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City, county to launch affordable housing plan 

The Joint City-County Planning Committee will discuss potential incentives for more affordable housing within a half-mile of planned light-rail stations. Crescent Main Street, where monthly rents run $1,234 for a one-bedroom, 632-square-foot apartment, is within that distance. The apartment building—which includes a saltwater swimming pool and a private dog spa—looms over an adjacent lot at 716 15th St. This outbuilding is in the back yard; the house, built in 1905, is now empty.

Photo by Lisa Sorg

The Joint City-County Planning Committee will discuss potential incentives for more affordable housing within a half-mile of planned light-rail stations. Crescent Main Street, where monthly rents run $1,234 for a one-bedroom, 632-square-foot apartment, is within that distance. The apartment building—which includes a saltwater swimming pool and a private dog spa—looms over an adjacent lot at 716 15th St. This outbuilding is in the back yard; the house, built in 1905, is now empty.

Durham could take a major step in preserving and creating affordable housing next week. That's when officials unveil their initial ideas on incentives for affordable development near proposed light-rail stations.

This is important not only for Durham residents who live car-free by choice or necessity, but also for the city to qualify for federal grants to help fund the $1.4 billion project.

In May, Durham City Council and Durham County Commissioners passed resolutions stating that 15 percent of all units within a half-mile of transit stations should be affordable.

The federal government defines affordable as housing for renters whose annual incomes are below 60 percent of the area median income. In Durham that's equivalent to about $30,000.

Housing experts specify that a household should spend no more than 30 percent of its annual income on rent and utilities. So if you earn $30,000 a year, you should spend a maximum of $750 each month on those items.

But because state law prohibits local governments from requiring developers to build affordable housing—or even to allocate a portion of an apartment building to cheaper units—incentives are necessary. For example, the city could ease its parking requirements or allow for denser developments, which ultimately saves the builder money.

Some areas already have a lot of affordable housing. (Leigh Village, in the 'burbs, has the least.) In these cases, it's critical and more cost-effective to preserve it. When transit stations are built, nearby land values increase, and with them, rents and home prices.

Key dates

• Wednesday, Jan. 7, 9:30 a.m.: The Joint City-County Planning Committee will discuss the first round of proposed affordable housing/transit incentives. The meeting is in the second-floor committee room at City Hall.

• Last October, Triangle Transit, Durham City, Durham County and Chapel Hill submitted an application for a $1.7 million federal planning grant geared toward transit-oriented development. The grant would fund education, market analysis, and further study on affordable housing and zoning to improve neighborhood connections to transit stations.

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to announce the grant recipients this winter.

• The final proposal for affordable housing incentives—known as the "toolbox"—is expected by July 1.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Raise the roof."

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