Chapel Hill council hears affordable housing plan

tgrubb@newsobserver.comOctober 4, 2013 

— A Raleigh nonprofit has offered the Town Council a plan to build several million dollars worth of affordable family and senior housing.

DHIC Inc.’s plan shows roughly 80 family apartments and up to 60 senior apartments on 10 acres beside the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. The town-owned site, potentially valued at $2 million to $4 million, is located between Legion Road, Europa Drive and U.S. 15-501.

Speaking at last week’s council meeting, DHIC President Gregg Warren said the town will have to act fast to capitalize on the opportunity.

The project could be funded with state and federal housing money, said Warren, who is also a member of the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing. The project would need N.C. Housing Finance Agency approval, and state money would only be available through 2014, he said.

The plan also could include a fire station and community center.

To meet program deadlines, DHIC would need a purchase agreement for the town-owned land by January, and rezoning and town approvals by May, he said. DHIC and the town could get an answer about the state money by the end of next summer, he said.

Council member and mayor’s committee co-Chairwoman Donna Bell said the possibility of more dollars for affordable housing is exciting.

“We’re beginning to take this really massive, tangible step in a direction that we just haven’t been able to do before,” she said.

A family of three making $36,000 or less could qualify for an apartment, under current U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

The two- to three-story project would be built in phases – starting with the family apartments along Legion Road – and cost about $60,000 per unit, he said. Parking would be behind the buildings. The federal program only funds one project of up to 110 units at a time, Warren said.

The site still needs to be surveyed, but DHIC officials said the incline and soil make it a tough one to build on. It could require more than $200,000 in retaining walls, leaving less money for land, they said.

The town should be upfront with residents about how much money it puts in, council member Matt Czajkowski said at Monday’s meeting.

“I would like an agreement coming out of here tonight that we are going to get a full-blown commercial appraisal of the land,” he said.

DHIC has built 19 family communities, 12 senior rental communities and two supportive housing complexes, Warren said. In Raleigh and Wake County, local governments have committed pools of money for similar projects, he said.

Council member Sally Greene, an affordable rental housing committee co-chair, said the cost of land keeps the town from seeing more projects.

The wooded Legion Road site was added recently to an Ephesus-Fordham development planning map as a potential location for affordable housing. DHIC and council members said the town might not want to wait for the whole plan to be finished before approving this project.

Council member Ed Harrison suggested making it a pilot study area for the Ephesus-Fordham “form-based codes” – a type of zoning that lays out guidelines for building height, density and uses, streetscapes and parking lots, and how buildings relate to each other in a specific area of town.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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