The affordable housing ordinance in the Town of Davidson has been taking punches from all sides recently. As one of only three mandatory affordable housing ordinances in North Carolina (the others being in Manteo an Chapel Hill), the relatively small program has withstood several controversies over the years while consuming an outsized amount of attention at Davidson Town Hall.
The program currently includes just 56 for sale units and a small number of rentals. However, according to data provided by the Town earlier this year as many as a third of the for sale units have been sold to individuals who did not strictly qualify. That means the houses sold with the required deed restrictions but not necessarily to owners who were below the maximum income thresholds - somewhat limiting the program’s impact on its intended target population.
Some other examples of past controversy surrounding the program include:
- The 2007 land swap between local developer Lawrence Kimbrough and the Town in exchange for an exemption from the ordinance for his high-end development off of Pine Road. At the time, another local developer, Rodney Graham, now a Davidson Commissioner, spoke out and strongly questioned the validity of the transaction. Graham is a strong supporter of affordable housing, but his past concerns show that even supporters see potential issues with how the ordinance has been implemented.
- In 2011, the Town attempted to buy two houses built for the program in the Bradford neighborhood after they went into foreclosure. The move occurred after a closed session of the Board which caused concern in the town regarding transparency. Ultimately, only one of the homes was purchased by the town, and the other was bought by a private investor.
- In a lesser known event in 2012, the town stepped in to help a small number of affordable housing owners with appeals after the most recent county revaluation when their homes were valued at more than they could legally be sold for under the ordinance’s strict resale requirements.
These events and others have led some to question the fairness of how the town administers the program. Those simmering questions finally boiled over recently with a lawsuit filed by two local developers questioning the validity of the ordinance under NC state law and during a public hearing Tuesday night regarding the town’s Planning Ordinance re-write which includes extensive changes to the Affordable Housing rules.
Davidson has been down the litigation path before over its development policies, and the results have not usually been to the town’s favor. After spending Town resources defending policies where it has overreached, Davidson was forced to settle past lawsuits over the Summers Walk and Davidson East developments. The Summers Walk lawsuit eventually led to the repeal of the town Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and was a precursor to the current lawsuit involving Affordable Housing
What is new to this affordable housing discussion is what happened Tuesday night – public pushback from Davidson citizens.
Several members of the Bradford neighborhood and it's HOA Board attended the public hearing to make clear their concerns with how the affordable housing program has affected their community. Bradford HOA President, Juliet Bowden, delivered a blistering 10 minute speech relaying the overall history of the neighborhood and the issues it has had with the Town’s continuously changing story on how affordable housing will be implemented. Much of those concerns center around the plan to consolidate program units into a 10 unit apartment building. A plan that was a surprise to neighborhood residents.
One of the highlights of her speech was when she repeatedly mentioned that long-time Davidson Town Attorney, Rick Kline, has also served as the attorney for the neighborhood’s developer. “Uncomfortable” is the word that comes to mind. The shaking heads from audience members who were not Bradford residents tells you what many people thought about that situation.
Ms Bowden’s comments were followed by the HOA’s Treasurer, Ron Sewell. After mentioning that some were interested in pursuing legal action to get relief for the neighborhood, Mr Sewell invoked the “Davidson Way” of talking things out as the much preferred option. He also asked for a moratorium on building affordable housing in some of the impacted neighborhoods until that can be done.
Is mandatory affordable housing on the ropes in Davidson? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing for sure is that it certainly does have a fight on its hands.
Full disclosure alert, I live in the Bradford neighborhood but had no involvement preparing any of the neighborhood remarks. However, we have attained a copy of the HOA President's comments. Check back later today for those.