More affordable housing at Chatham Park is needed, and can be accomplished



The Pittsboro town board is currently reviewing a proposed affordable housing plan for Chatham Park. Maybe you already know this could affect you or yours, but if you think it doesn’t I urge you to keep reading.

What is affordable housing? Officially, housing that doesn’t cost you more than 30% of your household’s gross monthly income. The official annual median family (gross) income for this area is based on three counties and might seem surprisingly high, $86,400. If you are single or widowed and make less than $48,400 a year you too could qualify for “affordable housing” — if it were only available.

Missing middle income housing, officially termed “workforce housing” based on sales price or rent rate related to income, is a supplemental form of affordable housing, that is also very hard to find.

Far too many households are paying too much for housing, if they can find it, and area workers, single or with families, especially need rental apartments they can afford. Too many people already working in Pittsboro can’t afford to live here.

Chatham Park agreed to do something towards affordable housing as part of its initial approval six years ago and a plan is under review now, one that seems to fall short of what the development’s new residents would need. If only 5% of the new homes and apartments need be affordable even for those middle incomes and lower, then 95% would be out of reach of the people who would actually make Chatham Park work. Thus minor tweaks of that percentage are not enough.

The plan also needs careful review of the many ways these requirements are proposed to be met, and the role of the town, in order that whatever is agreed upon produces the expected tangible results, and does so as the development builds out.

While the town recently approved an incentives-only approach (all that the N.C. General Assembly would allow) it seems likely that the bulk of new housing to come will be in Chatham Park. This development is freed from many of the conditions making housing expensive and affordable housing projects so hard to get built, such as limits on density, lot size and setbacks in all directions, and, most importantly land cost. Since these folks are not actually builders, construction cost is not an issue, just their control of the acreage. They are already planning to mix in housing types.

As an agreement that might never be improved over the 40-year build-out I am trying to remain hopeful that this plan can be crafted to be more adequate and predictable. I wish the developers would grasp how much more attractive, famous, and successful their project would be if they aimed for it to be more comprehensive, more inclusive (and less exclusive) and more self-contained, as they advertise. If anyone is in a position to do that they are, and it could demonstrate that even in our out-of-control unregulated housing market, it can, in fact, be done.

Liz Cullington