Local News

Mayors say Chapel Hill area needs affordable housing

Posted August 5, 2014 5:45 p.m. EDT

— The mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro on Tuesday called for local landlords to continue accepting federal housing vouchers, saying the vouchers are critical to allowing low-income residents to continue living in an area that has a dwindling supply of affordable housing.

The owners and managers of nine multi-family properties in the Chapel Hill area, which combined can house up to 90 families, have decided in recent months to stop accepting Section 8 vouchers from tenants. The federal vouchers pay a substantial portion of rent and utilities for low-income residents.

Many of the complexes have pushed up their rents, which is pushing out low-income tenants, officials said.

Chapel Hill has some of the priciest properties in the Triangle, meaning some of the displaced Section 8 tenants might have to move elsewhere. Local officials said these people could be police officers, firefighters or day care workers.

"If they have children, they may qualify to receive a voucher, and what better people do you want in your community than those who can care for others?" said James Davis, a civil rights specialist with the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Each town has a pool of funds and the assistance of nonprofit organizations to help some of the displaced residents find affordable housing in the area.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Section 8 housing has a stigma that is unwarranted.

"This is a way for landlords to get secure pay for their rental properties," Kleinschmidt said. "We're talking about folks who are willing and able to not just contribute to the community but to stay in their units for a long period of time."

Paul Reynolds has lived in Chapel Hill for 17 years, but the company that manages the 86 North complex where he lives will stop accepting his Section 8 voucher in December.

"I don't know where I'm going to live because I'm in this wheelchair," Reynolds said. "If I didn't have Section 8, then I'll be, I don't know, I'll be living in a homeless shelter or something like that."

Neither Chapel Hill nor Carrboro can force landlords to accept vouchers, but they hope that, by promoting tenants such as Reynolds, they can persuade complexes to change their opposition to Section 8 vouchers.

"We want folks to be able to stay here in our town," Kleinschmidt said.