Chatham County doles out first funds for affordable housing projects

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/31/20

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners have approved recommendations from the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee for county funds to three affordable housing projects.

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Chatham County doles out first funds for affordable housing projects

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners have approved recommendations from the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee for county funds to three affordable housing projects.

The commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 21 to direct $124,000 in grants and an $85,000 low-interest loan for three separate projects across the county to three different agencies — the Farm at Penny Lane, Rebuilding Together of the Triangle and Wallick Communities. It was the first use of the county’s Housing Trust Fund.

AHAC Chairman Susan Levy said the committee was “really excited to have the applicants” they received and felt confident about their selections.

“We went through a long process in 2019 of creating the application for those funds and the criteria for scoring them and thinking about what the process would be,” Levy said. “It was a great culmination to that process that we had been through. I think we all felt that the quality of the applications was really high and the projects that we considered really met the goals of the county’s affordable housing goals and the goals that we as an advisory committee were working under.”

Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, a policy analyst focusing on affordable housing for the County Manager’s Office, said AHAC received four requests — three for new construction and one for preservation — totaling $344,000, with just $209,600 available. The committee met three times to make the decision, with Watkins-Cruz calling the discussion “very wonderful” and “lively.”

Farm at Penny Lane

The Farm at Penny Lane, a project partly operated by the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, is located in Pittsboro. The operation partners with individuals with severe mental illnesses to help them grow their own food and receive therapy in a farm setting. The Farm, which received the committee’s highest score, just broke ground on an effort to construct tiny homes to serve “people with mental illness and other health conditions living on a fixed income,” according to the agency’s website.

AHAC awarded the Farm its full ask of $54,000, which would be used at the county’s discretion for either a new tiny home or infrastructure to support the homes. Watkins-Cruz said the committee placed “higher weight” on Penny Lane’s application due to the “supportive housing” model the agency uses.

“The complex medical and social services that will be provided on site for these individuals is unlike any other development in the county and unlike even potentially a tax credit project that might take a long time,” she said. “This is forever affordable. This one is probably one of the only permanently affordable supportive housing (options) we have.”

Wallick Communities

Wallick Communities, an Ohio-based firm that has built low-income housing in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and other states, received $85,000 in the form of a low-interest loan. The firm has a proposed tax credit project in Siler City that would house up to 84 units.

Rebuilding Together

Rebuilding Together of the Triangle, a local branch of a national nonprofit that provides home repair and renovation services to needy homeowners, received $70,000 in grant funds to serve 30 low-income homeowners in Chatham.

The Housing Trust Fund was created by the commissioners in 2018 to assist development projects “that preserve or create additional affordable and workforce housing within Chatham County with the overall goals of affirmatively furthering fair housing choice for all residents,” according to the county’s website. Affordable housing has been a focus of the governments of both Chatham County and the Town of Pittsboro in recent years, and the commissioners recently included affordable housing as a recipient of the proposed sales tax increase, if it is approved by county voters in March.

Levy said AHAC felt the process for this first round of grants and loans went well, but hopes there’s more money coming in the future.

“The need is much, much bigger than we’re going to be able to meet with the resources that we currently have,” she said. “It was a great start. I think one of the goals that we have as an advisory committee is think about ways that would have the county increase that pool of funds.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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