Northside Memories

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

Phase I 2011 Affordable Housing Community Outreach Wraps Up

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Today is the final meeting in a several week series of outreach sessions seeking community input to help formulate a new Affordable Housing Strategy for Chapel Hill. Staff sought advice from a broad range of local residents – from current affordable housing residents to professionals managing a wide variety of community programs.

Council, after a bit of prodding and plans spinning awry, wisely recognized there are some structural problems with our current affordable housing approach. Beyond acknowledging the need to rebalance our selection of affordable housing options, Council, on the heels of Greenbridge’s financial difficulties, has finally started to understand some of the inherent risks with their current policy (issues they were made aware of prior to their approval of Greenbridge, East54 and West140 luxury condo projects).

BACKGROUND The Town Council has directed staff to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy. In order to develop a strategy that is inclusive and reflective of the community’s concerns, staff has been conducting focus group sessions with affordable housing stakeholders as well as groups who may not be traditionally associated with the topic.

PURPOSE The purpose of this meeting is to obtain feedback from the community about affordable housing in Chapel Hill. This focus group session is being held for anyone in the community who would like to offer their input about the topic of affordable housing. For more information about this effort, please visit to the following website: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=1657

I’ll be attending today’s meeting in order to get a sense of what lessons the Affordable Housing Technical Advisory committee has learned from our community over the last month.

Affordable Housing – Preferences and/or Priorities

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Big agenda this evening. I also commented on the proposal for creating a range of housing options as a consequence of implementing the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Other folks commenting included Anita Badrock, Operations Manager of the Community Home Trust and Rob Reda, the local director of Habitat for Humanity.

For the last 6 years, I have argued that our Town’s growing reliance on in lieu monies to sustain the affordable housing program was short-changing the community’s desire for more living space – especially family-oriented homes.

I understand the occasional need for in lieu payments but as the Council scrambled to create the missing housing maintenance fund – that need seem to drive some unhealthy compromises made in approving projects like East54. It is far past time that the Council finds a way to fund the affordable housing program in a more consistent and predictable manner.

Tonight’s proposal moves our Town one-step closer to that vision – codifying an emphasis on square footage – today’s housing – over accepting funds that rarely translates into affordable living space. I want to thank the Council tonight for making a substantive shift in policy that squarely prioritizes homes over programs. Thank you.

While tonight’s recommendations represent a distinct change in course, I believe we can improve the proposal to help us meet both the needs of our current community and diversify access further.

First, instead of expressing a preferences express priorities. What’s first, second, third when it comes to the goals the Town is trying to achieve? As far as off-site housing, please make it more acceptable than cash.

Second, while I understand Robert and Delores concerns about moving housing stock, there should be a bias towards providing a different mix of housing – housing for our workforce – housing for folks – like my wife and I – who wanted to get their foot-in-the-door and establish long term roots in the community – housing for folks who already have deep roots in Chapel Hill – many who have served our community for decades – who want to or are being forced to downsize into more modest housing but want to and deserve to stay here.

That means units larger than 1 or 2 bedrooms in the Town Center. That means housing uniquely oriented towards an aging population. You responded to the same call with the Lot #5 project and created a broader mix there….if the Town needs to invest to make that happen, let’s build in a mechanism to do that…

I was encouraged by Council member Ward’s recent call to review current utilization of the affordable units provided by developments like Greenbridge to see if we are meeting the goals our Town has set forth. As he put it – to tell if there’s a bias towards grad students over others.

Third, to create a framework for deciding when off-site housing is preferable and should be prioritized. This framework would give specific guidance to developers for determining when such provision makes sense. I believe we can agree, in retrospect., that Greenbridge’s initial offer to provide housing off-site was probably the superior choice. I understand and fully support diversity efforts but as the character of development in Chapel Hill changes I believe that off-site units represent a choice that can better meet the needs of the wider community in some circumstances.

140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Local commentator and involved citizen Fred Black invited me to do a WCHL1360 Who’s Talking segment last week.

It airs this evening (Tues. Aug. 3rd, 2010) at 6PM.

While the subject was supposed to be the Lot #5/140 West project, which is slated to finally get started later this month, Fred used this opportunity to talk about development Downtown, public engagement, and Council.

As I said then and before, I believe Lot #5 presented an excellent opportunity for redevelopment.

I and others argued for a fiscally prudent, environmentally sustainable, community-oriented development that had workforce housing, affordable commercial opportunities, an integrative tenant – like a grocery store – and real public space.

Instead of getting a signature development that met those goals from the RAM Development/Chapel Hill collaboration we got a $10M+ taxpayer funded luxury condo development with little public utility. Architecturally, the project’s look fits the Atlanta beltway more than Chapel Hill – it says little, if anything, significant about our community.

Not only was the business model flawed but so was the underlying commitment to adhere to measurable energy and environmental targets (the Council, unlike what they’ve pushed UNC to do, did not adopt and has no plan to evaluate energy usage, for instance, using ASHRAE or other quantifiable standards).

Of course, I thought that the scale of this development (which you can get a sense of from the site models I created 4 years ago) didn’t fit the human-scale dimensions of our current Downtown. That human-scale is part of Chapel Hill’s ‘brand’ – evidenced by the Town’s own logo – and shouldn’t have been casually tossed without at least a proper attempt to educate our residents and some informed buy-in from the community.

What now?

The Council had many chances to walk away from the project over the last few years as RAM Development missed contractual obligation after obligation. The majority didn’t.

The Council had 2 years to work with local businesses to minimize the impact of the next 2 years of construction. That collaboration just started and already there is some significant friction between the Town and the Franklin St. commercial district.

The public financial burden begins immediately as the environmental remediation begins though the Town’s finances are stretched to the maximum by the majority of this Council’s decision to issue $20+ M in bonds for the Library expansion among others capital improvements. There’s no plan in place to publish those costs as they mount.

Is it too late to do anything? No.

This is OUR project. WE are investing $30-40M in cash and property and have every right to expect that nearby businesses can still function, that questions of public access be finally laid to rest, that every dollar invested by our residents is accounted for and that we have a solid commitment to measuring the success or failure – in terms of tax and parking revenues, energy efficiency, growth of commercial activity – of the project

I did a quick review of my posts on the Lot $5/140 West project and have collected those from 2006 to 2010 below for further background:
(more…)

2010 Final Spring Meeting Chapel Hill Council

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Over the year’s I’ve seen some rather jam packed final spring term Council meetings. This one was about average in length, light on content but big in setting the stage for two broad initiatives – siting an emergency shelter and legally mandating affordable housing – to move forward.

I left prior to Council’s revisiting Laurin Easthom’s reasonable request for further fiscal analysis of Library funding, I’ll report back on that soon…

The first big bang of the evening, Council approved the %15 affordable housing inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Before voting for the zone, Jim Ward brought up the same fiscal equity issue I raised about this ordinance months ago. Downtown developments are only required to provide %10 affordable housing under the logic that it is more expensive to develop Downtown and that development will be driven into other parts of Town to avoid a %15 requirement.

Sally Greene reiterated that the existing density and height bonuses were not sufficient to overcome developers reluctance in meeting a standard %15 requirement. Of course, while property Downtown is more expensive to develop it also demands far greater premiums – something the analysis downplays. Her argument also doesn’t account for the radically increased density/height allowances in TC-3 – the self-serving zone Council created for their Lot $5 disaster.

Mark Kleinschmidt acknowledged that the inclusionary zone wasn’t fully baked and suggested that it be reviewed one year out. The zone, whose goals are laudable, could’ve used a bit more polish before setting in motion. We’ll see if the gaps are filled in 2012 (if the Council is entangled in litigation over the provisions by then).

While I semi-live ‘blogged the discussion of creating guidelines, standards or zones for human service facilities there are a few more observations to add.

First, there was a strange juxtaposition between the discussion of siting human service facilities, including “white flag” emergency shelters, and the approval of the inclusionary zone.

In initial discussions of the inclusionary zone, several of us argued that space should be allocated not just for affordable housing but community-oriented uses like human services facilities. Using a zoning process would be one way the Town could find needed space for these type facilities. We got the same response as when we asked Council to include space for feeding/housing the homeless at East54 or Lot #5 – not interested.

Council continues to reject calls to make this part of our development approval process (if Roger Perry’s Obeys Creek proceeds I’ll be asking Council to set aside some of that mandated square footage or in lieu monies for community-oriented services outside of affordable housing).

Second, the IFC has tried very hard to work within the rules informally suggested for siting the new Community House facility.

One primary requirement was that the property didn’t need rezoning.

I’ve watched Council twist zones, like the RSSC zone meant to encourage %100 affordable housing into a spot zone for hundreds of luxury condos for their business partner RAM Development, to meet their political agenda. Ed Harrison observed the current SUP process is a “crap shoot”. I’ve seen similar Council machinations use the SUP process to meet various goals (many I agree with) so why can’t we roll the dice favorably?

The point being that while the IFC struggled to find a site that doesn’t need rezoning, there are many examples of where a particular zone was little or no impediment to Council approval of a project (look at the creation of TC-3 for Greenbridge, West140 and which will apply to Short Bridge development and University Square redevelopment, look at how East54’s developer Roger Perry got a range of allowances to maximize his profit, etc.).

Of course, this is a main concern of Homestead’s neighborhood activists.

Without binding zoning requirements (well, as binding as Chapel Hill makes them) or standards mandated by ordinance, the Council can twist the current rules to meet their own agenda and reject public concerns.

The IFC continues to jump through what must seem like an endless series of hoops in an effort to provide two services, one – an emergency shelter – of which is squarely the County’s responsibility, the other – a transitional program to move folks from homelessness to established residents – which is commendable on every measurable axes.

After years of marching through the desert, th group submitted their special-use permit (SUP) request this morning – moving the project forward to an eventual yea or nay vote early Fall.

Neighborhood activists have already helped IFC sharpen their proposal. The move to address some of their concerns is what is fueling the drive to create a transparent, somewhat objective, process for evaluating siting services.

As the Community House discussion lurches into the next phase, I anticipate arguments over what guidelines or standards should apply and what decision-making framework – the Planning Board’s findings, SUP process or some kind of intermediate hybrid – will dictate the eventual result.

The residents of Chapel Hill deserve an open discussion on not just siting human services but providing future space for anticipated human service requirements. Not only should the current process yield a set of somewhat binding standards for evaluating particular sites but also provide a framework for measuring the cumulative impact and operational advantages of siting services compactly within the community.

Finally, my hope is that the current process opens up a real discussion on this Town’s obligation to support IFC and other incredible human service groups within this community.

That discussion should be frank and honest.

Council must explain why human services aren’t sited at developments like East54 as part of the SUP process, why it is so easy to twist a zone like RSSC or create a TC-3 zone for their own agenda while making the IFC jump through hoops to find an existing zone and why the newly minted inclusionary zone doesn’t include a mandate to set aside square footage for both affordable housing and human services.

Election 2007: Friends of Affordable Housing Questionnaire

Monday, October 15th, 2007

X-Posted from my campaign website.

I hadn’t heard of this organization prior to this election but they appear to have been active for the last 10 years.

Friends of Affordable Housing is a non-partisan Political Action Committee that has been active in selective elections within Orange County during the last 10 year. The organization was first organized to support the Orange ballot for Affordable Housing Bond Money. The committee has also periodically sent questionnaires to candidates running for Orange County Commissioner and Chapel Hill Town Council.

Core members of the committee felt the residents of Chapel Hill should have the opportunity to know the positions of the various candidates running in 2007 for Chapel Hill Town Council. The Committee felt the relocation of the IFC, the transition to more attached multi-story housing, the opportunity for more affordable housing in Carolina North, and the possibility of selective use of “payment in lieu” of affordable housing units were issues of significant concern for Chapel Hill residents. The committee members are all long standing residents of Chapel Hill. The four review committee members have extensive executive committee experience in non-profit boards including the IFC, Habitat for Humanity, Dispute Settlement Center, YMCA and various Orange County boards including the Commissioners Committee on Affordable Housing. Committee members have also consulted with staff members of several of the Affordable Housing providers.

The NC Board of Elections has informed us that Friends of Affordable Housing does not have to register as a formal PAC for the 2007 election because we will not be raising money to support a specific candidate or issue.

They weren’t active in the 2005 race even though there was a slew of known affordable housing related issues before the Council.

Dear Candidate:

As you know, initiatives to increase the stock of all types of affordable housing in Chapel Hill have been an election issue for many years. In order to give Chapel Hill residents a better understanding of your position on this critical subject, Friends of Affordable Housing has developed a 7-item questionnaire asking you to address some of the current issues.

A review committee of the Friends of Affordable Housing will review your responses and may endorse specific candidates prior to the November election. Your comments will also be made available to the general public.

Thank you for your cooperation; we look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

The review committee: Natalie Ammarell, Rev. Richard Edens, Susan Harvin ,Richard Leber

They obviously understand that maintaining and expanding affordable housing opportunities will require even more attention of the new Council than the last two years.

Here are my answers to their questions.


Friends of Affordable Housing Questions for Chapel Hill Mayor and Town Council Candidates

1. Please describe your commitment to creation of affordable housing initiatives in Chapel Hill.

I’m dedicated to continuing our Town’s commitment to providing affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

We need to re-evaluate, though, our current initiatives, our capability to manage our affordable housing stock and to rebalance the types of housing we’re currently providing.

With that, we also need to adopt fiscal policy that helps folks keep the most affordable housing they have – their current homes. We’re already seeing a trend of long-term residents, after decades of contributing to our community, being “shown the door”.

Those just starting out, can’t even get their foot in the door without substantial incomes.

Finally, we need to make sure our Town’s growth policies align with our housing goals.

RAM Development, the Town’s private partner on the Lot #5 boondoggle, is proposing to replace the somewhat affordable apartments with hundreds of big-ticket condos. Developments that displace existing affordable housing stock, like Hillsborough 425, are part of Chapel Hill’s future.

We need to make sure, though, that we anticipate the consequences of those displacements.

2. Please give your opinion about the actions taken by Town Council in the last 4 years to increase the stock of affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

I commend the Council for their intent. I applaud their successes. But, we could’ve done better.

Too much in lieu money, not enough square footage. Necessary reform in managing our housing stock or being able to adapt to changing conditions left undone for too long. Opportunities like Roger Perry’s %30 offer at East 54 or Greenbridge’s Northside neighborhood in-fill proposal missed. Rebalancing the kind of housing we offer, not adequately addressed.


3. Given the current impasse with the County, what would you do as a Town Council member to proactively advance the effort to find a new site for the IFC Men’s Residential Facility?

a. Would you oppose locating the facility in certain parts of town (e.g., downtown; near Seymour Center)?

I would like to see the IFC split the food service and the shelter functions. As far as the Men’s Shelter, our Town – if a leadership vacuum exists at the county level – has a responsibility to manage this process. I believe the Town should work with the IFC, proactively, along four basic thrusts.

One, develop criteria that incorporates both the IFC’s requirements for just the shelter component and our Town’s goals for development, transit and neighborhood preservation.

Transit opportunities, accessibility to health and other social services are a few of the criteria I would suggest.

Two, once we have the mutually developed criteria, find the site that best suits our joint needs. Our community needs to be involved in both the development of relevant criteria and the selection of the site.

Locating on Homestead makes sense, especially over Eubanks or Millhouse but there might be better sites based on the decision matrix the IFC, other interested parties and the Town develops.

Three, our Town could provide some logistical support to the IFC in developing a task list to move the shelter.

The Chamber asked me if I’d support pulling the IFC’s lease on the existing shelter location. No way I did say that our Town should help develop a punch list of items with specific performance goals and a timeline to hold the IFC to – but taking a punitory tack is – in my estimation – a poor strategy.

Four, we need to bring our community into the process early, educate the public on the relevant issues and, proactively, publish a guide on how the Council will measure the success of this project. If Council affirms, as I believe we’ll be able to do, that the population at the Men’s Shelter will not increase criminal activity in surrounding neighborhoods, we should already be prepared to assess that activity and report back if reality matched our projections.

4. What new programs do you envision to increase the stock of affordable homes in Chapel Hill?

a. Do you think priority should be given to one type of affordable housing (e.g., transitional housing, special needs, rentals, small condo’s, larger owner occupied detached homes) over another?

We need to rebalance our housing stock based on a few criteria. First, what is the most diverse kind of stock we can reasonably manage using existing resources? Second, look at partnering on denser developments like Raleigh’s Carlton Place (I wrote about this development here: http://citizenwill.org/2007/03/21/raleighs-carlton-place-a-downtown-affordable-housing-commitment-worth-emulating/ ). Third, like Carlton Place, re-evaluate rental housing within our current mix.

b. What type of affordable housing should be built in Carolina North and on the Greene Tract?

I would like to see affordable housing developed on the Greene Tract that is akin to that of the Homestead Park neighborhoods. I would also like the housing to be on the eastern side of the tract to integrate into those neighborhoods, take advantage of existing and new amenities, be closer to existing transit, take advantage of new transit capabilities (depending on what happens at Carolina North) and avoid damaging some of the more ecologically sensitive areas.

The University has suggested that housing on Carolina North will be market driven. I would like to see a mix of units that parallels the stock that UNC commissions.


5. In the last year, Town Council has approved three mixed-use developments: 54 West, Greenbridge and Ram’s Lot 5. Under Chapel Hill’s Inclusionary housing policies these developments will generate almost 100 affordable one and two bedroom condo units. However, these units will not serve lower income families with children.

a. In your opinion, do current policies provide the types of affordable housing that are really needed? If not, what should be changed?

As you might be aware, I’ve been critical of the Town’s Lot #5 development for a number of reasons. The project is fiscally irresponsible, the original affordable housing stock was not family friendly, the affordable housing parking was off-site (second class citizens), the condo fees were steep and not capped, the condo units – especially the larger ones – will most probably server the student community, measurable energy efficiency and environmental standards were dropped, and on and on. You can read my web site – citizenwill.org – for a detailed discussion on these and other Lot #5 ills.

For all my criticism of the majority of the Council’s decision to take on this money pit, I am happy that Cam Hill did accept my recommendation to resize some of the affordable units to accommodate families. Will families find them inviting? I’m not sure.

Considering Lot #5’s location, I’m quite concerned that the Council never took my call to look at affordable living as well as affordable housing seriously. What is the cost of living in one of these units if you should be on the lowest economic rung of those that can purchase a unit? Will the economics of that location end up making this housing more transitional in nature than was originally anticipated?

The units at East54 strike me as being more family friendly. I was encouraged, at least until the Harris-Teeter moved, that a mix of services were within easy reach. I was discouraged though by the Landtrust’s assessment that these units would be transitional in nature. And, of course, continue to be concerned we couldn’t take advantage of the developers offer to build %30 affordable housing.

With Greenbridge, I believe our philosophy of integrative units, a good goal, interfered with an excellent opportunity to acquire more square footage. The rejection of the proposal to build family units within an existing adjacent neighborhood was disappointing. Our Town policy should be flexible enough to adapt to exceptional opportunities that don’t diverge greatly from our housing goals.

b. Can Chapel Hill’s Inclusionary housing policies be utilized to generate affordable rental housing? If you think so, please explain how such rental housing would be managed and maintained.

From my understanding, the existing inclusionary policies don’t align with encouraging development of rental housing. As the inclusionary zoning process continues, we need to make sure rental becomes more of an option.


6. Many affordable homes are “aging” and will require significant maintenance. Is it appropriate for public funds to be used for long-term maintenance? If so, what sources of funds should be used?

I’m interested in the proposal for a rotating loan fund to assist folks in maintaining their properties. This loan fund, if created, needs to come from monies outside the general fund. I would not support additional Town debt – via bonds or other mechanisms – to fund this loan program.


7. Do you think “payment in lieu” of affordable housing construction should be accepted from builders? If so, what guidelines should be used and how should these funds be used?

Over the last five years, my sense is the Council is accepting way too much in lieu monies over square footage. We’re asking developers to create housing. Housing built now will not only help relieve some of our current demand but also be cheaper than housing built 5, 10 , 20 years out.

If we ask for housing, we should get housing.

Delay is not our friend. Easy money also erodes are discipline. Square footage over in lieu money should be our guiding principle.

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