Chatham County approves updated Housing Trust Fund

by Casey Mann, Senior Correspondent

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ focus on affordable continued during its Aug. 17 meeting with the passage of an updated Housing Trust Fund. The board had previously voted to appropriate $200,000 to the fund in the county’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget.

“Chatham has long had a deficit of housing for certain income levels and needs, partly through a lack of understanding of the importance of stable, affordable, safe housing on educational outcomes, physical and emotional health and economic stability, but also because we have not had leaders who were willing to make the investment in housing,” Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Karen Howard said. “If we expect to build strong, resilient communities a variety of housing options that do not overburden families at every income level is essential and should be treated as a priority.”

The Chatham County Housing Trust Fund was first created in 2018 to provide low interest loans to encourage development projects that create affordable and workforce housing in the county or provide small grants for studies and other housing related projects in the county and its municipalities. This year’s iteration of the Housing Trust Fund has been amended to also include efforts to preserve existing affordable housing through renovation, repair, and retrofitting.

For a project to be considered eligible for Housing Trust Fund support, the project must be in Chatham County with at least 20% of the development being affordable to households with incomes at or below 120% of the Area Median Income. Projects could include construction of new housing for sale or rent, preservation of existing affordable housing, conversion of existing non-residential structures for housing, rehabilitation projects to improve existing housing that is substandard and energy efficiency projects to help reduce energy costs for residents.

“Affordable housing ensures that a diverse population of residents can call Chatham County home and we all benefit from having a community that is rich in diverse strengths, skills, interests and expectations,” Howard said. “Having housing options to meet the needs of those residents should be important to local elected officials.”

“While I feel we are currently focusing on critical areas, in the near term I would like to see more intentional focus on housing for those between 50-80% of Area Median Income where many two income households fall,” Howard continued. “The stock of housing in Chatham that would allow such a household to rent or purchase a residence without becoming burdened by debt is extremely low and as a result many of our teachers, police and sheriff’s officers and middle-income earners are unable to reside in Chatham. Housing affordability does not only affect low income families, it affects us all.”

Vice-Chair Diana Hales made a point to highlight that the issue is a countywide challenge and the commitment the Board of Commissioners has made to meet the challenge:

“Chatham is not just Pittsboro and the 15/501 Chapel Hill corridor” Hales said. “The rest of the county is where people live, too, facing the same obstacles, including substandard housing. It takes many programs and sources of money from local, state and federal partners as well as non-profit organizations to help a family find and afford adequate housing. Our Housing Trust Fund is a small step and underscores our commitment as a Board of Commissioners. It is a pivot point in the process and engages with everything related to adequate, affordable housing. The housing crisis is not going away. What we do today has impacts into the future.”

Applications for consideration for the Housing Trust Fund are available on the Chatham County website. According to Chatham County’s Policy Analyst, Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, she has already received inquiries from developers for three different projects for the fiscal year.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the changes to the Housing Trust Fund to include retrofitting and rehabilitation projects.

Casey Mann is a Senior Correspondent for the Chatham County Line and can be reached at