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Orange County, North Carolina Tackling Housing Affordabi...

Orange County, North Carolina Tackling Housing Affordability Challenges

Affordable housing was a hot topic in the November 2015 election cycle, with many elected officials addressing the challenge. As a result, Chapel Hill’s three newly elected town council members will be asked to uphold their promises to focus on providing solutions to the affordability challenge, as many residents are feeling the pinch of housing

Townhouse development, Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina, United States

Affordable housing was a hot topic in the November 2015 election cycle, with many elected officials addressing the challenge. As a result, Chapel Hill’s three newly elected town council members will be asked to uphold their promises to focus on providing solutions to the affordability challenge, as many residents are feeling the pinch of housing costs in Chapel Hill and elsewhere in Orange County.

Towns and cities across North Carolina are experiencing similar scenarios to Orange County when it comes to housing. A recent report looked at what cities and states have the most cost-burdened renters, and found that 50.8 percent of all North Carolina renters pay more than 30 percent of the monthly income towards housing. In Orange County, more than 28 percent of renters and seven percent of homeowners pay 50 percent or more of their annual income on housing costs. Affordable housing is currently defined as rent or mortgage and utilities payments costing not more than 30 percent of a household’s annual income.

Great schools and high quality of life influence the demand of housing in the area. More and more people are choosing housing developments that offer a wide range of amenities, subsequently driving up the price of existing housing. Oftentimes, cost-burdened residents are then forced to leave the county, relocating to neighboring Durham or Chatham County.

Single-family home for sale, Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina, United States

Orange County took steps to alleviate the affordable housing shortage in October 2015, issuing the largest bond in county history—a $125 million bond with $120 million going towards repairing county school buildings and $5 million going towards affordable housing. If voters agree, the bond money could help support housing programs, providing incentives that will help increase the housing stock for residents who are getting pushed out. Other solutions include mixed-income apartments, land bank models allowing for future building projects, and development of innovative design options for manufactured housing or tiny homes.

Municipalities elsewhere in the state are also working to develop broader, long term housing strategies. In Hertford, Dare, and Holyoke counties, the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union launched initiatives that offer housing below the market rate for teachers. Similar services are offered by Chapel Hill’s Community Home Trust, which provides affordable homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income households, including teachers.

What are some other tools that cities can use to leverage affordable housing development? Are there any cities that have done an exceptional job in ensuring that affordability remain a top priority? Is your city facing a housing affordability crisis? In what ways is it being combatted? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Rachel Eberhard. Data linked to sources.

  • Anna

    What about looking at the driving force behind the crisis? To only address the symptoms, insufficient housing, is palliative at best. Is any particular private or public sector hiring 50 or more employees within a year at a time? Wouldn’t it stand to reason to ask those employers who are the largest hiring companies to contribute money and resources towards affordable housing in the cities where they’re hiring? Or better yet, that they help to find housing for their employees in outlying areas as well and nearby their headquarters.

    As a native San Franciscan, I’ve seen unprecedented growth in just the past few years especially with the widespread hiring of tech employees as the driver. I believe these same companies should be accountable for helping the crisis that they are largely creating.

    I am grateful for the technologies created by Google, Facebook and others and yet if you connect the dots and see that it’s mostly the newly hired workforce that needs housing, then it follows that the responsibility should also be shouldered by those companies creating the impetus behind the crisis. These same companies reap enormous economic rewards, in the billions of dollars for Google and Facebook alone, to have the privilege of moving their operations within these cities so it stands that a portion of their income should support the housing needs of their employees rather than expect the existing cities to accommodate all these needs single-handedly with the sudden growth. The infrastructure also needs to catch up to meet these housing needs or else it will suffer as we’re seeing with more traffic congestion, transit delays, etc.

    An Affordable Housing Coalition Group involving the tech industry and other businesses with high hiring that can work alongside city planning departments, housing advocacy groups and the residents themselves would be a good place to engage everyone involved. The affordable housing crisis is not only regional but nationwide as income inequality is great, often seen between those working in the tech/software fields and those earning less than the median income, $71,000 in California as one example. You can’t have a “boom” of any kind without its accompanying concerns, in this case, housing and the civic infrastructure to support such growth which also must be addressed when looking at new development.

    • MP

      Aren’t the tech companies paying for it already in terms of higher compensation for their employees? They say “Here is an extra $25,000-$30,000 and go find housing in the City.” That money is being spent in the city somehow. Where does it end up is the question.

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