The Chapel Hill News’ Jesse DeConto’s posts over on OrangeChat a discussion of tonight’s request by Orange Community Housing and Land Trust Executive Director Robert Dowling’s renewed request to take in lieu payments over affordable housing stock.

I’ve been troubled by his and others calls to take money over square footage for some time. Whatever problems the Town faces financing, managing or maintaining the program, sacrificing square footage of actual housing doesn’t make sense. If the kind of housing stock offered by a developer falls outside the Town’s desired mix, we need to put more flexibility into the program not rigidly insist on “it’s cash or nothing”.

At the end of the day, housing built now is less costly and will be available sooner than units that might (money is fungible) be built in the future.

And, of course, you can’t live “in lieu”.

Here’s the staff recommendation from tonight’s agenda.

Below is my comment left on OrangeChat.

For the last 4 years, during two election cycles, I’ve said that our escalating acceptance of in lieu payments over building actual square footage is a problem with our affordable housing process.

If we can’t fund the affordable housing program adequately without large infusions of in lieu monies, we have to reform the program, the way we underwrite it. If we can’t manage a larger portfolio of housing stock, we have to, again, look at reforming management of the program. If we think that the character of the housing, condos (of which the Town itself is investing in at Lot #5) is inappropriate for the population, we have to rework our approach to be more flexible.

I’m struck by Delores Bailey’s statement “”Everbody doesn’t want to live in a condo. Imagine the homes we could build for $500,000” for two reasons. One, the developers of Greenbridge floated an idea to build affordable units off-site – a plan that was rejected. And, two, she subsequently endorsed the creation of more affordable housing units – all condos – at Lot #5.

At the time, I asked Council to consider more flexibility in the kind of housing offered by the Greenbridge developers. All the supporters of the project based their endorsements, to some extent, on the extraordinary qualities this project offered. The Council even created a special Downtown development zone, allowing the projects looming height and increased density, by justifying the unusual public good the project presented. Yet, when it came to having the flexibility to accept off-site housing – housing built now instead of possibly later, as was the case in the in lieu monies argument – they couldn’t bridge the ideological gap.

Clearly it is time to rethink our approach to affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning will only increase the need to deal with the “in lieu” versus “square footage” dilemma.

To me, it’s pretty straight forward. Housing built now is less costly. A program that can’t manage a larger, more diverse portfolio of housing stock is not acceptable. Financing of the maintenance and management of the affordable housing program has to shift from in lieu monies.

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