Town Considers Solutions for Affordable Housing

Lizzie Kane ‘22

Perspectives Editor

Historically, the train tracks have racially divided the Town of Davidson. Photo by John Crawford ‘20

This is part 2 of The Davidsonian’s investigation into affordable housing in the Town of Davidson. Make sure to read part 1, “Town Members Seek to Provide More Affordable Housing in Davidson.”

To address the rising housing and land costs in Davidson, as WFAE reporter David Boraks suggested, the town is looking into two progressive housing policies to keep properties affordable: community land trusts (CLT) and deed restrictions. The Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC), a local nonprofit, already uses the CLT model, and Davidson College has the biggest land trust in the town. 

In the CLT model, citizens purchase the structure on the property, but the trust maintains ownership of the land itself.

“The arrangement has been really good for low-income families who have not been able to buy a home,” Executive Director of DHC Marcia Webster said. “In Davidson, land values for a small lot on the west side can be sixty to eighty thousand dollars now; in other parts of the town, it is over one hundred thousand dollars.” CLTs reduce costs because homeowners do not have to pay property taxes, yet they share in any equity or profit when they sell, according to Webster.

But, as many people shared with The Davidsonian, some residents in West Davidson, the historically African American community, distrust the CLT model.

“The word people will cough up is ‘sharecropping,’” Dr. Greg Snyder said, a professor of religion and the chair of Precinct 206 Dems—a group that does frequent community outreach in the West Davidson neighborhood. The reason the term “sharecropping” is used stems from the fact that homeowners do not own the land that their house is on.

Regarding the analogy of sharecropping, Jane Campbell ’87, a town commissioner, said, “I do not believe that to be accurate, but I also have to understand that those are people’s perceptions.”

“It is very insulting and hurtful to us for someone to say ‘sharecropping,’” Webster said. “DHC feels that we have added some positive things to the town and to be accusing us of creating a sharecropping setting is not best for conversations about Davidson and affordable housing.” She noted that the agency has strong relationships with people who have leased land from them for a decade.

While that may be the case, Assistant Town Manager Karen Whichard is looking to pursue other options.

“The town is genuinely interested—if the community is—in helping support a new CLT, but the community is generally not interested. The town also wants to listen to that,” Whichard said.

Thus, another option to maintain lower property values is through deed restrictions. In this model, the homeowner owns the structure and the land, but the amount one can resell the property for and who the property is sold to is restricted; a low-to moderate-income homeowner must retain the lease.

The town recently purchased five homes in West Davidson to prevent developers from acquiring the properties in an effort to preserve the historic value of the homes and to maintain their affordability. It is unknown as to whether the houses will go into CLTs or be deed restricted. However, according to Whichard and Reid, the town will continue to buy as much land as possible to keep it out of the hands of developers and investors and thus counter the issue of the lack of affordable land.

In addition to trying to slow the rise of property values in the town, there are many more ideas being circulated to expand on affordable housing.

Whichard noted that the community has expressed wishes for more affordable rental units, which typically serve people who make up to 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI); as of 2017, Davidson’s AMI was $105,000, meaning that Whichard’s desired additional housing would be for people making no more than $31,500. Town Attorney and Affordable Housing Manager Cindy Reid echoed Whichard’s sentiment that there is an existing demand for rental units.

DHC has proposed 21 new affordable rental units, but there is an “access issue” to the property that they have to resolve with the Charlotte/Mecklenburg school system, according to Webster. Campbell pointed out that Habitat for Humanity has run into a similar access problem with their two remaining lots in town, adding that, in general, more spaces need to be designated for Habitat houses.

Additionally, a developer building townhomes in an area of Davidson called Summer’s Walk—which currently has 30 affordable units—will include three affordable units that will go into a CLT with DHC. 

The town’s inclusionary zoning ordinance calls for developers to make a payment in lieu if they forgo including the 12.5% of affordable units that the town mandates when new construction projects are drawn up. Chapel Hill and Davidson are the only towns in North Carolina with this rule. While the payment in lieu funds, $35,260 per unit, are currently being used for targeted rehabs—a program to help people age in place by making accommodations to their homes—Reid would also love to partner with another nonprofit housing agency to build affordable apartments for senior citizens in West Davidson.

A big factor that could allow for many of these dreams to be accomplished is money from the sale of Davidson’s shares in the buyout of Continuum, a local cable company. The Town of Davidson, along with Mooresville, bought the cable company in 2007, but this November, Davidson passed a referendum that allows the sale of their share for $80 million. The sale goes through on January 3rd, and there will be funds leftover from the purchase that could potentially go towards affordable housing. 

Campbell suggested that the town partner with the college to build more affordable housing in the wake of the Continuum sale. 

“If the town and the college went to the Foundation of the Carolinas—where a couple of Davidson alumni work—and said, ‘We want some real money and we want to move forward on this,’ we could potentially receive some funds that will allow us to provide more affordable housing,” Campbell said, qualifying that if this exchange does not occur, “The town is still going to go after affordable housing.”

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