Master Leasing: More Housing, Faster


Patrick Watkins, IFC Community House leader and member of Justice United's Affordable Housing Team

It is clear that we need more housing, faster, especially for residents with extremely low incomes: those earning less than $22,000 / year.

There are currently zero units on the private market in Orange County affordable to residents with extremely low incomes. There are only 468 subsidized units available to residents with extremely low incomes, with only 46 new units planned for development in the next five years. This amount is far lower than what is needed. The IFC alone has over 70 beds for homeless residents at HomeStart and the Community House. 

That’s why Justice United’s affordable housing team has worked closely with affordable housing service providers and the Chamber of Commerce to develop a new strategy called Master Leasing to get residents into safe, decent, affordable housing more quickly.

Think of Master Leasing as subletting with a social mission. Rather than buy or build units, we would lease them. A non-profit organization would master lease rental units throughout the community at existing market rates and then sublease the units at affordable rates to qualified, pre-screened tenants. 

Master leasing allows us to take advantage of the thousands of existing units on the private market as a mid-term strategy to house extremely low income residents while new, permanently affordable units are constructed over the next five years. 

In order to make this a reality, we will need to do three things well: partner with private sector property owners who are willing to participate in the program; find a non-profit partner to administer the program; and of course, find funding.

Over the last year our team has made progress on all fronts. We have partnered with Clay Grubb, CEO of Grubb Properties, who has committed up to 10 units to the program. The Community Home Trust, a widely respected non-profit housing provider in Chapel Hill, has agreed to administer the program. Working with Justice United, the CHT has applied to the Town of Chapel Hill's Affordable Housing Development Reserve Fund for two years worth of funding for the first five master leased units.