We all know that affordable housing is an urgent issue. The Chapel Hill Town Council recognized this when it passed an Affordable Housing Plan & Investment Strategy last fall. The strategy noted that “most of the Town’s recent funding sources [for affordable housing] have now been exhausted,” flagged a $5 million funding gap in FY 2024, and a need for $10 million each year over the next five years for affordable housing. It also recommended a housing bond of at least $35 million plus a two cent tax, which would raise roughly $2 million per year.

The Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition generally agreed and has been encouraging the Council to put a $50 million bond for affordable housing on the ballot this fall.

That’s this fall, as in 2024, not 2025.

So where is the sense of urgency from the Council?

There is no mention of a bond in tonight’s Council work session agenda, which includes a discussion of the town’s budget, or in a draft presentation for the session (available via Council’s public inbox). Given that decisions need to made soon to get a bond on the fall 2024 ballot, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s been put on the back burner and a decision has already been made to wait to seriously invest in affordable housing.

November 2025 is more than two years from the time Council approved the Investment Strategy (a strategy taxpayers paid $125,000 for, by the way). If you’re a homeowner, how much more is your home worth today than it was two years ago? $200k? 300k? If you rent, how much has your rent increased? Time is of the essence.

Squeaky wheels

You know the deal. Council has a lot of competing demand and priorities. If they do not hear from enough people that a bond should be on the fall 2024 ballot, it probably won’t be.

I’d encourage you to do two things: 1) sign the OCAHC’s petition here and 2) send a quick email to [email protected] letting them know you’d like to see the bond on the ballot this fall. Short and sweet is great.

If you need some inspiration, check out these supporters of the bond who spoke at the February 14 Council meeting. A lightly edited transcript is below.

George Barrett

Good evening Mayor and Council.  My name is George Barrett and I’m the Executive Director of the Marion Cheek Jackson Center and as well I serve as the co-chair of the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition.  We are in an affordable housing crisis full stop.  According to the Town of Chapel Hill’s Affordable Housing Plan and investment strategy, there has been a 36% increase in median home sale prices since 2020.  Rents have risen faster compared to incomes for low to moderate households.  There has been a 32% decrease in black home ownership since 2010.  Only the highest income households earning over $150,000 annually are seen to be able to access home ownership in our community.  And nearly 70% of renters in Chapel Hill are cost burden and 88% of renters who earn less than $50,000 a year annually are cost burden.  This housing crisis is on track to worsen due to the deficit of available units and skyrocketing costs of both rentals and home ownership.  With any delay, displacement and racial inequity grows and affordable housing initiatives already in the pipeline only become more expensive to deliver.

That is why the Affordable Housing Coalition, along with over 350 members of our community who have signed on to this petition, now submit this petition calling on you to take two bold actions.  One is to issue a $50 million affordable housing referendum on the November 2024 ballot.  And two, to dedicate the equivalent of two cents on the property tax rate for affordable housing in the next fiscal year budget.  These items are not new and do not come out of thin air.  They are rooted in what Chapel Hill affordable and what the Chapel Hill Affordable Housing Plan recommends as necessary investments over the next five years.

This investment can be utilized to develop 900 new affordable homes and preserve 400 affordable homes. And we have the opportunity to do something bold and to truly address this crisis in our community right now.  And bold situations called for bold actions.  And our community has made bold actions in the past.  Northside residents made bold actions in deciding that they shall not be moved and developed critical partnerships with self-help credit union, local governments of affordable housing developers in the towns and universities.  Winning a launch of the Northside Neighbourhood Initiative in 2015, which has now created over 50 units of affordable housing and three starkly black neighborhoods.  Affordable housing advocates, some of them folks who are here today and those who have literally slept on the street and in the shelters came together a few years ago with a bold idea of creating a musical to advocate for affordable housing.  Creating brilliant art for social change that had never been seen before.

And over 350 members right now in this community and dozens of folks who are here this evening are rallying for bold action of $50 million bond on the 2024 ballot and two pennies for affordable housing.  And for those who are here, if you support this affordable housing funding, can I please ask you to stand or make your presence known.  [Applause] So as you can see, you have an opportunity to steward this bold action into existence.  You have the opportunity to implement the actions laid out in the Chapel Hill Affordable Housing Plan.  And you have the opportunity to be bold leaders in our community and make change in this crisis now.  Thank you.

Susan Laidlaw

Thank you.  Hello, Mayor Anderson, members of the Town Council.  Thank you for the opportunity to listen to public comments in support of what he just said.  [Laughter] I’ve been a resident at Chapel Hill since 2016.  Not a very long time in some other people’s perspectives, but I have seen a lot of change, a lot of growth.  I’ve seen a lot of wonderful commitment by the Town Council in support of affordable housing, making sure that some town-owned lands have set aside the opportunity for development of affordable housing.  But it’s not enough.

What we ask in this petition to have this financial support of the 50 million come on to the November, and also the two sent from property taxes will go a long way in funding affordable housing that we need in our community.  You eloquently presented a wonderful resolution with regard to our immigrants in our community.  And we listened to some recognition of Chapel Hill Transit.  How about envisioning immigrant workers leaving affordable housing, which perhaps today they have no opportunity to access, hopping on a Chapel Hill Transit bus, and going to teach in our schools, going to work in our hospitals, going to work for the town.  I ask you to please consider this petition and advance it as your plans are.  And I also want to again recognize George for such elegant presentation of this petition, and I did sign it, and a lot of other people did too, so thank you for your time.  Thank you.

Jackie Jenks  

Good evening, everyone.  I’m Jackie Jenks.  I am co-chair of the Affordable Housing Coalition with George Barrett.  I live and I vote in Chapel Hill, and I spend the majority of my waking hours at IFC as a part of a community of people with current and past live experience of housing crisis and insecurity.

Every day, there is at least one new person at IFC who were just meeting.  They have a story of why they’ve come in seeking information and support.  Many people these days have a look of shock on their faces.  They described that they’ve never been in this situation before.  They’re about to be evicted, their rent was raised beyond what they could afford, and they have exhausted all of their options told on to their home.  Some are fleeing an unsafe housing situation. They had to leave abruptly, and they have no documents, no clothes, nothing. Some have a look of hopelessness and doom. They have been in this place before. They know what happens during a housing crisis. One member told us it is scary and demoralizing and traumatic. It changes you. It takes you to places you’ve never been before. And the worst part is you never know how long it will last.

As of this morning, there are 180 men on the waiting list for IFC’s shelter, which has 52 beds that are awful.There are 57 women on the list, and only 17 beds which are awful. There are 63 families on the waiting list with only 10 rooms at any given time. That was this morning. Tomorrow there will be more.  Right now, as we are here, people are making their way from IFC Commons, where they’ve just eaten dinner, to their campsite in the woods, or the spot behind the grocery store, or a park, or if they’re lucky, their car, that may or may not be running.  This moment, we have neighbors who are laying out their blankets on a hard ground where they will sleep for the night.

As someone who has the privilege of going to a home with heat and running water to a bed every night, I can try to put the realities I see every day out of my mind, but it doesn’t work.  I don’t think it’s supposed to work. And I don’t want it to work for you either.  I don’t want to leave this place tonight and forget that our neighbors are sleeping outside, where there’s no restroom for them to use, where they are often cold and wet and alone, and they’re where they can be robbed, beaten up or worse.  I don’t want you to put that out of your heads, because the housing crisis in this community is urgent.  It is unacceptable, and this is not who we are.  So we urge you to take this petition seriously, to get seriously now.  It is urgent.  It cannot wait until 2025.  This needs to happen today.  And together, we know that we can do this.  Thank you.

Elizabeth Young

Thank you for having me.  And I’ll leave off some of my comments, because I just really want to ask y’all, please, prioritize discussing the next steps for the 2024 Affordable Housing Council meeting agenda.  And the Affordable Housing really means a lot to me, because I’m an episcopal — I’m a member of the Episcopal Church, the Advocate in Chapel Hill, and some of our three top ministries are IFC.  Justice United, I’m on the Affordable Housing Committee, Rogers Road Community Center, which is a historic Black neighborhood with the history of environmental justice.  And working in these ministries, I have learned that our team interviewed people to help with the property tax relief, which, by the way, is just a band-aid.  We really need housing now.

So I did determine — I just love numbers, but I did determine everybody that we interviewed, has a 33 percent increase in property tax at minimum, and many have a 66 percent increase.  Now, these are people who, like, worked at IBM 30 and 40 years ago and had a job and had a great retirement check, and a lot of people who have had good jobs and still cannot afford the property tax — they own their home.  They’re in a historic home.  They’ve lived in for their whole life, and they cannot afford the property tax, and the evaluations are going up so much, especially in Rogers Road.  It went up in four months, the top number — the bottom number is 55,000 evaluations.  The top number went from 1.2 million, which has been for at least a year, this last year on these programs I’ve done, and it just went up to 2.2 million.  So this is not sustainable.

And even the apartments, like at the food drive, I help with the food drive and in the car line, one day somebody — this is a year ago right now, and the tax — the rents were really going up quickly, and said, “It’s $10 or $20 a month, they’re going up like $100 a month.”  I don’t know how we’re 54, so they all were saying, you know, how we’re 54, and they started telling me, so then I would ask the people who lived on how we’re 54.  There’s, like, 200 cars, you know, that we have to list.  And so one woman said, “20 people moved out in one day.”  That’s how much everything went up, all of a sudden.  I’m sure you all know about that.  And then no one lives in Orange County that works here, a lot of the people.  They live in Mebane, even Person County, so they can’t afford to live here.  And this, especially, I looked up all lately, the wages and the bus drivers would really benefit from this, because they only make $18.10.  So no one really can afford to live here in this county for that much.  Thank you for your time.  Appreciate it.  Thank you.

Dolores Bailey

Good evening.  Members of the Council, Mayor.  My name is Dolores Bailey.  I am the Executive Director of Empowerment Incorporated, a nonprofit that happily works with the town, Orange County, and Cabo producing affordable housing.  I want to say thank you for what we have produced so far.  But I know that if you listen to George, if you listen to the statistics for what’s happening in our town are staggering, we collectively are trying to address a national problem.  Affordable housing is bad everywhere.

But what we’re asking you to do is call on the resources, and it’s not much.  It’s not — I know we don’t have a lot of resources.  But what we are seeing, the people who are sleeping on the streets, the people who are going sleeping on other people’s couches, you all know this story.  It’s getting worse for Chapel Hill for Orange County.  That’s why we feel boldly.

We have to come to you boldly and ask for this $50 million bond understanding that as providers, as the woman stood here almost in tears talking about the people that she sees on the streets, and I have seen every single day.  We’ve got to do something, and it needs to be urgent.  I like Jackie Jinx, who said, “I live and vote in Chapel Hill.”  Many of us that have been to this podium do, and so we understand what we’re asking for.  We understand that it’s going to take a personal commitment from the people in Chapel Hill, but we’ve got to have the will of the council to work on this.  I understand there’s a bond that Orange County is going to do for the schools.  It doesn’t have housing in it.  We’ve got to move, do something a little differently in Chapel Hill to address this urgent need.  We can only build so much we can’t do it without funding, and we need that from you all.  Thank you for taking the time to listen to us, but we are so serious, and we have to keep coming back to you.  I know you understand, but understand to the point of moving towards this $50 million.  Thank you. [applause] Thank you.

Darren Campbell

My name is Darren Campbell.  I work with the IFC team activate.  Some of you on the council, you recognize my face because I was here last year.  Speaking about a similar issue, the funding that we need to build affordable housing in Chapel Hill, Cabra area, especially in Chapel Hill.  As you’ve heard earlier, speaking about the fact that the homeless people living out on the streets behind the stores, behind everyone’s house, that hasn’t changed.  It’s only gotten worse.  I was here last year, I said, because we voted and we created a start for some housing projects to get going for them to break ground and some.

But those projects will not get completed if we do not have the funding to get it done.  Those projects will sit on a shelf somewhere with great ideas and not be done as the flood of homeless and housing insecure people gets larger and larger.  The image of Chapel Hill will not be a pretty one when our visitors, all they see, are more and more people who are now forced to sleep on the street corners.  To defecate behind the dumpsters and to not have anywhere else to go because they have nowhere else to go.  They’re lost.  I mean, I luckily now have a warm bed to sleep in.  But a year ago, I didn’t.  I was one of the unfortunate ones.  There’s 180 guys right now who don’t have that privilege.  They don’t even have the shelter to go to.  And as you said, 54 women, single women living out in tents and cars on street corners and in alleys because they don’t have a place to sleep.  This bond is needed.  This tax is needed.  I live and I vote in this town and I know what I know I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit more for my money.  And I know there’s a lot of people in this town who are willing to do the same thing because this is that important.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Ronald Carnes

Good evening, everyone.  I’m all of these faces.  I know most of you.  Congratulations to the newbies.  I’m proud to live in Orange County.  And I’ve seen everything that you see it every day.  I’ve seen success stories.  I’ve seen successes that have originated right here because we were here to talk to you about it.  Nobody stuck their nose up or turned their head or walked away.  We got in.  We got it done.  I’ve seen this council in action.  I’ve seen the different organizations in this township get together and get things done.

When we lost some of our citizens on the streets of Carboro and Chapel Hill, Orange County, from exposure to bad weather, we got together and dealt with it.  And that was a problem that you saw.  You knew it had to be done and we dealt with it.  The best we could.  It’s still getting worse.  We have to come up with a plan.  And what I love about this town is that we’ve always figured out a way to sit down together and come up with ideas to make things work.  I do believe that we can do this again.  And this is the time to get it done.  There’s no sense in me sitting there talking about what needs to be done.  We all know what the program is.  And my hat’s off to $50 million.  I don’t even know how to count that high.  But you guys came up with that total because you’re looking at the numbers.  I respect that.  That tells me that you’re in this.  And all of us here are in this.  I wrote a review for Google about IFC 2017.  That review is still going.  And I talk about the problems that we deal with.  We’re still dealing with them.  We’re still dealing with them.  We haven’t stopped.  Because IFC is good at what we do.  And we’re good at it because you guys are receptive to what we talk about.  The people in our community.  We’re successfully getting them into IFC to talk about these things and to get the job done.  We know what we need to do.  We just got to get it done.  And I’m glad to see all you guys here.  Thank you.

Anita Wright

Hi and good evening.  I found out about this meeting at the IFC where they feed people every day.  They’re very courteous.  They’re very nice.  It’s something that you would expect in a college town.  And the women, they’re not too old.  And they’re very pleasant.  And I’m very proud of them because a lot of young women are not pleasant.  But anyway, I come to you today as a person that has come from Chicago.  And my husband and I, we divorced and we had six children.  And it was getting dangerous in the suburbs because the big business were knocking down the blighted areas in Chicago and sending everybody out to the suburbs.  And so we caught all of that.  And there was no government regulation about how the citizens would act once they moved to a different area once the big businesses needed the land to develop expensive housing.  So it forced me out of my home.  And my husband had moved to Chapel Hill and he brought the children here with him. The taxes are crazy in Illinois near Chicago.  Okay.  And so my children attend to school here.  They all honor, grow, graduated all six.  And then his wife had two children and she had one with him and they all graduated.  So you’re coming.  I’m listening.  And I’m saying, wow, these children were able to make it through college, have careers.  And unfortunately, still, it’s not enough money.  So if you come from a family that did not know how to cultivate education and allow you to be able to learn so you could earn more, that could be a problem for you.  But still, I come from people that didn’t have a college education, but had a lot of common sense, okay, and respected family values that was able to push us to want to go and do different things and make a great thing about Illinois, but the United States.  And I’m happy to be here in Chapel Hill.  I came here because my kids father had open heart surgery and his wife had passed with cancer. And I came here because my baby daughter said she was serving people sick. So my kids went through college and so did my ex-husband’s new wife, children. They attended college while these two were sick. Open heart surgery and cancer and then the mother passed.  Some of you might know them. But anyway, and I had to get them out of Chicago because near Chicago because of what the redevelopment was doing in Chicago to the areas around it. And we were middle class people and we just couldn’t take care of everybody. And I don’t want Chapel Hill to fill that city development burden that they have to take care of everyone. That’s not fair. That’s why people like Al Sharpton and celebrities are out here trying to help. You know, and I talk with Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson and his family. And we’re trying to make differences for all people and Chapel Hill can do it. Thank you. You can do it.

Stephen Whitlow lives in Chapel Hill. Trained as an urban planner at DCRP, he works for a research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm and focuses on the areas of housing affordability, fair housing,...