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Affordable Housing Proposals Would Empty Housing Trust Fund

City housing officials say they've received new proposals for 620 units of affordable housing, which, along with prior commitments, would eat up the entire $50 million in Housing Trust Fund bonds that voters approved in November. But officials hope a private-sector fund can help boost the number of units created in the next few years.

Meanwhile, the council on Monday also approved a long-debated new policy that relaxes limits on where affordable housing can be built. 

Housing director Pamela Wideman walked the City Council through a list of projects seeking Housing Trust Fund money.

"And then the other developments that I spoke to you about, those equal $12.1 million. So you can see that adds up to $51.6 million, and that exceeds already your $50 million bond," Wideman said.

And there are more projects in the pipeline, says Wideman. So the city is in discussions with backers of a separate $50 million private sector fund that could help fund more projects. Those backers include the Foundation for the Carolinas and private companies, along with Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, a New York-based nonprofit hired to help manage the private fund.

"So the question we all have to wrestle with, or we have to wrestle with, in terms of moving forward, is how do we maximize the partnerships between the private sector and LISC to achieve the maximum impact in a rapidly increasing cost environment?" Wideman asked.

Wideman's sense of urgency in some ways matched the council's. With the city facing an estimated shortfall of 24,000 affordable housing units, the council has made the issue its top priority.

But in a nearly hour-long discussion at the council's dinner meeting, council members repeatedly questioned how the process might work.  Mayor Vi Lyles said that would be discussed with the foundation and LISC at the council's annual retreat in two weeks (Jan. 28-30).

That $50 million private fund has about $10 million in commitments so far, with more to be announced this morning from Bank of America, Ally Bank and Barings. Foundation for the Carolinas officials say they hope to finish fundraising by June.

Council members Monday also voted 9-1 to approve a new policy on where affordable housing should be located. Restrictions in the old 2011 policy were designed to prevent concentrations of low-income housing. But the council often granted waivers to the policy.

The new guidelines rely on a scorecard that measures a project's proximity to jobs, transit and other services.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.