Kudos to the Chapel Hill Town Council for leading the way in affordable housing

Last week’s Chapel Hill town council meeting was so jam-packed with good news that we’re still processing it, as if it were a long awaited 10th Taylor Swift album dropping at midnight. From dueling petitions on the future of the Legion site to a public apology for Chapel Hill’s illegal raid on a Black business in 1990, the council meeting was one for the ages. 

Yesterday, Mayor pro Tem Karen Stegman reminded us of what were probably the most significant victories of Wednesday night, two consequential votes on housing in Chapel Hill. Here’s what she noted:

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Town Awards Largest Single-Year Contribution to Support Affordable Housing:Wednesday night, Chapel Hill Town Council approved a nearly $9.2 million funding plan that will support almost 300 new affordable homes through five affordable housing development projects. These projects will provide homeownership and rental opportunities for households with a range of incomes, including extremely low-income households. The new affordable housing units will increase the Town’s supply of permanently affordable housing by more than 25%. The funding plan also provides rental subsidies for some of the hardest-to-serve households through a local master leasing program.

You can read the full story here.

Council Approves Six-Month Affordable Housing Development Review Process: Wednesday night, Chapel Hill Town Council approved changes to the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) that shortens the development review process for projects that include at least 25% affordable housing. The changes reduce the timeline from 12-18 months to less than six months. The new policy will make it easier for developers to capitalize on funding assistance and incentivize the creation of more affordable housing in town… The Town’s Planning and Affordable Housing & Community Connections departments drafted the text amendment in response to a 2021 Council petition.  The petition asked staff to create an expedited application process for developments with a significant affordable housing component. It also asked staff to implement strategies to rapidly promote increased production and availability of affordable and missing middle housing. Read the full story here.

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Together, these votes represent a significant step forward for Chapel Hill. With its financial investments, the town is showing that it is willing to put serious money into ensuring that people of all incomes are able to live in our community. There are many groups in our community that have asked  for APRA money – and it’s hard to make these decisions –  so kudos to the town for making this investment.

And, more importantly, by setting up a new process to expedite the review of affordable housing, the town is demonstrating that it understands the negative consequences of taking a year or more to review development projects. 

To put this in financial terms, developers, including non-profits, spend up to a million dollars in staff time and related expenses just to get a project through the 12-18 month gauntlet of Chapel Hill’s development process. The text amendments the council passed last week will cut that time to six months, saving people who build affordable housing hundreds of thousands of dollars. (For more on this text amendment, plus an even better one on missing middle housing that is still under consideration, read TBB’s piece on the subject.)

With a $128 million annual budget, the Chapel Hill Town Council can do a lot of good by making investments in affordable housing, buses, parks, and lots of other things. But their most important power isn’t the purse. It’s the rules that they set in place to make our town work. Last week, the town decided to make it easier to build affordable housing in our community, a change we think will make a lot of difference, even more than the $9.2 million they agreed to spend.