Affordability, taxes, housing, solid waste, economic development, and the future of Carolina North and Rogers Road: all longstanding hot-button issues in Orange County, and all requiring strong partnerships between the local municipalities as well as UNC.
Orange County leaders say the time is now to make those partnerships stronger.
“One of our major issues is to renew the strength and vitality of our partnerships with the municipalities,” says Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “I think we’ve lost touch to some degree.”
At the center of the conversation is the eternal question of affordability: how to manage the cost of living while preserving a desirable community, in a space with little room to grow.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt says that’s often an issue in college towns – and it’s certainly the case in Chapel Hill.
“University towns are very, very highly sought after,” she says. “I try every day to recruit faculty and staff and students…of course they’re concerned about price of living, (but) mostly we hear that people want to live here. So I think we are still on the positive side of this equation: this is a very high-choice place.”
But with that desirability comes a number of challenges – including, perhaps most notably, the cost of housing. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says those costs are worth it: “I sometimes look around (my house) and think, wow, for this price I could be in a much bigger place in Durham,” he says, “but I’d rather be in Chapel Hill.”
And while higher property values still mean Chapel Hillians are paying more dollars in taxes, Kleinschmidt notes that Chapel Hill’s property tax rate is actually lower than many of our neighboring communities.
Still, the cost of housing is a strain, one that makes it difficult – if not impossible – for many people to live in Chapel Hill. And not only Chapel Hill: Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says the affordability question is affecting his community as well.
“We’re seeing rising costs (too),” he says. “It’s a little bit less expensive to live here, so we’re finding families move out (of Chapel Hill-Carrboro) and folks wanting to be in Hillsborough – (but) as prices go up, we’re finding a lot of our families are moving to Mebane.”
The housing crunch has driven local leaders to explore creative policies for developing more affordable housing in all of Orange County’s municipalities.
But as Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle points out, housing is not the only factor driving the cost of living.
“We’ve studied extensively the interplay between transportation costs and affordable housing,” she says. “A typical income earner spends anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their income on transportation – owning a car, taxes, insurance, and so forth.”
That, she says, gives local leaders a strong incentive to develop housing downtown – so residents don’t need vehicles to get to and from work. Kleinschmidt adds that he’s equally proud of Chapel Hill’s fare-free bus system, which also keeps the cost of living down.
Taxes too are a primary concern – and local leaders are quick to point out that they’ve managed to maintain services while avoiding tax increases, even through the long recession. (Lavelle says she expects Carrboro to maintain that streak this year too.) But Barry Jacobs says that, at the end of the day, it’s just as important to preserve the services that make Orange County a desirable place to live.
And the most important of those services, he says, is education.
“We’re proud of public education (and) we’re going to fund it to the best of our ability,” he says. “Going through the recession, and then having a state legislature that’s attacking public education, we have actually raised the per-pupil funding…and in the last 20 years we’ve built 14 schools in this county. And three of them were high schools. Those are expensive suckers…
“And that’s part of what makes this an attractive community. That’s what draws people here. It’s a double-edged sword, to use a cliché.”
But Jacobs adds that the need for education spending must be weighed against the concern for affordability – particularly the fact that many Orange County residents are seniors on fixed incomes.
And so the question returns to partnerships: town, county, and UNC officials working together to promote efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve the standard of living. Local leaders agree that’s already happening (if slowly) on the issue of Rogers Road remediation, and Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt says he’s confident it will also happen on the issue of solid waste: “I think we’re going to come together with a solution,” he says, “(and in) four, five, six years, we’re going to have a site for a transfer station that we’re all going to use.” (Kleinschmidt says there are several attractive candidates for that site in the northern part of Chapel Hill, including one off Millhouse Road.)
It’s also happening on the question of economic development, where UNC is actively partnering with the towns and county on projects ranging from the LAUNCH entrepreneurial incubator to the redevelopment of 123 West Franklin, the former University Square – though Chancellor Folt says little is happening right now when it comes to Carolina North. (“We’re really not having any active plans there right now,” she says. “It’s really not at the top of the list.”)
In the end, though, while local leaders seem to agree that municipal partnerships have been stronger, there’s also a shared commitment to strengthening them in the months and years to come.
“How we should go forward is together,” says Jacobs.
Folt, Jacobs, Kleinschmidt, Lavelle, and Stevens made those comments during the “Town and Gown” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum; they were joined on the panel by outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden.http://chapelboro.com/news/2014-community-forum/costs-partnerships-people-want-live/
CHAPEL HILL – Imagine being fined a thousand dollars or even being evicted from your home for violating a rule you never knew existed.
It’s scary—and according to UNC student body president Christy Lambden, it’s happening right here in Chapel Hill.
“If I was to estimate, I would have said that I’ve had over 50 students come and talk to me with regards to this,” he says. “Not all of them (are) saying that they have been evicted, obviously, but all of them (are) having various stories about the town ordinance.”
The town ordinance in question is one that’s existed for years—banning more than four unrelated individuals from cohabiting in the same residence. Town officials last month said they were stepping up enforcement of that policy, in response to complaints from residents.
The law is designed to address a variety of problems that have arisen from the scarcity of housing in downtown Chapel Hill. With on-campus housing limited, students for years have taken up residence in rental houses in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, often grouping as many people into a single unit as possible. That in turn led to complaints about students holding loud parties, parking their cars on lawns, and failing to take care of their trash—and those complaints led Town Council to act.
The ordinance imposes a $100-per-day fine for the first offense, with penalties going up to $500 per day for subsequent violations. Those fines are actually imposed on the owner of the house, but Lambden says those landlords have been passing the fines onto their tenants.
“The stories that I’ve heard have been that landlords have got a $1000 fine for having more than four unrelated people living in a house,” he says, “and they’ve turned around and said to the students living in the house that they’re going to need to front the money to pay for that bill, because they’re the ones benefiting from it.”
And on Thursday, Lambden told the UNC Board of Trustees he’d heard “multiple stories” of students even being evicted altogether.
“We are devoting considerable effort into looking into the current policy, making students aware of their rights as tenants, and ending the predatory habits of landlords that knowingly allow their students to break the ordinance and ultimately pass fines along to them when discovered,” he said at the meeting.
At Town Hall, not everyone is a strong defender of the current ordinance. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says he’s long believed it’s a “blunt” way of dealing with issues that should be better addressed.
“For me the real issues are parking, trash, noise – (things) that sometimes particularly people who rent for short periods may not be as concerned about,” Kleinschmidt says. “And I think those are the issues. I don’t think the fact that there are more than four people living in a home – (and) particularly any inquiry into their relationship status – is necessarily relevant to whether they’re loud, whether they park their cars all over the front yard, (or) if they bring the trash can back in.”
And Town Council in 2012 did enact a more specific ordinance limiting the number of cars that could park on a lot in Northside and Pine Knolls.
“Nonetheless, that is the ordinance in town,” Kleinschmidt says. “Enforcement is driven largely by complaint. And the student body and landlords have long known about this.”
But while the Town has stepped up its efforts to educate citizens about local housing policies, Lambden says a lot of students—including many who live off campus—have still never heard of this ordinance.
“I don’t think most students do know, which is something that we really need to work on,” he says. “We need to make sure that students do know, if there’s a town ordinance in place, that they need to observe that.”
And Kleinschmidt says much of the responsibility falls on the landlords—who, he says, know full well the ordinance exists.
“The injustice that’s happening here, I think, is that landlords are allowing this to happen,” he says. “I mean, they’re putting people in a position where they’re at risk of losing their home. And I think that’s where the villain is. There isn’t a landlord in town who doesn’t know about this town ordinance – and they may agree with me that it’s inartful and hamfisted and imprecise and not narrowly tailored, but it’s the law nonetheless, and they’ve known about it for quite some time.”
Whether the town will revisit the law in the future remains to be seen. The ordinance is only slightly stricter than the state fire code, which prohibits more than six unrelated people from living in the same residence.
Mayor Kleinschmidt says he might be willing to take a second look at the policy either way—though he says town officials might be better able to respond to students’ concerns if they had a closer relationship with Lambden, as they had with previous student body presidents.
“I wish (Lambden) would actually respond to an invitation that I’ve had out to him for a long time to actually discuss this and other issues he might want to talk about,” Kleinschmidt says. “But we haven’t been successful at establishing (a connection) or having any kind of a meeting.”
In any event, it’s worth noting that the housing situation could actually be worse: while more than 60 percent of UNC students live off campus, 55 percent of UNC’s undergrads actually live on campus—a far cry from many of UNC’s peer institutions, where more than half of undergrads often live off campus as well.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ignorant-town-policy-student-renters-fined-evicted/
If you read my last post, you know my roommate and I just learned we’re about to be priced out of our apartment. I’ve spent the entire weekend searching across town—and into Durham—for a new one...
Some thoughts on apartment-hunting.
Looking for a new place is a crazy and stressful experience, especially when you’re on a bit of a time crunch. It’s an entirely new level of special fun, though, when you’ve spent the last four years obsessively following the local news, and you know everything about every inch and cranny of your town. So many extra variables!
“How close do I really want to live to Ephesus Church, when I know it’s probably going to be all torn up and construction-y for the next couple years?”
“Hey, this place looks nice, but wasn’t there a string of break-ins there a few months back?”
“Isn’t that one in the middle of a flood plain?”
“Hey Sales Office Guy, you mentioned Timber Hollow as one of your competitors? Yeah, let me tell you all about why that’s not going to be true for much longer.”
“I’ve heard of this one before, but why? …Oh, that’s right. The murder.”
I also find I’m more attuned to non-verbal cues—you know, the little tricks apartments use to say the things they’re not allowed to say. My favorite was the one where the model apartment was done up like a glorified dorm room, complete with UNC pillows on the beds and a “schedule of classes” posted on the bathroom door. At no point did the sales guy ever say “we’re more of a student housing deal”—I don’t think he even uttered the word “student” the whole time—but they made it pretty clear, all the same. (I suppose the complex that kept its model-apartment fridge stocked with free sodas and candy bars might have been trying to give off the same vibe.)
But perhaps the big lesson I took from my search is that I’m even more convinced in my suspicions about Chapel Hill housing than I was before. We already know there’s a shortage of low-cost housing in Chapel Hill—but we need to add, if we haven’t already, that there’s also a growing shortage of mid-range housing too.
Now, I did limit my search to a fairly narrow geographic area—roughly, up and down Weaver Dairy and along 15/501 from Garrett Road to Estes Drive. (Stayed away from downtown because it’s mostly student housing; stayed away from Carrboro because we’d like to avoid the extra commute.) But in that area, it became apparent very quickly that the only decent places in our price range were going to be in Durham.
So we may be moving to Durham. Sad, but true. It’s not a done deal yet, but we may very soon be joining that class of folks who’ve got all the town leaders wringing their hands: “People Who Live Outside Orange County And Commute In.”
At least I’d be in the plurality. (Slide from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 annual report. Full report here.)
I actually like Durham a lot. I lived there for two years when I moved to the area in 2008. Within a year, of course, I’d fallen in with WCHL, so I’ve always felt more connected to the movings and shakings of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. But there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for the Bull City. Minor league baseball! Southpoint! DPAC! (And man, there is nothing I find more fun than bringing a naïve Chapel Hillian or Raleighite to downtown Durham and watching them get all antsy and jittery because they’re just convinced they’re going to get mugged.)
So I’m not too terribly upset about the prospects of living there. (And it’d still be a short commute.)
Still, though, if it comes to pass, it’ll be sad to leave Chapel Hill—even if the only difference is that I won’t be voting there anymore or paying Orange-level taxes on my car.
No worries. Durham will be perfectly fine, should it come to that. And who knows. We might be back in the Hill within a year. It may not even happen at all.
In the meantime, though, y’all really do need to ramp up that housing conversation. (Hopefully I’m already preaching to the choir.)http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/durhams-pretty-nice-time-year/
In case you’ve missed it, Chapel Hill’s got a housing issue.
The supply of affordable rental housing in town is limited. Demand for housing is high in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which tends to drive up costs; new housing projects have generally been high-rent; and existing affordable units don’t necessarily meet the needs of the people seeking them.
Meanwhile, another twist: developers keep buying up affordable complexes, renovating them into swankier digs, and renting them back out at much higher rates. In Carrboro, Abbey Court got bought out last year; the new owners renamed it Collins Crossing and immediately started making renovations (good) and jacking up rates (bad). Similar situation at Colony Apartments (now The Park) in Chapel Hill, which is slated to be replaced—and now there’s also a proposal on the table to redevelop Timber Hollow Apartments, just off MLK Boulevard. In all three cases, a similar story: new developer comes in, boots out the existing tenants, revamps the place, brings in new tenants and charges them more.
So far, that’s really only affected “affordable” housing, on the lower end of the rent scale.
But is the scale sliding up? Is this about to start affecting mid-range housing too?
I ask because this same thing is about to happen to me. And several hundred other people too, I think.
My roommate and I live in a mid-range apartment complex in Chapel Hill. We’ve been there for two years and love it. We pay $1000 per month, split two ways—not an “affordable” unit, in the technical sense of the term, but definitely on the high end of what we can afford. (This year, at least, about 40 percent of my paycheck goes to rent.)
In October it got bought by a developer. We didn’t think anything of it.
Then yesterday I got news. When I stopped by the front office to renew our lease, the folks there told me the developer is planning major renovations—so no lease renewals, everyone switches to a monthly contract when their lease is up (which for us is December), and sometime after that they’re going to order us to vacate. At that point, they’ll renovate the unit and rent it back out again—for a significantly higher rate, of course. Almost certainly too high for us—even if we wanted to move back after being forced to move out in the first place.
And that’s it. We’ve just been priced out of our own home.
(By the way, there are 248 units in this complex. I can’t say for sure, but I assume they’ll all be affected.)
I don’t want to name names yet. Plans are still in the works, details are still sketchy, and I’m actually not even supposed to know what I know. (I only found out because I stopped by to renew our lease, and at that point they had to tell me.)
But if I was told correctly, then I think this is a new twist in Chapel Hill’s housing issue, or at least one that hasn’t really been publicized: it’s not just the “affordable” apartments that are being revamped into luxury units—it’s the mid-range apartments too.
I’m not terribly upset about it, at least not now that the initial shock has worn off. This is, I suppose, the downside of apartment living: it’s somebody else’s place you’re living in. Within certain limits, they can kick you out and jack up the rates whenever they want. And if we’re being honest, it is an older apartment building. We love it, but I guess you could argue it’s due for a makeover.
But now, for me, the annoying frustrating irritating process of apartment-hunting begins again. And I assume that process will also begin, sometime in the next 12 months or so, for most if not all of the residents in these 200-plus units.
That’s bad enough.
Add to that the existential shock of being told that—through no fault of your own—you’re going to have to leave the place you’ve come to think of as your home.
That’s bad enough too—and it’s an experience that more and more Chapel Hill/Carrboro residents seem to be having these days. I’ve mentioned Abbey Court and Colony Apartments on the rental side; let’s also not forget the longtime residents of the Northside neighborhood who got priced out when the student rental influx pushed up property taxes.
And so I think this is something worth paying attention to. It’s possible this could just turn out to be a one-time thing: an older apartment complex getting a needed renovation, no larger issue involved. But I’m worried that it also could be a signal of something larger happening in Chapel Hill: a growing scarcity of mid-range rental units as well, not just units officially designated as “affordable.”
And if that turns out to be true—if the high-end luxury stuff is all that’s left—
Well. I can’t think about that right now. I have to look for a new apartment.
I visited two complexes today. Both of them are out of our price range.http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/affordable-housing-crisis/
Aaron Nelson and Chamber board chair Paige Zinn compare notes before the State of the Community presentation. (Photo by Donn Young, courtesy of the Orange County Visitors Bureau.)
As the country, the state and the region pull slowly out of recession, the state of our community is strong — but still could stand to get stronger, particularly when it comes to housing.
That was the takeaway from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s sixth annual State of the Community report, delivered at the Friday Center on Tuesday by Chamber president Aaron Nelson.
“(We have a) strong, educated workforce (that’s) increasingly diverse,” he says. “Our economy and community are resilent — we were late into this recession and we were first out — and many of those indicators look good.”
Generally speaking, Orange County ranks among the best in the state in most indicators of social wellbeing, from educational achievement to the crime rate to public health. Fittingly, though — for a region so often concerned about its perceived status as a ‘bedroom community’ — many of the more worrying statistics relate to movement.
“We are growing, and we will still grow…(and) we’ve got to figure out where these folks are going to live,” Nelson says. Orange County’s population in 2012 was just shy of 138,000, up 22,000 from the turn of the century — and by 2025 Orange County is projected to add another 30,000 residents, for a total of more than 166,000.
“That’s a lot of folks,” Nelson says. “Let me give you some perspective: 140 West Franklin downtown, the big tall thing, that holds 300 people. I just said 30,000.”
And the local housing market is struggling to keep up — a fact that’s contributing to the already-high cost of renting and buying homes.
More than half of all housing units in Chapel Hill are occupied by renters — in Carrboro it’s more than 60 percent — and affordable housing remains persistently scarce. More than half of all renters in Orange County now pay more than 35 percent of their income in rent, well above the “affordability” threshold.
“The rental market is growing, but the lack of supply is driving (the) rate,” Nelson says. “This huge increase in those rates — folks are moving into our community and (adding) pressure.”
And the cost of homeownership remains elevated as well. Nelson says the average closing price for an Orange County home has dropped slightly from its peak in 2010 — it’s now about $319,000, down from $330,000 — but that’s still far pricier than an average home in our neighboring counties, and it’s not just because the houses are bigger.
“The price per square foot in our market is dramatically higher,” Nelson says. “(It’s) $134 a square foot (in Orange County)…in Chapel Hill city limits it’s $180 a square foot. That’s — my editorial comment — a supply challenge, because folks are able to build it in Durham for $93 a square foot.”
Compounding the housing crunch, of course, is the demand coming from UNC: of the 29,000-plus students at UNC-Chapel Hill, 63 percent live off campus—more than 18,000 in total, all seeking housing in and around Orange County. That’s already caused some controversy in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, both very near campus—where Town officials have had to step in to address parking concerns, and longtime residents have been driven out by the rising cost of housing (and the resulting property tax hike) that came with the increased demand.
But Nelson says it could be worse: in fact, 55 percent of UNC’s undergrads live on campus, a far higher percentage than many of UNC’s peer institutions. (At Indiana University, for instance—in the Chapel Hill-esque town of Bloomington—only 40 percent of undergrads live on campus.)
And there are also several housing projects currently in the works near downtown that are specifically geared for students—a development that Nelson says will also go a long way toward alleviating the problem of affordable workforce housing as well.
“(In) my view, the greatest growth of workforce housing, workforce rental, has been new student rental,” Nelson says. “If you go back in time (and) take a look at all the apartments that were student apartments in the late 1990s, early 2000s — when new student housing got built, students moved to that, and what was backfilled into the old student housing was workforce housing.”
Still, with 30,000 more residents projected to move into Orange County in the next twelve years, the housing crunch is not likely to go away anytime soon—and Nelson says that’ll be the case across the entire Triangle, where half a million more residents are expected to flock in by 2025.
We’ll have more from the Chamber’s State of the Community report throughout the week, but you can see the entire presentation for yourself at this link.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/in-orange-county-housing-crunch-is-here-to-stay/
CHAPEL HILL - Beginning this Friday and Saturday, the Summer Puppet Festival begins shows at the Forest Theater on Country Club Road. The show features a mix of giant puppets, masks, stilts, painted flats, and paper-cut shadows. Paperhand Puppet creates an evening of exploration, enchantment, and ancient creatures you are sure to love.
Shows begin at 7:00 p.m. with a different pre-show each night at 6:20 p.m. Suggested donations are $12 for adults and $8 for children
For more information on the show click here.
In the next two weeks, roughly 18,000 undergraduates will come to Chapel Hill from 50 states and 100 countries. Move in weekend begins August 16 and classes begin August 20.
During the first week, the school is coordinating a Week of Welcome with several of the restaurants, and stores in “The Feel of Franklin Street” meant to welcome in new students. Students and parents are welcome to enjoy the week long promotions to receive free or reduced prices on the menu.
From August 16 to August 25 expect Franklin Street to be back at it’s busiest with new students and parents learning the area.
A local coordinator for International Experience – USA is looking for local families willing to open their homes and hearts to European teenagers. Host families share their homes with one or two high school students from another country who wants to experience America.
All of these students have great academic achievement, exemplary character, good use of English, their own spending money, and health insurance.
Almost anyone can host one of these students; if interested in hosting you can find more information by clicking here, or contacting Liz Priestley at 919-968-1736.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/papperhand-puppets-begining-students-returning-host-a-foreign-student/