Whether you work in aging, planning, government, social work, health care, law, education, or simply pay attention to the news, you’re probably aware of discussions around affordable housing. Gentrification in urban neighborhoods, lack of affordable housing in areas walkable for older adults, the preservation of affordable housing near new transit stations, and low-quality rural housing are a sample of the problems impacting our region. Without significant attention to policies and funding mechanisms, we expect the decline in quality, affordable housing to continue as our population grows. Affordable housing is not an isolated issue either. Lack of affordable housing often reflects other systemic issues like low-paying jobs, education and wealth discrepancies, and racial inequities. When housing is affordable, families can allocate less money toward rent and more toward resources like healthy food, education, and preventive healthcare.
“Affordable Housing” is a term often thrown around without much meaning, but there is a way to measure and track it. Housing is affordable when households making less than the area median income (AMI) spend 30 percent or less of their income on rent and utilities.”
In response to increased recognition of this topic from our member governments – including among elected officials on our Board of Delegates – TJCOG has recently upped the ante on our affordable housing efforts. We are currently working on a variety of affordable housing initiatives in the region. Last September, we co-sponsored the Triangle Regional Housing Summit, where housing experts discussed challenges and opportunities, financing, and unique strategies in affordable housing. With so many of our communities facing similar challenges to providing affordable housing, this chance to convene enabled idea sharing and collaboration between stakeholders.
Today, through a contract with Go Triangle, we are figuring out how to ensure that 15% of housing within half a mile of every proposed Durham-Chapel Hill Light Rail Station will be affordable to households making 60% or less of the area median income. I am also working with UNC’s Partnership in Aging Program in coordination with the Orange County Department on Aging to help address affordable housing for older adults in Orange County. TJCOG staff continues to participate in local affordable housing coalitions and groups that work with local governments, residents, and service providers to increase affordable housing in the region.
One of our most exciting projects is with Chatham County, Goldston, Pittsboro, and Siler City. These member governments have hired TJCOG to help them develop strategies to begin addressing their affordable housing problems. This initiative offers an interesting approach to addressing the need for quality, affordable housing. My fellow planning colleague, Aspen Romeyn, and I have helped to establish the newly formed “Chatham County Housing Committee.” The Committee consists of an elected official and a staff member from each municipality and the county, as well as our incredibly engaged Committee Chair, Dennis Streets, Executive Director of Chatham County’s Council on Aging. Aspen and I organize and lead the bi-monthly meetings and have found that this Committee structure is very conducive to having efficient meetings and making impactful decisions.
The Committee focuses on increasing and preserving quality, affordable rental housing. By July, we will develop an affordable rental housing report for Chatham County, outlining current income and housing data, demographic projections, assessments of housing processes, and implementable strategies tailored to Chatham. Strategies will include both low-hanging fruit and longer-term, more difficult changes. So far, we are looking forward to making specific recommendations that include:
- implementing policy changes to incentivize developers to build affordable rental housing in Chatham County, based on an analysis of current policies
- building affordable rental housing on identified publically owned land
- cultivating partnerships with private and affordable housing developers
- establishing a dedicated housing fund
- ensuring quality of market-rate affordable rental housing and ensuring the continued availability of quality, market-rate affordable rental housing
As TJCOG works to improve the affordable housing landscape, I am looking forward to tackling issues that affect the diverse communities and environments in our region and continuing to partner with local governments and stakeholders. I can feel the energy and commitment at every meeting I attend because right now is the time to improve the affordable housing situation in the Triangle. With so much work to be done and such great support from our member governments, every day is exciting as we affect change in affordable housing!
– Julia Katz is a planner with TJCOG for our Development & Infrastructure programs focusing on affordable housing and community livability.