Commissioner Bonitz: Affordable housing plan needs scrutiny

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The writer is a member of the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners.

TO THE EDITOR:

In Pittsboro and Chatham County there’s a major shortage of housing. Real estate values have shot up, and it’s hard to find reasonably priced homes or rentals. The Chatham Park Investors (CPI) propose to fix this by developing more than 22,000 housing units. But their first offerings are too expensive for most Pittsborans, ranging from $225k for a tiny 800 square feet, up to $840k for 3,600 square feet.

CPI’s draft affordable housing plan — required in return for the development’s very high density — was only recently submitted after the first one was rejected four years ago. Their new plan would have 95% of all Chatham Park residences be out of reach of middle income families.

Expert opinions from policy analysts and affordable housing developers (including Habitat For Humanity) say that we need at least 15% of new housing stock to be affordable. CPI’s draft policy, however, agrees to build only 5% of their 22,000 units as affordable housing — a mere third of what we need.

This flaw is only the tip of the iceberg of a complicated policy that’s filled with loopholes. For instance, land could be designated instead of houses — including unbuildable land, even up to one mile outside of Chatham Park. (Bear in mind, Pittsboro is only two to three miles wide.)

Will CPI equip these affordable housing developments (or land) with sewer allocations? Without that, these affordable houses or apartments are very unlikely to be built. There are many more crucial factors that need to be worked out, in public meetings and not in negotiations behind the scenes.

So the board has hard work to do, and if that takes time, it will be time well spent because whatever improvements we can get now will rule for the entire 40-year build-out of this gigantic project.

The town board worked many months in public to finalize the landscaping rules for Chatham Park. Affordable housing is much more crucial than landscaping, yet it hasn’t received that level of scrutiny.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to collaborate with the largest modern development in the state, and a chance to create innovative affordable housing solutions that could be envied and modeled.

If you agree, let the mayor and commissioners know before Nov. 22 that this needs to be done right, rather than fast.

John Bonitz
Pittsboro

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