low and moderate income households. At the same time the Town should continue to seek state enabling legislation for inclusionary zoning (see Strategy 7A-3).”

Thanks for the clarification Ruby. Unfortunately, I have a conflict tonight also, but will be taping it (will broadcast on the Government Access Channel).

I hope this meeting gets good press coverage.
Smart affordable housing policy is one of the best ways we can prevent sprawl, and it is, in my opinion, the most important thing we can do to eliminate the educational achievement gap. I couldn't open the agenda, but I hope the relationship between affordable housing and the educational achievement gap gets addressed.

Mary--here's the agenda page, it has links to supporting documents.


Can you explain what you see as the relationship between affordable housing and the achievement gap?

The relationship between affordable housing and the education achievement gap is that until we have a fair economic system that pays people decently so they can afford a home and have time to spend with their families, we will be chasing our tails on these issues. The subsidies and the creative developer deals are all worthy short-term strategies, but in the end housing is not intrinsically any more expensive than other things. We just don't pay people enough to be able to afford housing. And all the money donated to Habitat by corporations that keep their wages down for the lower end workers is just a diversion from the real solution.

That'll teach you to ask her a question, Chris... ;-}

I've got to make dinner, so here's my simplistic answer for everyone to poke holes in:
Children who live in poor urban neighborhoods are at greater risk for school failure. If we concentrate 'affordable' housing in poor urban neighborhoods we exacerbate the conditions that lead to low achievement. If we get low income families out of these neighborhoods and into ‘better' neighborhoods then educational achievement goes up. Don't ask me to quote the studies, but I know that there are good sociological studies out there that show that housing mobility works in reducing the achievement gap.
The problem, of course, is that once low income neighbors move into ‘better' urban neighborhoods, people get frightened about the quality of their schools and bolt. That's the appeal of the suburbs--- but suburbs and sprawl are ruining the environment. At some point, we have to deal with this fearful vicious cycle.

PS I think Mark is right--- I'll have to contemplate.

In this community, 'affordable housing' goes for $100-120,000. A family of 4 with an income of $56,000 just doesn't seem like 'urban poor' to me. The urban poor, those who do not earn a living wage, cannot afford affordable housing. We need to add more nuance into this discussion. What's the difference between affordable housing for low-income wage earners and affordable housing for those who make 80% of the mean? Then there is stock for moderate income earners--stock priced at $150,000-220,000.

So while I agree with your sentiments that we need to de-concentrate low-income wage earners in order to improve educational achievement, I'm not convinced that the current 'affordable housing' ordinances are really intended to reach that population. I hope with all my heart we can start talking about mixed-income housing instead of just affordable.

The room is packed and there's no seats left. I suggest you watch on cable or stream Internet (whoops, we don't have that yet!).

A couple of things.

1) There was a front page article in last Sunday's NY Times about Wake County's successful efforts to bridge the achievement gap by including children of all income levels in classrooms.

I'll try and dig up a link.

2) I agree with Terri's point above. It seems to me the best thing for families that are earning at the 80% level would be for more housing to be built in Chapel Hill and Carrboro...i.e. a relaxtion on development....for the urban poor it's a whole different set of issues

So how did it go? I forgot to set my VCR!

Was urban the wrong word to use for our poor?
Whether one considers our area urban or not, poor people do live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we do have poor neighborhoods.
And lets be clear that as our population grows, already some real estate agents are advising new homeowners to choose homes serviced by McDougle versus FPG or ECHHS versus CHHS.
I can imagine a future in which the cry for 'neighborhood schools' becomes louder and louder. If we are not vigilant about getting mixed housing (different from affordable housing?) evenly dispersed throughout our towns some schools will suffer and the achievement gap will worsen.
Again, I believe that it is foolish to believe that our public schools alone can close the achievement gap. The achievement gap starts at home in stressed, low income families living in poor neighborhoods. It's a community problem.

Chris Chapman has asked,

"How is attracting more commercial development going to lower housing prices?

I could see more commercial development allowing one to lower the property tax rate on residential property, but it's unclear to me how it would lower the actual prices of residential property.

It seems to me that the only things that are going to lower housing prices in Chapel Hill/Carrboro are

a) decline in the job base, i.e. UNC shrinks, which seems unlikely given the way the Medical Center is growing, much less Carolina North.

b) significant spike in mortgage interest rates.

c) the Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools decline significantly in quality or reputation for quality.

My guess it that more commercial development is only going to make housing more expensive.

MY RESPONSE (which BTW is posted on my website):

Chris, these are ALL GOOD OBSERVATIONS AND QUESTIONS (and you are the only one who has identified the unprecedented run of low interests rates as a factor).
And, yes, this is a long post because I really do care about this issue and have taken a lot of time researching and analyzing it. I assume anyone who DOES CARE could take the time to read it.

There are many different factors that cause escalating housing prices and it should also be remembered that affordable housing doesn't just encompass building new reasonably priced housing but also making sure current existing modest housing does not become unaffordable for those with moderate or fixed incomes.

Some of the Factors:
•Artificially inflated home prices: The Housing Bubble. Housing prices have surged in many areas across the county. Money Magazine reported there was a 36% increase in housing prices just over the past four years. Most financial experts agree homes valuations are artificially inflated just as in the past tech stocks were artificially inflated. They attribute this to low interest rates and the fact investors burned by the tech stock crash switched to investing in real estate. Financial experts, now even including Alan Greenspan, are predicting a home price drop just as tech stocks dropped.

• Gentrification. Chapel Hill is almost built out and as land becomes scarce, it becomes more expensive which means builders charge more for new housing. But another important factor is that, with low interest rates, homeowners formerly in modest homes are looking to move up to luxury homes.
Builders know this and are catering to this more lucrative market and, due to low interest rates, builders are less worried about turning sales as quickly. Reasonably priced homes have always sold quickly in almost any market and, prior to the low drop in interests rates, builders built more reasonably prices housing because they did sell quickly.
As a result of the low interest rates. we are seeing an escalation of upscale, expensive townhomes, condos and McMansions (called gentrification) which also is driving up housing valuations and thus taxes and making housing prices even more unaffordable.

Once the interest rates rise, builders would be forced to return to building more reasonably priced housing because people would be more hesitant to move up to more expensive houdsing and builders wouldn't want the costs and risks of trying to move the more upscale housing.

BUT builders know the bubble will burst soon and they are already trying to position so they can still build that upscale housing without the costs and risks of paying the taxes on it while trying to sell it. Home builders in N.C. are asking the General Assembly to pass legislation that would create a special class of property for anyone who develops and sells real estate. It would allow builders to increase the value of their property by creating lots, paving roads and building houses without paying any property taxes on the improvements. New homes would not be taxed at their full value until they were sold. Builders would likely save hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars in property taxes per house, depending on land values, local tax rates, a home's value and how long it takes to sell, said Paul Wilms, director of government affairs for the N.C. Home Builders Association ( see the N & O Jul 24, 2005).
If this legislation ever did pass then market correction would not help--but so far (I believe) support has not been widespread in the General Assembly (I do need to check updates on this).

The 15% Inclusionary Zoning Affordable Housing Program Increases Gentrification Driving Up Housing Costs.

The 15% inclusionary zoning policy is really just a new twist of the same old game of politicians catering to developers and pushing for gentrification---and it increases property valuation making housing in the area even more unaffordable. The 15% inclusionary housing program gives a developer a density bonus if he builds 15% of the housing units as affordable (i.e. reasonably priced for those with moderate to low incomes). This translates to a builder building luxury, high priced townhomes, condos or mixed used developments (like Meadowmont) and throwing in a few units of reasonably priced housing—but the increase in high end developments (gentrification) only results in higher taxes, high property valuations and therefore makes housing more unaffordable and prices those of low to moderate incomes and on fixed incomes out of their homes. Also with increased population density comes higher taxes and fees to pay for services such as schools, community center, parks, etc. And exerts are in agreement that residential property does not "pay for itself" in taxes generated as does commercial business.

•Lack of commercial businesses. Residential development costs more in taxes to pay for services such as schools, parks, community centers, etc. than is collected in property taxes. Commercial businesses generate sales taxes and property taxes that provide funds for the general revenue thereby keeping the tax burden lower for homeowners and housing costs affordable.

Chapel Hill has a much greater percentage of residential development compared to commercial development and this imbalance is worsening because illogically Chapel Hill leaders continue to push high density residential development while driving away commercial businesses.

•Wasteful and excessive spending. When taxes and fees rise then those on fixed incomes and with moderate incomes are forced to move into the county, nearby towns, or apartments in search of more affordable housing. And wasteful and excessive spending by local elected officials creates higher taxes and fees.

•Lack of a streamlined permitting process. The National Association of Home Builders reported that about 10 percent of the cost of building a new home could be saved by using a streamlined process. In particular, encouraging coordination among permitting agencies and establishing specific approval processes time limits would help cut costs. We are not talking about lessening safeguards or standards--we are talking about making the process more understandable and user-friendly.

•Increased high density development. A report entitled "The Fiscal Impact of Alternative Land Uses in Macon County" found that this fast-growing county, whose population increased 27 percent in the last decade, is making money on undeveloped land and losing money once the land goes for development.
Based on last year's county records and a tax rate of 43 cents per $100 of land value, the report shows that a 30-acre rural tract, needing only public safety and agricultural extension services, brings the county $290 a year, while the same tract divided into three lots with homes, requiring a full range of seven services from schools to recreation, would cost the county $532.
Written by Western Carolina University economics professor Susan Kask and graduate student Jeremy Jones, the report was commissioned by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the Little Tennessee Watershed Association to help Macon leaders evaluate their options during the current development moratorium, as they work on the county's first land-use plan. Some builders resent the report. Asheville Citizen-Times writer Jon Ostendorff quotes builder Reggie Holland of Holland Construction and Real Estate in Franklin, who believes it is "flawed" and has been "skewed" to reach the conclusion sought by the funding conservation groups. But the assistant director for the Land-of-Sky Regional Council in Asheville, Jim Stokoe, stresses that the report provides valuable data for counties facing growth pressures. He also calls attention to "the concept of natural capitalism, which says that at least two of the three elements of natural capital -- scenic beauty, ecosystem services and natural resources -- are undervalued in our economy because they are treated primarily as free services." ( 7/25/2001 Asheville Citizen-Times).

So some suggested solutions for providing affordable housing would be:

•we need to push for more commercial businesses to provide a healthier tax base.

•we need to make our permitting process more streamlined and user friendly to reduce the cost of home building.

•we need to rein in all wasteful and excessive spending by elected officials to keep taxes and fees low; and to ensure all basic necessities such as police, fire, stormwater management are fully funded; and to ensure that we have enough money to adequately provide pay raises and health benefits to our current Town employees.

•we need to rein in gentrification (at least until all the other above factors are in place and the housing bubble resolves itself). This means granting neighborhood conservation district protection to all neighborhoods who request them so modest houses on large lots won't be torn down to make way for more expensive upscale housing and we need to stop the 15% inclusionary zoning program. This program is actually just tacking a few reasonably priced housing units onto upscale high priced new developments—which contributes to gentrification. And the payment-in-lieu of affordable housing only worsens this problem.

•we need to call for a temporary moratorium on any further high density residential development (excluding any housing for students at Carolina North). Currently taxes, fees and land values are up; are police and fire departments are under funded and we evidently can't afford to adequately take of the Town employees we currently have—although the Town granted employees a much need moderate pay raise they then raised the cost of their health insurance to trim the budget.

High density developments also entail more extensive and costly stormwater runoff management If we keep pushing for more high density development in order to encourage MORE people to move to Chapel Hill then we will have to raise taxes even more to provide services creating even more unaffordable housing and the Town will push to skimp on employees pay raises and benefits even more.

And also the new census showed that population growth in Chapel Hill only grew 3% since 2000 ( much lower than public officials were predicting) So it would appear we don't need more housing as much as we need to lower the cost of our existing housing—including apartments and other rental property. (However, we should push UNC to provide student housing at Carolina North). It would also appear that the push for increased high density housing is actually to lure more people here which would increase population density and caause more harm on our already stressed schools, police, fire local waterways and drinking water supplies and infrastructure.

And Chris I believe you are correct that the quality of Chapel Hill schools is a draw and that developers know this and push for more residential development because they know people will move here from neighboring areas for the schools and so they can always make the sale as long as they build here. The solution here, of course, is not to in any way lessen the quality of our schools but to lobby for other schools to have the same quality. But if we just keep developing then crowded schools and stressed infrastructure will affect our school quality as well.

We need to call for at least a temporary halt to high density residential development not only because of the above factors, but also because we need to stop and take a hard look at what our past increase in development and population density is doing to our water supplies and the health of our waterways and until we can fully evaluate the effect of Carolina North on water supplies and costs. Our waterways are already impaired due to overdevelopment and overuse and supplies are dwindling.

Of course, most of my suggestions will be unpopular with developers and those who support developers--especially since it would stop gentrification.

It's more fun to say continued gentrification and increased development is the only way to provide affordable housing. Those with fixed or moderate incomes who currently do have homes, but who will be priced out of their homes, are generally not taken into consideration because they don't make any developer (nonprofit or private) any money. If they don't make a developer money they are not counted. And , yes, nonprofit housing developers also push for more development not only because they feel they are serving a need but also because they pay themselves a salary and benefits--the directors of nonprofit housing programs are not volunteering their time for free as an altruistic way to help provide housing. And, no, I'm not saying they aren't nice, good-hearted people but I am saying that they do have a vested interest in keeping their jobs that could color their willingness to accept the fact that increased population and development does have harmful consequences for waterways and lakes and on those with moderate and fixed incomes (remember many people in Chapel Hill are NOT wealthy--and even though their houses may have apreciated since they bought them, many are retired (with expensive health problems) and are "cash poor." It is unfair to drive them out to make way for gentrification and new wealthier people.

I think Chris' point about the school system deserves much more discussion. While politician's can't say this, I will. The reputation of our school system brings people to this community who don't live here and don't intend to stay here after their children leave K-12. They are, in my opinion, the most significant factor driving up the cost of housing. Many, if not most, of those families don't work at the hospital or the university. They commute to work and buy their groceries etc closer to work than home (according to the literature). They make political decisions for the here and now (their tenure in the community) rather than taking a long view. They affect everything about our local economy and about the ongoing, unresolved problems of the achievement gap in our schools.

I don't blame these parents for wanting the best possible education for their children; they have the means and the right to create a lifestyle contrary to that envisioned by our political leaders. They add their own value to the community and I'm not advocating they leave. But I think we need to acknowledge the challenge they present for the community.

We also need to acknowledge that the real estate community works closely with the school systems to promote growth. A few years ago, the CH/Carrboro school system even went so far as to produce a total fluff video promoting the school system which they provided to local real estate companies.

At the same time, Neil Pedersen was complaining to the county commissioners that the schools were overcrowded.


That's a good point. I know several Duke profs and staff that live in Chapel Hill for the schools. And since I'm guessing Duke faculty jobs pays better than UNC faculty jobs, and Duke has an even bigger medical complex.

Plus the widening of I-40 has made the Chapel Hill to RTP commute relatively painless, especially when compared to that from Raleigh or even Cary.

Mark--I'd add the real estate community to the list of big contributors to lack of affordable housing. If every homeowner adds 7% for commission to the sales price on a home, it takes only elementary math to identify sales commissions as a source of our inflated housing prices.

Chris--you asked how commercial development would lower housing prices. My answer is that if we had a local economy other than real estate and light retail, demand for smaller homes might increase enough to convince developers to build smaller, more affordable homes thus slowing the increase in resident Duke professors and other high-income commuters.

Another in the long list of those who can assume some responsibility in the housing affordability issue is the insurance industry. Workman's compensation, builder's risk, liability, etc. that builders have to carry is amazing. Then you think about the unholy alliance between the health care & pharmaceutical & insurance industries that siphon so much money out of the general public and it can make your blood boil.

I heard from someone who was present last night that one of the 'new ideas' thrown out was to "do stuff with the existing trailer parks." Anyone have any more details on what was intended by that comment?

Also, I'm curious about the discussion on the Greene Tract. What plans were discussed .... for the towns to take on the role of developer?

Terri, Barry Jacobs commented about increasing trailer parks and manufactured homes within our municipalities. Mark K. pointed out that we already host several.

As far as the Greene Tract, I was quite surprised by the enthusiasm shown for developing it. If you've been on that tract, like I have, you might wonder how the sensitive western quadrants could be protected adequately. It does seem like the a small corridor along the railroad easement might be developed without endangering the stream and slopes . Developing along the western edge, I think, would be difficult and counter-productive.

Chris asks some important questions above. To address the relationship between commercial development and housing costs, there does not appear in the literature I've reviewed a direct correlation between commercial development and housing prices per se. But, inasmuch as taxes are a significant portion of housing costs in toto, there is a substantial difference in the cost of service to revenue generation ratio between commercial and residential development.

According to a paper published by the University of Illinois Extension for local governments, cited in Carrboro's Downtown Market Analysis: “Residential expansion has a ratio of cost of services-to-revenue generated of 1.15 to 1.50. This indicates that for every dollar that a new residential development brings in, the local government has to expend between $1.15 and $1.50. Ratios for commercial expansion range from $0.35 to 0.50…This means that the best residential development costs a local government $0.77 per dollar more than the worst commercial development…and most evidence points to a net gain from commercial development.” The other source in the Analysis, a table reflecting a similar study in Amherst, N.Y., shows a revenue/expenditure ratio for residential of $1.00/$1.12, for commercial, $1.00/$0.44.

These figures clearly demonstrate that our goal of doubling the commercial tax base is a sound and effective strategy to ease the tax burden on homeowners and renters, and again, inasmuch as the tax burden comprises a substantial portion of overall housing costs, can make a significant contribution toward achieving affordability.

Just in case anyone gets the idea that this strategy is a substitute for the others, I am implying nothing of the sort. Inclusionary housing programs (Montgomery County, Md. most notably) have proven highly effective in providing substantial stocks of long-term affordable housing opportunities, and the diversity of incomes brought into new development by this mechanism serve to diversify the population, thus blunting the effects of 'gentrification'.

If you want to wade through the whole thing, go to: http://www.ci.carrboro.nc.us/BoA/Agendas/2002/03_21_2002_A_B2.pdf


So, Chris Chapman asked:

“How is attracting more commercial development going to lower housing prices? My guess it that more commercial development is only going to make housing more expensive."

I explained that it wouldn't and have been explaining and pushing for more commercial business all during my campaign as a way to help the affordable housing problem.

And now, Alex Zaffron has stated,
"These figures clearly demonstrate that our goal of doubling the commercial tax base is a sound and effective strategy to ease the tax burden on homeowners and renters, and again, inasmuch as the tax burden comprises a substantial portion of overall housing costs, can make a significant contribution toward achieving affordability."

As to my concern about gentrification, Alex Zaffron states,
"Inclusionary housing programs (Montgomery County, Md. most notably) have proven highly effective in providing substantial stocks of long-term affordable housing opportunities, and the diversity of incomes brought into new development by this mechanism serve to diversify the population, thus blunting the effects of ‘gentrification'.

But this still fails to address the point that if gentrification proceeds without check then "the diversity of incomes brought into new development" does not "blunt" the effects of gentrification because if you move five families of low to moderate incomes into new homes but price five families of low to moderate incomes out of their homes then you haven't accomplished anything in terms of increasing affordable housing.

Also, since residential growth costs more in services than money generated and leads to higher taxes then the approval of new high density development with the inclusionary density bonus doesn't just increase gentrification (i.e. land values) but also taxes and fees which could , once again, price low to moderate income families out of Chapel Hill. I still see this as an interlinked problem---am I missing something?

There's a big difference between Montgomery County MD and Carrboro/Chapel Hill. Montgomery County, like Charlotte Mecklenberg, has existing housing/commercial space to redevelop. Converting rundown space into profitable commercial space with urban housing intermixed is, according to the literature, a guard against gentrification since it isn't displacing anyone. But in the case of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, we aren't redeveloping in the downtown areas. We're building new mixed use structures with high-end housing around existing low-income neighborhoods. In theory adding affordably priced stock should keep the population profile balanced. But both towns have taken actions, IMHO, that offset the balance.

In Carrboro, affordable stock is deeded over to the OCHLT. The sales contracts on those units ensure that when they sell a second/third time, they remain affordably priced. BUT what that arrangement doesn't take into account is the tax burden placed on existing low-income and/or affordable stock that are not part of OCHLT. Every 4 years the county does a tax valuation. Homes are 'compared' to market equivalents in order to set new tax valuations. Property managed by OCHLT does not count toward tax comparables. That means the comparables for existing low-income/affordable stock are the new units, all of which are market/luxury priced. To me, the way we get around this problem is to make sure that 'inclusionary' is not just 15% affordable, but mixed-income. Under that model, the low-end of the mixed-range would go to OCHLT and the moderately priced ($120-$200,000 ?) units would stay out in the market. We keep affordable stock & offset the possibility of gentrification.

In Chapel Hill, the neighborhood conservation district is intended to protect low-income home owners from McMansions being developed around them. Great intent, but those homes are also subject to the same high tax valuations (lack of comparables) as Carrboro. When those homeowners can't afford the higher tax rates, they won't be able to sell their property for true market value because the NCD in essence puts an artificially low ceiling on their investment.

This is all about social engineering even if no one wants to publicly acknowledge it. The goal of affordable housing says that we value social diversity and sets up the challenge to elected officials to make decisions that serve that purpose. It's not an easy task and we won't get it right without a lot of tinkering. As someone (Jackie?) said at the Carrboro Sierra Club forum, if there were any easy solutions, they would have been implemented already.

Does anyone know more about the Green Tract?
How close to the dump is the Green Tract?
Is this Green Tract land less valuable because of its proximity to the dump?
Will the proposed 'affordable' housing on the Green Tract be considerably more valuable than the existing homes in the Purefoy neighborhood?
Who do we think will move into these Green Tract houses? Is Will right, that this area has streams and slopes and may not be good for development?

See CHN: http://www.chapelhillnews.com/news/story/2808237p-9252393c.html

Mary, after rereading my post I realized I was a bit terse (trying to answer Terri B. after a very, very long day).

Here's a few background links to get you started on the Greene Tract discussions:


I've read a number of the reports, minutes and news coverage of the Greene Tract discussions going back to the '80s. I'm not against affordable housing there, it just seems that the western edge really isn't suitable and that the eastern edge presents a better opportunity in terms of transportation (maybe even the future(?) light rail line), integration with existing neighborhoods and access to existing recreational facilities.

With the tract's 3 creeks (and a number of ephemeral watercourses) I'm also thinking of the possible impacts in the context of my call for greater slope and stream protections.

I'm hoping Blair Pollock jumps in to sketch out the history.

Yes, Will is right that this is a challenging property. While it is by some measure, fairly close to the landfill (by my measure on GIS, about 1/2 mile) any homes placed on the tract would be substantially more distant than any extant. Notwithstanding the foregoing, it does in fact, have intermittent streams running through it, and encompasses stands of hardwoods. It is also directly ajacent to existing neighborhoods, giving rise, as usual, to the natural questions involving connectivity and neighborhood integration.
From a zoning perspective, the disposition of the Greene (Got that?) tract, is ultimately in the hands of Chapel Hill. But finally, if the tract's disposition results in the uses---recreation, (active or passive, to be determined) and affordable housing, which have been agreed to, we will all need to 'purchase' the rights to the property from the landfill enterprise fund, and resultantly, have to buy into the plan that was agreed to.

Yeah, it's good TV, or Political Advertising, to say we're going to preserve the entire tract as open space in perpetuity. But do we think about how we use this public resource for other needs? That wasn't the deal. Whaddy'all think?


Alex, I have a comment that is awaiting moderation because I put more than 3 URLs in it.

Alex - could you clarify the green tract ...

could you please clarify who's zoning jurisdiction is it in?

Who or which group own's the land?

How did it come about to be "green" was it promised as permanent green space?

Also, the rogers road area is one recently annexed by Carrboro?

I am trying to understand the history of how this tract came to be...

Also, is it a bit presumptious for the county and carrboro to tell chapel hill how to develop it's zoning jurisdiction?

if this is the tract - and it has lots of streams and old growth trees -even for affordable housing I can not think that chapel hill would want to develop it all..


"Covered in second growth pine forest and located within Chapel Hill's rural buffer zone, the property is considered by environmentalists to be a priceless ecological jewel. The land encompasses three headwater streams--Bolin, Booker and Old Field Creeks--and preservationists advocate for leaving the creeks undisturbed.
"It's the opposite of a brownfield," says Bill Strom, Chapel Hill Council member. "My first wish would be to keep [the Greene Tract] 100 percent open space.""

I don't see why people in Carrboro think people in Chapel Hill will want to develop this for any reason.

If the Town of Chapel Hill is purchasing land for permanent green space in the center of Town e.g. near the Northside district why would the town council want to use land in the rural buffer on the outskirts of Town with little urban services e.g buses to develop.

I don't think the chapel hill town council is as reactionary as the carrboro alderman on these types of issues.

n 1972 the Orange County Regional Landfill was purchased jointly
by Orange County (43% ownership) and the Cities of Chapel Hill
(43%) and Carrboro (14%). The site consists of 203 acres that is
bisected by Eubanks Road (Figure 12). The larger portion of the
landfill is located to the north and the smaller section to the south of
Eubanks Road. According to the 1995 Northwest Small Area Plan, it
is anticipated that the landfill will continue to operate until 2002 or
2003. The Orange Regional Landfill Owner's Group (LOG), made up
of members from the governments of Orange County, Chapel Hill,
Carrboro, and Hillsborough, is the overseeing agency for Orange
County's waste management operations.

Although the Greene Tract is no longer being considered as a landfill
site, the parcel remains in the joint ownership of Orange County
(43%), Chapel Hill (43%) and Carrboro (14%). The multi-
jurisdictional control over this land could make development
decisions for the area difficult. Many of the decisions pertaining to
the use of this parcel would likely require negotiation between the
municipalities. One example of this can be seen when reviewing the
recently adopted Facilitated Small Area Plan for Carrboro's Northern
Study Area. In this plan the City of Carrboro has proposed that the
area be developed as a park.

Thanks for the links Will. Looks like the tract is composed of 169-acres total and the inter-local working group proposed the following disposition:
--60 acres Orange County Solid Waste
--78 acres open space
--15 acres affordable housing
--11 acres unplanned (1/3 appropriate for housing?)

(that's only 164 so there's another 5 acres unaccounted for)

Since Orange Co has said they will not use that space for solid waste handling, does their allocation go for open space or affordable housing?

Question for candidates: Habitat for Humanity is building a couple of 'affordable housing communities.' Should local governments follow suit? Is there any reason local governments couldn't partner with a developer(s) to build a mixed income community with a cap of $250,000 for single family housing?

There was a brief discussion (mostly Mary R & I) on another thread objecting to the term "neighborhood preservation." Someone asked for an alternative term: livable community:

Winston-Salem and Charlotte are on the list. I'd like to see Carrboro added, but we might have a *little* bit of work to do.

The Greene tract was purchased by - obviously - Orange County taxpayer money, for the purpose of being the next Orange County landfill. During the landfill siting process of 1991-92, the Greene tract was taken off the table by the county commissioners. It was deemed too small, so various huge sites around the county were put up for consideration. Strangely, the commissioners did not allow the landfill siting process to include any information related to how the amount of waste generated might be reduced. This was despite the insistence of a large number of county citizens who were interested in this convoluted process.

At the time, citizens were told that we were quickly running out of room and we needed a new landfill chosen immediately (but the Greene tract, although purchased for this purpose, was not to be considered.) The solid waste folks were saying that the current landfill would be full by 1996 or 97 I think. Myself and others studied the situation and determined that the landfill would last at least until 2002 - 2004. We proposed that there was no immediate crisis based on our projections and that we should come up with a comprehensive waste plan which would incorporate waste reduction and determine exactly what size (obviously much smaller than the huge sites that were, obviously, politically unpopular) landfill & recycling facilities we really needed. Then we should design sites ( we eventually called for two small sites - one near Chapel Hill and one out in the county to reduce imapct and transportation costs) which fit gracefully into their surroundings.

Again we were told that we did not have time. Now it's clear that even our projection of 2002-2004 was very conservative.

End result was that the money democratically authorized to buy the next landfill site was not spent as directed. The flawed landfill search that would not acknowledge the obvious linkage between waste reduction and site size failed and soon we will be shipping our waste out-of-county to some suckers somewhere else. I consider this to be one of the biggest policy failures of the last few decades.

However, the Greene tract is in play.

Thanks for all the info on the GreenE Tract.
I am embarrassed that Orange County will not handle it's own waste. It says much about who we are.

I wpnder if the sectionsof the Greene Tract that come under CH's jurisdiction are even developable (an ungainly word) under the CH LUMO? Isn't it farily hilly--with permanent streams as well as ephemeral ones?


Maybe some of the lawyers can tell us if this position by one candidate would stand up to a court challenge: "Our ordinance should state that affordable housing should be “required”, not just “recommended” in new development."

Since every single house built here has been sold to someone, the label "affordable" looses some of its meaning: somebody can afford each and every one of them! As the median income rises for some, the 80% factor still leaves many behind.

Maybe we need a new name and a different criteria. How about "Workforce Housing" and peg it to the average of the five lowest pay rates in a sample group of local government and private industry pay tables rather than a percent of median income?

here are links to inclusionary zoning in other jurisdictions

(the brookings institute)


this case was in Napa California and apparently survived legal challenges in court. In which inclusionary zoning was established in 1999

It is my understanding that the council is already investigating inclusionary zoning.

Chapel Hill is not at the forefront of many of these issues.

It's also hard to understand how inclusionary would be different than payment in lieu small size ordinances or other language that the builder people argue is an "illegal taking".

Fred what is your legal argument that would make mandated small size houses or payment in lieu legal but inclusionary illegal?
I don't see the difference - they are all telling builders what to do (and "taking" from them) in order to fill a governmental good. e.g. to be able to have emergency workers live where they work.

As I am not a lawyer (nor play one on TV), I was asking those with legal expertise if they could share some insight. I seem to remember that when the Town Council was debating all of this, the Town Attorney had very specific guidance on the wording.

Another reason that an inclusionary zone would be better is that often time the "small size" ordinance results in rental investors buying 2nd and 3rd homes for renting out. There is no home ownership. I don't know if any of the ordinances specify that the homes must be owner occupied but more small houses could result in more rental units to temporary chapel hillians e.g. students.

Some of the small size houses in larger more recent development in CH that I've seen have rental agency signs on them and are not owned by the intended low income home owners but simply used to generat rental income.

"Affordable" only loses meaning when people twist it around to justify not supporting affordable housing efforts. Most of the local governments and organizations working to address this issue use a common definition of affordability: 80% of area median income. Some programs, like Habitat, use different standards when aiming to help a different populations.

We all know this method isn't foolproof and doesn't address every need in the community, but I don't see how one can say that it lacks a clear and concise meaning. That seems to be a strawman to avoid discussing the real issues, like why UNC doesn't pay it's employees enough to live in the community that helps to make it such a great school.

My sense is chapel hill developers "play ball" to get their project done. It's not clear that there is enough risk reward left in chapel hill to make a developer risk their relationship in a court battle.
Carrboro on the other hand has a lot more developable land and seems a lot more infill-connectivity-high density type of attitude.

It's not clear to me how payment in lieu or small size restrictions are substantially different than inclusionary zoning given the illegal taking argument that builders associations often try to make.

Or the Town and what it pays employees?

The problem is that the gap is growing on the income side and the cost of housing is steadily increasing. What if it were dropped to 70% to catch those being left behind? I was "thinking aloud" about tying it to pay rates rather than the median. That in no way implies a desire to avoid discussing the real issue.

If "affordable" works for you, great. But as I said, everything being built is being bought by somebody, hence it's affordable to them.

The problem is that North Carolina is a Dillon's Law state rather than a home rule state. Under Dillon's Law, power is vested in the state and local governments cannot do anything unless the state gives them the power. For example, the towns have no authority to regulate market prices. They can, however, regulate construction projects (square footage) through their zoning authority. It's not clear to me whether they need enabling legislation in order to adopt inclusionary zoning. As I understand it, current affordable housing practices for both towns are really just preferences that builders could refuse to follow. No telling how they would get their plans through if they took that route though. I hope one of those lawyers pipes in to let me know if I understand this correctly and to answer the question about enabling legislation.

As I wrote previously, Chapel Hill does require developers to make a contribution, either physically or monetarily, toward affordable housing. The only option is how they address it, not whether.

According to the memo Ruby references above, enabling legislation from the state is required for either Chapel Hill or Carrboro to adopt inclusionary zoning. Both towns currently use floor area (sq footage) as the feature they regulate, in order to achieve a percentage of affordable housing within any new development (major subdivsions/planned developments).

What benefit would inclusionary zoning have over current floor area requirements?

small homes do not have to be sold to owners or owners of low income.

Town homes can be small but even those are expensive.

When the last phase of parkside was done most of the small houses had "for rent" signs on them from rental agencies.. It was easy to tell because the small homes had one garage instead of two and where 1.5 stories not a full two.

Larkspur has "defacto" inclusionary zoning with more modest houses (easy to tell one car garage) but there were no for rent signs on them compared to other subdivisions that didn't have land trust ownership..

I kind of consider land trust ownership similar in consequence to inclusionary.

As I said I don't see the legal difference between making someone put a smaller house than they otherwise could and making them give the space to landtrust. (or payment in lieu) all of these are "takings" of potential value from a builder however it is done as a negotiation with the counsel. If counsel members "signal" they want owner occupied more modest houses instead of payment in lieu I think the developers get it.

Saturday morning, while working on a Habitat home in the Rusch Hollow neighborhood that will be owned by a hard working woman who drives one of our local school busses, we took a break to go across the street and observe the dedication of the home of Charles and Bonnie Rogers. All of us there, and especially the UNC students who we were working with, were very impressed with the remarks of Charles and Bonnie about their opportunity to realize their dreams and to return to the area where his family once owned the land.

This home was a project of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, who raised the funds to purchase the materials and provided the volunteer construction labor. The Chamber asked their members, yes or no, will you fund and build another Habitat home? The answer was a resounding yes. Contrary to whatever else you might read, we should remember that we are indeed a caring and giving community, especially as so many work to put yet another family in their own home.

As Helena said, the "small house" ordinance is very problematic. My biggest concern is that there is nothing to guarantee the home's affordability after the initial restriction expires. In fact, we have even seen developers build "small" homes with unfinished"attics that are made to be converted to a second flooor of living space.

I think the small house restrictions are better than nothing, and fortunately many developers choose the 15% affordable option, but the towns need something more powerful in their toolbox. Inclusionary zoning could be that tool.

Ruby, over on Squeeze the Pulp someone is "suggesting" that you will do this profit taking thing yourself.

The downward spiral continues.



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