Affordable housing: the crisis in Chatham County ‘not going away’

In Chatham County, the numbers and statistics are almost staggering, and it starts with this: in a county of about 72,000 people, there are about 2,000 fewer affordable, livable housing units than the county’s population demands.

Posted 1/31/19

THE CN+R EDITORIAL

In other words, 2,000 Chatham families lack access to affordable housing.

They lack access because of an unfortunate combination of circumstances in the place we live in …

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Affordable housing: the crisis in Chatham County ‘not going away’

In Chatham County, the numbers and statistics are almost staggering, and it starts with this: in a county of about 72,000 people, there are about 2,000 fewer affordable, livable housing units than the county’s population demands.

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Posted

THE CN+R EDITORIAL

In other words, 2,000 Chatham families lack access to affordable housing.

They lack access because of an unfortunate combination of circumstances in the place we live in work: too many households earning too-low wages, and too few homes and rental units available for those whose incomes fall below a defined threshold – that threshold manifesting itself when those living in a household have to spend more than 30 percent of their total income on gross rent and utilities.

In this week’s News + Record, you’ll find an in-depth story (along with an informative sidebar story) about Chatham’s affordable housing problem. While not everyone would call it a crisis – the majority of Chathamites live comfortably within a warm, safe house or rental unit that fits within their particular budget – it is extraordinarily troubling.

Consider:

Nearly two-thirds of all renter households in Chatham County are considered “cost-burdened” when it comes to housing expense.

There’s a severe shortage of rental units for our lowest-earning households. The inventory of affordable places to live within our county is simply way too small – this in a time and place that has seen housing prices on a steep rise.

Many of the rental units that fall within the “affordable” range in Chatham County are in poor condition.

The typical household in Chatham County spends 60 percent or more of its income on housing and transportation combined – well above the recommended threshold of 45 percent.

Chatham County’s unique demographics pose what experts have described as “an equity issue in the affordable housing dialogue.” Older adult households in Chatham, for example, have a lower median income than the general population. And white households’ median income here is more than twice that of black households and of Hispanic or Latino households – which suggests a need for different strategies for different populations.

The problem, clearly, is real.

Fortunately, Chatham County is pursuing a solution. The county’s Affordable Housing Committee has been created to address the problem, and worked with the Triangle J Council of Governments in 2017 to create a detailed report about it. Among the goals those working within the committee have identified: increase the number and diversity of affordable rental options; preserve naturally occurring affordable housing; preserve existing legally-binding affordable housing; ensure rental quality; support low-income renters; foster healthy communities; ad improve economic mobility and equity.

As you’ll see in this week’s story, solutions to the problem aren’t easy. They’ll require changes on many levels, including investment in affordable housing options and education about the problem. But you’ll also read that Chatham and its communities are working to address the problem with specific strategies.

To the entities and individuals working to find solutions, we say: thanks. To those who aren’t aware of the issue: begin to educate yourselves about the shared plight of some of your neighbors who also call – or want to call – Chatham County “home.” Awareness is a good first step to fixing any problem.

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