House Us Now March! will be this Saturday in Chapel Hill – organizers ask for community support

 COMMUNITY NEWS

by Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

Yvette Mathews says she will never give up fighting for the people living in our community who make 30 % of Area Median Income (AMI) and below with a voice loud enough to provoke action from local officials. As a Community Organizer for the Community Empowerment Foundation (CEF), she serves people who desperately need assistance from the local government.

As frustrated as she may get, it won’t stop Mathews from organizing another House Us Now! march. This Saturday, May 4, the march will begin at 2 p.m. at the Peace and Justice Center and end with a rally at the Hargraves Community Center in Chapel Hill, offering food, music, and free haircuts.

Mathews is a dedicated full-time Community Organizer at the Community Empowerment Foundation. She has relentlessly raised awareness and insisted upon immediate action for this vulnerable population of under 30% AMI, which includes unhoused and low-income people. Her work is a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle and pressing need for assistance.

In 2020, Mathews created “House Us Now!” with the cooperation of local organizations. They banded together to support this population of people who feel unheard and unseen. “Their living conditions are beneath what should be acceptable for humans,” Mathews told TLR.

Over 150 people participated in the inaugural House Us Now! march on August 28, 2021. This rally and march will be their fourth, with an expected increase in participation to at least 200 people.

Community groups involved in the 2024 march

The Community Empowerment Fund’s march is supported and sponsored by the Inter-Faith Foundation (IFC), the Street Outreach, Harm Reduction, and Deflection (SOHRAD) program, Chapel Hill and Carrboro NAACP, Pee Wee Homes, and EMPOWERment Inc. Many local politicians, including Mayor Barbara Foushee, plan to attend.

Pee Wee Homes is the only nonprofit currently providing housing to under 30% AMI in Orange County

This is the first year Pee Wee Homes will join in to support the House Us Now! march. Executive Director of Pee Wee Homes Quinton Harper told TLR, “Pee Wee Homes is the only community-based nonprofit in Orange County providing housing for those that make at or below 30% AMI. We believe that housing is a right and that everyone deserves a home. Pee Wee Homes is proud to join the House Us Now! Coalition and proud to do our tiny part in meeting the need. We are grateful for the support that our local government partners provide. Their support makes building dignified and affordable tiny homes possible.

“We shout House Us Now because we are asking local government partners to sustain their efforts to address the housing crisis, including passing an affordable housing bond in Chapel Hill and supporting a two-cent tax for affordable housing. This funding will ensure that we can continue to build more homes and support members in our community to transition into safe, stable and long-term housing.”

The towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill answer TLR’s question about what they feel they have done so far to help the population under 30 % AMI

The Town of Carrboro’s response came from Town Manager Marie Parker :

Regarding your question about Carrboro’s initiatives, we’ve included a summary of some recent accomplishments:

  • Overall housing creation: We’ve facilitated the creation of new homes for both ownership (75) and rent (390), aiming to increase housing stock across income levels.
  • Preserving affordability: We’ve also focused on preserving existing affordable housing units (76) to prevent displacement.
  • Extremely low-income support: Our largest single grant ($357,208) went to CASA, an organization supporting extremely low-income residents.
  • Funding for unhoused individuals: Since 2018, we’ve provided significant funding to IFC ($319,811) and OCPEH ($429,703) to assist individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Pee Wee Homes initiative: We’ve supported the Pee Wee Homes project ($207,503) through land donations, fee waivers, and construction grants, creating affordable housing for those below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
  • Emergency housing assistance: Over $1.3 million has been allocated for emergency housing assistance, including federal funds.

Our funding priorities also reflect our commitment to affordability:

  • HOME funding: We prioritize using HOME funds for projects creating rental housing for those at or below 30% AMI.
  • Affordable Housing Special Revenue Fund: This fund specifically targets housing for extremely low-income residents (30% AMI or less), people with disabilities, and seniors.

Parker told TLR:  “We understand the ongoing need for affordable housing solutions. We’re actively involved in efforts to create more options and improve housing security for our residents.”

Chapel Hill Department of Housing & Community responded:

Below, please find up-to-date information to address your question about what the town is doing to support individuals and families earning 30% AMI and below:

  • At least a third of the affordable housing units the Town is planning for through the recommendations outlined in our affordable housing plan will aim to serve households earning 30% or less of the AMI (~300 units).
  • About 476 units in our current inventory aim to serve households earning 30% or less of AMI. (This represents about 43% of our existing affordable inventory (476/1102) and about 62% of our existing affordable rental inventory (476/765).

In a message from Mayor Jess Anderson on April 29 she addressed how more money might be allocated for affordable housing. “The Council met on Friday, April 26, to discuss when to bring a bond referendum forward and how to allocate monies. Affordable Housing projects are on the list for the proposed bonds. Funding also comes through the Penny for Housing, federal grants, outside partnerships and other streams.”

The letter stated that the council will meet again on May 3 to discuss this further. This issue will be discussed at the May 15 Town Council meeting, at which time the public can comment.

Community Empowerment Fund hopes for action

The Executive Director of the Community Empowerment Fund, Donna Carrington, has heard promises before, “I think the town should be building more for this population, like making this their priority. I also think they should be putting more money towards services that support 30% and below and especially our unhoused neighbors, making sure support services like IFC have the money they need…. Passing a 50 million dollar bond is a good start but increasing the amount of units specifically for this population within those buildings would be better. They need to be bold and progressive in their actions, not just in their talk.”

Mathews hopes to get strong community support this Saturday

“As the Community Organizer and a member of this population, I have seen and continue to feel the unfairness of how this particular population continues to be mistreated… Empowerment Inc., Pee Wee Homes, Interfaith Council, NAACP, and Street Outreach have banded together to support this population in making all communities aware of what’s happening with this specific population and will continue to band together until a change is made.”

Mathews said, “Unfortunately,  It’s still the same. The population is still suffering like it always has been. I think that being consistent and continuing to march for this population is what’s going to make a difference. Hopefully, that’s why we will continue to do it. I think that getting other people involved is a good way to do that, which we try to do every year –  go into the neighborhood, that kind of thing – and let people know exactly what’s happening, especially within this population. People continue to ignore them like they’re invisible, and we can’t let that continue.  You know what I’m saying?”


Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 
This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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