Single mother Jennifer De La Rosa came to Carrboro in 2008 with her two young daughters.
Tired of moving from place to place, De La Rosa sought a more stable and enduring home environment for her children. “Renting can be good for younger people, but I wanted something more permanent,” De La Rosa said.
In her search for affordable housing, De La Rosa came in contact with Robert Dowling and the Community Home Trust, a Carrboro based nonprofit committed to assisting low and middle income families find permanently affordable home ownership in the area.
The Community Home Trust, formed in 1991 as the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, operates by purchasing homes from private builders who are required to provide a percentage of affordable units (15 percent in new developments in Carrboro). The Home Trust then retains the title but conveys ownership to approved residents through a 99-year ground lease, with houses usually sold for 30 to 50 percent below market value. These buyers enjoy almost all the benefits of home ownership, except that the home must serve as their primary residence and they must resell to a buyer qualified for ownership through the Home Trust’s screening process.
However, in recent years Dowling, the Community Home Trust’s executive director for nearly two decades, has been troubled by the inability of Home Trust buyers to secure mortgage loans.
“We have struggled to get funding for our buyers the last couple years,” Dowling said. “It used to be banks were willing to make loans even after the mortgage crisis. Now, banks aren’t willing to hold loans that can’t be sold on the secondary market and our buyers were suffering.”
Therefore, Dowling brought a resolution to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen that he felt protected the viability of inclusionary housing in Carrboro going forward.
The resolution, approved unanimously by the aldermen at their Jan. 27 meeting, seeks to attract lenders by allowing them to have an unrestricted, fee simple interest in the event of foreclosure. Therefore, the Home Trust would then have to buy the home back to keep it in the affordable housing stock.
Although this seemingly puts the Home Trust at greater financial risk, Dowling said it was needed to continue to secure loans for buyers, and that the screening process would continue to be vital.
“We’ve never had a foreclosure,” Dowling said. “We try to educate our buyers thoroughly and also make sure we don’t lend too much. We won’t lend as much as a bank would because we want to make sure it’s something they can pay off.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said the resolution supported the aldermen’s confidence in the Home Trust and its screening process.
“Our vote to allow this change signifies our confidence in our Land Trust to continue to monitor our affordable inventory, as well as a way we can provide them with a tool to better sell these homes,” Lavelle said.
Additionally, the resolution pledged support for the Community Home Trust to expand its sale of subsidized housing to residents making between 80 and 115 percent of the median income. Dowling said this would be hugely beneficial in helping the Home Trust find buyers for the 229 affordable homes integrated into Carrboro and Chapel Hill neighborhoods. Previously, he said, only about a tenth of Home Trust properties were sold to buyers making at least 80 percent of the median income.
“You have 80 percent of the median which is about $42,000 for a two-person household, all the way to around $60,000 which is 115 percent,” Dowling said. “That’s a lot more people that can fit in this window, this makes it easier for us to find a buyer.”
This, Dowling hopes, will mean the Community Home Trust can play a part in helping more deserving residents like De La Rosa secure the permanent housing they desire.
“Not everybody has an advanced degree or two-adult household, but not everybody wants to be transient,” De La Rosa said.
Transient no more, De La Rosa said the new home was a life-changer that improved life for her and her daughters in a plethora of ways.
“It’s been very important to my family in many ways,” De La Rosa said. “It has let me set an example for my children, to follow my own dreams to go to school full-time (De La Rosa earned a geography degree from UNC in two years). It’s also the smaller things like being able to have a garden and pet chickens, to ride bikes in the neighborhood, and to be around neighbors we trust. My daughters don’t have to change schools and can do little things like change their bedroom color.”
For Dowling, success stories like De La Rosa’s keep him motivated to continue working to make affordable housing accessible to those in need for years to come.
“Inclusionary housing works,” Dowling declared. “All this time and effort we’ve spent will have long-term impacts on the community we live in. These homes that we’re working very hard to keep affordable actually will be affordable and be assets to the people who need them, even 20 years later when I’m long off the scene.”