CHAPEL HILL - One of the town's biggest affordable housing groups is asking the Town Council to loosen restrictions on its home-buying program.
The Community Home Trust manages the town's inclusionary housing program, in which developers are expected to make 15 percent of units in new developments meet affordability guidelines.
The group asked the council last week for permission to sell homes to people outside of Orange County. Currently, home buyers must live or work in Orange County, which has made it more difficult to sell homes during a recession, executive director Robert Dowling said.
"We have periodically struggled over time to sell houses. It's not always a slam dunk," Dowling said. "That just broadens the pool of buyers."
The original town rules required a homebuyer to have lived or worked in Orange County for one year. The Home Trust asked to reduce that time limit to six months, and the council granted that request in 2007.
Now the organization is asking to abolish it completely.
The new request was prompted by one Home Trust homeowner who has struggled to sell the home for about nine months, more than twice the pre-recession average, Dowling said. A couple from Durham was interested at one point but didn't qualify because they didn't live or work here, Dowling said.
If a Home Trust homeowner can't sell a home, the organization will buy back the lease to the house from the seller and initiate a new one when a new buyer becomes interested.
The group currently has five homes, out of 194 it manages, on the market.
"A lot of this is a reflection of the housing market that we're all experiencing right now, that we've been experiencing for three years now," Dowling said. "The housing market has been difficult and we're not immune to those difficulties. ... all of that impacts us particularly because we work with low-income buyers."
The recession has affected builders as well as buyers throughout the country. The Home Trust is also asking the county to reimburse part of its impact fee to private companies that build affordable housing for the trust.
The county collects an impact fee from a builder every time a new residential unit is built. That fee goes to support the county's school districts. The county currently reimburses that fee for nonprofit homebuilders, such as Habitat for Humanity, but does not reimburse private builders whose homes the Community Home Trust manages.
The Home Trust's resolution would require private home builders to pay the full impact fee, then be eligible for 50 percent reimbursement of that fee if the home is sold to a low-income buyer.
Reducing that fee would offer more incentive for developers to build more affordable housing, Dowling said. Currently, developers lose money when they build housing for low-income buyers.
Impact fees are scheduled to increase in 2012 to more than $11,000 for a single family home and $6,600 for a duplex, according to the Home Trust.
"This is recognition on the part of this organization that the homebuilders and the developers are struggling," Dowling said. "I've heard over the years from the private sector ... if this is something the public wants and is a public value among our community, why doesn't the cost of it get shared?"
Council member Gene Pease is the Town Council liaison the Community Home Trust and says he supports helping developers build more affordable housing in the community with an impact fee reimbursement.
He says he has mixed feelings about the petition to allow non-Orange County residents and workers to buy Home Trust homes.
Affordable housing is intended to help people who work in Orange County live in Orange County and help people who are living here stay, he said. But he says he trusts the Home Trust's board's expertise on the issue.
The Community Home Trust sells homes to individuals and households that make 80 percent or below the average median income. In Orange County, that's $38,000 or less for an individual or $54,250 for a family of four.
Dowling is scheduled to submit the petition to the Carrboro Board of Alderman. He also plans to submit it to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said he is open to the idea.
"I don't think that should be out of the question," he said. "The reality is, particularly right now, and probably for the next couple of years, the real estate market is soft and it's difficult to sell homes of any kind."