There is a lot to plan for in only 6.46 square miles
In the 2010 Census, Carrboro clocked in with nearly 20,000 residents. All things considered that makes Carrboro a fairly small town. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with a vibrant downtown, a bus line connecting it to a highly ranked public university, and close proximity to several of North Carolina’s major cities. Mix this all together and you get one desirable place to live. It also means that longtime residents who love their small town, local workers who enjoy the after-work atmosphere, families interested in the good schools, university students and faculty members who want to walk to UNC, and a whole lot of others have to fit into 6.46 square miles (again, according to the 2010 Census). And all these people need a place to live – and even more importantly, they need an affordable place to live. This is easier said than done.
This summer, I have spent a lot of time learning about affordable housing. Before I begin on a short discussion about affordable housing in Carrboro, there are some key facts to keep in mind. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development defines housing affordability as spending less than 30% of your income on housing. In 2010, the area median income (AMI) for Carrboro was $43,276. The AMI is an average, and therefore, there are those who make under and over that amount. Many nonprofit and governmental housing programs focus on those who earn 60% AMI or less (note: many but not all…some will focus up to 115% AMI). To get more detailed information on Carrboro’s affordable housing situation, I highly recommend looking at the agenda items presented at the Board of Alderman’s recent retreat where they discussed the issue at more length. You can find the materials here: http://carrboro.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1446337&GUID=FAF13A6D-09C2-4C34-81DE-83290892B09F&Options=&Search=
This blog is too short to even begin to discuss all of the factors that go into affordable housing. Transportation access, a high student population, economic growth (or a sluggish economy), etc. all affect housing prices – both home sales and rental prices. But the big question that keeps coming out of this conversation seems to be “what can the local government do to encourage developers to create more affordable housing?” And right now, Carrboro is in the midst of trying to answer that question. I spoke briefly of low income housing tax credits last week – although those are very competitive. Land use ordinance policies such as the density bonus can be used to incentivize the building of affordable housing units. Also, the town can support the work of local nonprofit groups who specialize in this area. These are just some of the tools in the toolbox. The important part is that the town is looking strategically at the issue, and with this many minds working on the problem, the situation can only get better.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I am big into my take-aways. For me, the take-away from this particular project is that there are a lot of complex problems that local governments face every day. And you really have to become knowledgeable on each one of these problems because ultimately, public administrators and elected officials create policy that has a lasting effect on the town and its people – even if it’s only in 6.46 square miles.