Jay Street affordable housing concept begins development in Chapel Hill

Courtesy of Town of Chapel Hill.


By Adam Powell

CHAPEL HILL —  A new low-income residential community project in Chapel Hill received a housing tax credit from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA), which will allow for the construction of a two-building complex of nearly 50 apartment homes along Jay Street.

The NCHFA announced that the Town of Chapel Hill was receiving a 9 percent low-income housing tax credit award, making Chapel Hill one of only four town applicants across the state of North Carolina to receive funding this year.

The project can proceed toward the development stage with the approval of the low-income housing tax credit from NCHFA. The apartments are designed for low-income residents who earn 30% to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

“Awards for these LIHTC (low-income housing tax credit) funds are highly competitive,” said Mayor Pam Hemminger about the successful application in a Town of Chapel Hill release. “We’re thrilled to have been able to help bring forward a project that will allow 48 families to be part of our community and live within walking and biking distance from parks, schools, jobs, and more.”

Tanyard Branch Trace has its roots in a formal initiative back in 2020 when Chapel Hill established a public-private partnership with Taft-Mills Group, a developer of affordable rental housing, and Community Home Trust (CHT), a Chapel Hill-based non-profit group concentrated on improving affordable housing in the area.

To build 48 single-family apartments, the public-private partnership focused on a 7.5-acre heavily wooded tract of town-owned property on Jay Street, nearly two acres of which are located in Chapel Hill’s Resource Conservation District (RCD). The development is anticipated to clear less than half of the established green space throughout the 7.5-acre tract, while preserving the Resource Conservation District entirely.

Courtesy of Town of Chapel Hill.

Nonetheless, multiple residents expressed concern about the proposed affordable housing neighborhood when the topic of the community was raised in a concept plan review in June 2021.

At that meeting, residents raised issues, including increased traffic along Jay Street, Village Drive, and nearby Estes and Umstead Drives, along with the potential for environmental impacts such as drainage and runoff issues at nearby Bolin Creek.

Residents in one adjacent community – Village West – presented a petition to town leaders expressing their opposition to the project. It was one of two formal petitions submitted by local residents requesting town leaders to reject the concept.

Despite that opposition, the Town Council approved rezoning for Tanyard Branch Trace in the spring of 2022, with only current council member Adam Searing voting in opposition.

In April, town leaders approved just under $2 million in funding for Tanyard Branch Trace to move ahead with logistical planning and other pre-construction work.

“Tanyard Branch Trace represents a unique opportunity to bring newly constructed affordable units to Chapel Hill at a time when affordable housing options are scarce,” said Dustin Mills, co-founder of the Taft Mills Group. “In Orange County, currently 58% of all renter households are rent burdened or pay more than 30% of their income for rent.”

Mills indicated that, as proposed, the community will consist of a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. The project calls for a playground, community facility, and access to the adjacent Tanyard Branch Trail, which runs to Umstead Park.

“At CHT, we regularly hear from Orange County residents about how hard it is to find an affordable rental property in our community, and we know the demand far exceeds the supply,” said Community Home Trust Executive Director, Kimberly Sanchez, in a Town of Chapel Hill release.

“As that supply gap grows, the need for communities like Tanyard Branch Trace cannot be overstated. With the support of our Chapel Hill Town Council and the provision of land from the town, we are now ready to get started working with our development partner, Taft-Mills Group, on this essential project. I am thrilled and hope this public-private partnership will serve as a model for future affordable developments in our community,” said Sanchez.

Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports and an education communications professional. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and TarHeelIllustrated.com. The public information officer for Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children.

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