Northside Neighborhood Initiative Celebrates One Year of Accomplishments

Gospel singers, town and county officials and community members gathered Thursday for the Northside Neighborhood Initiative Celebration. There was singing, laughing and some offered memories of what Northside used to be, and what they hope it will be in the future.

Longtime resident Matthew Farrington said his house used to belong to his uncle before he passed away.

“He had told me awhile back, he said ‘Whatever you do, don’t ever get rid of my house,'” Farrington said. “And thank the Lord, I still have it after 20 years.”

Creating a permanent home for residents like Farrington is the purpose of the initiative. UNC granted The Northside Neighborhood Initiative (NNI) $3 million in March 2015. The University, with the help of the town and Self Help Credit Union, aims to help long-time residents continue living in their homes, and attract new neighbors who would like to do the same.

Habitat for Humanity joined the celebration Thursday to raise a wall for a new home for these new neighbors.

“These three homes here are single family homes and they will be homes to three single moms,” said Jennifer Player, Director of Development and Administration for the Orange County branch of Habitat for Humanity. “In total there will be seven children who will be living in these three homes ranging from ages 2 to 19.”

Player said, the new residents for Northside aren’t necessarily new.

“All three of the women who are going to be living here have a connection to this neighborhood,” she said.

Each new resident went to school at Northside, had family who lived or live in Northside or used to live there themselves.

State Senator Valerie Foushee grew up in Northside, and also spoke at the celebration. She said she’s excited to see more permanent homes start to take over the neighborhood.

“Today we’ll have a chance to see the result of a transformative process,” she said. “A transformation from dreams to hope, from hope to promise, and from promise to reality for innumerable families.”

Farrington said, he wants his home to stay in his family. So that the house, then the neighborhood, will feel like home.

“We’re really trying to pass that on to our neighbors and families,” he said. “We want to keep our homes in the neighborhoods if we can… make our neighborhood a neighborhood again.”

In the first year of the initiative, other accomplishments have included acquiring 15 properties, constructing 12 affordable housing units and reduction of noise complaints by 60 percent. This is the first time in 30 years that the African American population in the area has risen.

For Tenth Year, Local Realtors “Fix A Home”

For the tenth year, local realtors are coming together to “fix a home” for a Chapel Hill family.

The Orange Chatham Association of REALTORS launched the Fix-A-Home project back in 2007. Each year, OCHAR selects a home in the Chapel Hill area – identifying homeowners who are physically or financially unable to make repairs on their own – and renovate it from the ground up, using all volunteer labor and donated materials. This year, about 75 volunteers and more than 20 sponsors are involved – including architects and tradesmen as well as manual laborers.

This year’s recipients are Paul and Belinda Caldwell – both longtime UNC employees and Northside residents who have lived in the same home for more than 40 years (and raised seven children there). Fix-A-Home organizers say this is their biggest project yet: the HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems will all be upgraded and every room in the house will undergo renovations.

Anne Hoole is the Fix-A-Home committee chair; Jackie Tanner is a Fix-A-Home co-organizer. They spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


This year’s Fix-A-Home project got underway on September 8. The reveal date is tentatively scheduled for October 7.

Carrboro Alderman Approve Affordable Housing Request

The Carrboro Board of Alderman approved several affordable housing requests on Tuesday night, most notably, a request of $40,000 for the Self Help landbank and $15,000 for a critical-repair program for seniors.

The request from the non-profit organization would help long term residents in the Northside neighborhood with home ownership.

Dan Levine from the Self Help Credit Union said the landbank would buy up houses to then resell to residents. Currently, most homes that go on sale in the Northside neighborhood are sold to rental companies.

“If you look at the transactions in the neighborhood, almost every property is being sold to student rental investors,” said Levine.

The landbank, administered by the Self Help Credit Union, would purchase homes and prioritize reselling or renting them to residents who make 80% of the area median income, which ranges from $37,750 for an individual to $53,900 for a family of four, according to Community Home Trust.

Alderman Jacquelyn Gist was concerned that young professionals might utilize the program, only adding to the gentrification issue that the landbank is attempting to prevent.

“I know that other programs like this have been used by young professionals to buy their first home, instead of mom and dad helping. They meet all the qualifications,” said Gist.

She said many young professionals would qualify as having the appropriate income but with future prospects of higher income, they would not be the population the program is hoping to help.

Levine said with current housing prices, programs like the landbank are the only way low-income residents can continue to live in the community.

“All I’d say for the board to consider is the reality of the housing market in Carrboro is that single family detached homes, which is mostly what Northside is, they are not affordable without huge amounts of subsidies,” said Levine.

Last year, UNC gave a $3 million interest-free loan to the Self Help landbank to support the purchasing of homes on the Chapel Hill side of the Northside neighborhood. The neighborhood spans Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Alderman Bethany Chaney said they hoped to attract some of those funds to the Carrboro section of the neighborhood, but first they would have to show support for the program.

“The only way we are going to preserve properties in Northside is by participating in this initiative and I think this is why we need to go ahead and say we are willing to put $40,000 down to get a couple of properties into that bank,” said Chaney.

Habitat for Humanity has also been working to build and maintain affordable housing in the Northside neighborhood for several years.

The Board of Alderman also approved a request from the non-profit Rebuilding Together of the Triangle to complete $2,500 worth of home renovations for a long time elderly Carrboro resident.

Northside Resident: ‘Habitat Has Brought Life Back to Our Community’

Listening to anyone who grew up in Chapel Hill’s Northside neighborhood, you can feel the sense of togetherness that residents of the historically African-American neighborhood share.

“Northside, in particular, is where I learned the true meaning of community. It was a neighborhood of tight-knit families who shared each others’ joys and comforted each other in sorrow,” said state Senator Valerie Foushee, who was among the community leaders gathered at the Carolina Inn on Friday to celebrate the work of Habitat for Humanity in Northside.

NC Senator Valerie Foushee. Photo via Blake Hodge.

NC Senator Valerie Foushee. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Foushee and Kathy Atwater grew up in Northside, went to church together and were classmates through their time at Chapel Hill High School. Atwater then worked for UNC Health Care for 30 years and still resides in Northside. She said the work being done by Habitat for Humanity in the neighborhood is allowing the sense of community she knew growing up remain for the next generation.

“Habitat has brought life back to our community,” Atwater said, “helping people feel safe and proud to be able to say, ‘This is my home. This is where I live.’”

The event on Friday came almost a full year after UNC offered a $3 million no-interest loan in order to preserve housing in the neighborhood. The loan is part of a partnership between the university, the Town of Chapel Hill and Self Help Credit Union. Prior to the loan, developers had been purchasing many of the available parcels of land and then renting out the homes to students or pricing existing families out of the neighborhood.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said that she got involved with Habitat for Humanity through her son wanting to help out. She added that she learned very quickly the importance of the Northside neighborhood when getting acquainted with Chapel Hill.

“My first visit here, before being actually formally Chancellor, Sallie Shuping-Russell – one of our Board of Trustees members – said, ‘You have to go see the Northside neighborhood. You cannot know Chapel Hill until you know Northside,’” Folt recalled.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt. Photo via Blake Hodge.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who formerly served on the board for the Orange County Habitat for Humanity, praised the model for preserving the historic neighborhood.

“When you get a Habitat house – you don’t ‘get’ a habitat house, you earn a habitat house – you have to do a lot of sweat equity. And then you start paying a mortgage,” Hemminger said. “And the money that you pay in that mortgage goes back into fueling that next wave, that pay-it-forward model.”

Orange County Habitat for Humanity executive director Susan Levy said that the organization has built more than 250 homes in Orange County and helped more than 100 families stay in their home through the home repair program. Specific to Northside, Levy said the organization has worked in the neighborhood since 2005 and will begin building new homes this fall. Levy said Habitat received 55 applications for the seven Northside properties that have been selected so far.

Folt added that other investment dollars have been added onto the $3 million loan from the university, including $75,000 from the Town of Chapel Hill and $750,000 from the Oak Foundation.

Atwater was enthusiastic about the future of Northside through the combined efforts to preserve the neighborhood.

“A Habitat home in Nortshide will not only make a new start for a family, those who want to make Northside their community and Chapel Hill their home,” Atwater said, “but it will also continue the legacy of strong family ties, which builds strong communities, which builds strong nations and a better world.”

OC Family Success Alliance Seeks Outreach Volunteers

This Saturday, volunteers with the Family Success Alliance will visit homes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to help assess community needs.

“We’ll be asking folks questions about how well connected they are with their neighbors and also do they have trouble getting childcare or medical services?” says Orange County Health Department Program Manager Meredith Stewart. “Generally, what do they think are the strengths or challenges in their community to children and families being successful?”

The Family Success Alliance is a new initiative designed address issues of child poverty, health and education through community-specific programs.

“We are doing this as part of a gap analysis for the Family Success Alliance and that gap analysis is looking at the cradle-to-college or career pipeline for children and families in Orange County,” says Stewart.

Last week, volunteers visited Zone 4 in Hillsborough. This weekend, the focus will shift to Zone 6, which spans the boarder between Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“We will be in Western Chapel Hill into Carrboro,” says Stewart. “We’re talking about the Highway 54-Jones Ferry intersection and around the Northside and Pine Knolls area, that downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro residential area.”

But in order to make contact with all the homes in those neighborhoods, Stewart says more help is needed. If you’d like to help, call Meredith McMonigal at 919-245-2071.

Volunteers will meet at Carrboro Town Hall at 9 o’clock Saturday morning to go over the survey and receive red vests and name tags.“We will pair people up into teams of two and give them a designated area to go out to,” says Stewart.

The survey is also available online in English and in Spanish:

The data collected from the outreach effort will be presented back to the community for discussion at a meeting on April 9 at Carrboro Elementary.

UNC Loans $3M to Preserve Housing in Northside Neighborhood

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt made a big announcement Monday about Chapel Hill’s Northside neighborhood. He spoke at the Hargraves Community Center to an audience of Northside residents, community leaders and local officials.

“UNC Chapel Hill is the new catalyst by providing a $3 million no-interest loan that will be managed by our friends from the Self Help Credit Union to lead the acquisition of properties in the neighborhood,” said Kleinschmidt.

The 188-acre Northside neighborhood has historically been the largest African American neighborhood in Chapel Hill. Residents have moved out over the last few decades as developers have bought the properties to rent at a higher price than many families can afford. The landlords often rent houses to students.

Self Help will collaborate with community organizations to buy properties and hold them until they’re ready for home ownership or rental housing.

According to a fact sheet from the project partners, in 1980 the U.S. Census found 1,200 black residents living in the neighborhood. In 2010, that number was 690.

That’s a 40 percent reduction in the black population over three decades.

Esphur Foster, a 75-year-old Northside resident, spoke on growing up in the neighborhood. She uses the term Potter’s Field, which is what Northside used to be called. She talked about one of the characters in the neighborhood, Aunt Lee, who “placed her hands on her high and wide hips with a cigarette dangling from her lips.”

“One of the most amazing things was that the ashes never fell from her cigarette as she walked around doing chores and hollering at us,” said Foster. “She said as loud as she could, ‘Go home, go home, your mammy wants you home sometime.’ . . . We scattered like the wind-driven leaves falling from the trees in the fall.”

Four organizations will work in partnership on this program called the Northside Neighborhood Initiative. Self Help Credit Union will work with UNC, the town of Chapel Hill, and the Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, which is a grassroots advocacy organization.

The stated goals of the initiative are:

  • Helping long-term residents who want to stay in Northside remain in their homes
  • Attracting new residents – a balance of working families, seniors and students – from diverse backgrounds
  • Increasing the availability of housing and financing options for neighborhood properties

Northside Rental Property Owners Demand Council Action On Community Plan

Half a dozen real estate investors say they’re not represented on an informal committee working to implement the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan. They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.

“We don’t like these meetings going on behind our back with proposed zoning changes and everything else, and then we find out after the fact that the Town Council is considering them,” says Mark Patmore, the owner of Mercia Residential Properties LLC. He owns several rentals in the Northside neighborhood. He’s also been a resident of the area for 20 years. “These are our properties and we have property rights and should be involved in all the proposed zoning changes, not just asked to provide a defense after the fact.”

They are lobbying the Chapel Hill Town Council to appoint a town-sanctioned committee with mandated investor representation.

“What we are actually proposing is that the Town Council once and for all establishes a committee that truly represents the Northside neighborhood, and that is the venue where any and all zoning changes and proposals are addressed, not behind closed doors.”

Delores Bailey is a Northside property owner and the executive director of the housing nonprofit EmPowerment. She says Patmore’s claims don’t hold water.

“There are open meetings and they are invited,” says Bailey. “Anybody who is a homeowner and has any kind of stake in Northside.”

In addition, she says the work of the committee is shared with the broader public at monthly Community Outreach meetings.

“I’ve not seen Mr. Patmore at many of those meetings, but that’s certainly the opportunity to learn what’s going on and what’s being talked about and raise any concerns he might have,” says Bailey. “I’m disappointed he would raise a red flag and insinuate that someone was doing something behind closed doors. There’s lots of opportunity for him to input at the community level. He just has not taken advantage of that.”

The fight over committee representation is just a small part of a larger battle over the future of the Northside neighborhood.

In 2003 long-time residents of the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods came to the council asking to create a neighborhood conservation district to help protect the traditionally black, working-class neighborhood from an influx of student rentals.

Residents said students made poor neighbors, complaining about yards used as parking lots, loud parties and litter. They also argued that as investors bought up the housing supply to turn into student rentals, long-term residents were being priced out by rising property taxes.

The Northside neighborhood conservation district, or NCD, was approved in 2004. The new rules included a cap on house size to discourage investors from renovating smaller houses into multi-tenant student rentals, as well as parking and occupancy limits.

A decade later, Patmore argues the NCD is not working as planned.

“Unfortunately, because of the implementation of the conservation district, I think it’s done more harm than good and actually discourages families from wanting to build in this neighborhood,” says Patmore. “Because the height restrictions, the size restrictions, the bedroom to bathroom ratio are not what families want and [it] is actually playing into the hands of investors to where the only people willing to buy in the neighborhood are investors, which defeats the whole purpose of the conservation district.”

In response, Bailey cites the work of nonprofit organizations to build five homes in the area, as well as EmPowerment’s purchase of several rental units aimed at families instead of students.

The Town Council approved a second approach to neighborhood preservation in 2012, in the form of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community plan.

It is aimed at fostering cooperation between student and non-student residents, increasing home-ownership opportunities and affordable rentals, and preserving the culture and history of the neighborhood. A coalition of five long-time residents, town staffers, EmPowerment, and the Jackson Center has been working to implement the plan.

Patmore says he and other investors are worried that the negotiations underway now will result in tighter restrictions, including possibly dropping the number of unrelated renters who can share a home from four down to three.

“I’m a resident of Northside, I’ve been a resident for 20 years, and I’m growing increasingly frustrated that these non-resident organizations are actually messing with our property rights and we don’t get a say in it until it’s too late,” says Patmore.

But Bailey stresses that is not the case.

“There is no motion to change policy either in the Community Outreach meetings or in that neighborhood committee that meets once every other month,” says Bailey. “There is nothing, policy-wise, to change occupancy in the Northside neighborhood.”

Ultimately, the Town Council would need to approve any change to the NCD rules, or make the move to appoint an official committee to implement the Community Plan.

Despite an email campaign, Patmore says he has yet to hear any response from council members. Until that happens, Patmore says he and his fellow Northside investors will keep pushing.

“Just as the Town Council genuinely, or theoretically, represents the taxpaying citizens of Chapel Hill, I think an officially established committee is important.”

Bailey says she’d like to see Patmore and others engage in the process that’s already underway.

“We know and understand that neighborhood is going to change,” says Bailey. “The answer is that we always be able to say what we feel about how it’s going to change, and that is Mr. Patmore’s right just as much as it is Delores Bailey’s right. That’s what I want people to know and understand. We do not have to be adversaries. We may not always agree but we can at least sit down at the table and talk.”

The Northside Community Outreach meetings take place on the second Tuesday of every month at the Hargraves Center.

Ignorant Of Town Policy, Student Renters Fined, Evicted

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.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Officially Welcomes Northside

CHAPEL HILL – Under the gray skies, the spirits were high Saturday morning as members of the community came together to officially dedicate Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s newest elementary school, Northside.

The district’s 11th elementary school, built on a well-known and historic educational site, offers a new facility that promises world-class learning for its students. During the dedication several speakers addressed their joy in the new Northside School.  Principal Cheryl Carnahan said that the school already shows it commitment to students.

“Our school is full of friendships, positive, supportive relationships that will make life special for all of our staff and all of our students,” Carnahan said. “We have a committed, competent, and caring staff who will bring our mission alive for all of our students.”

State Representative–soon to be Senator–and former student of Northside, Valerie Foushee, says the new school is a dream people made true.

“That dream has come true, and so we say thank you to the school board, to the Town of Chapel Hill, to the commissioners, to the parents, to the staff, to the students, to everybody who not only jump started, but are now continuing the legacy of Northside Elementary,” Foushee said.

Another former student, Dave Mason, said he was honored to see the school built.

“As someone that attended this school on this historic site that shaped my mind and character, what a great honor and privilege it is to participate in the dedication of this modern and beautiful elementary school building,” Mason said.

Many people at the dedication ceremony were former students or had been involved in developing the school.  Superintendent Tom Forcella said it took several groups to make this happen.

“It takes both the facility and what goes on inside to really make the difference,” Forcella said. “And I would like to offer recognition to two different groups that were very much involved with both of that.”

Before the ribbon cutting ceremony began, people went on tours to look around at the new school that sits on the same land as that which many of them had once gone to.  After talking with several former students like Pat Mason and Dolores Clark, it is clear that the community fully backs the school.  Many of them said they were proud that the school kept the name Northside and that it was nice reminder of their time there.

“Neighborhood Night Out” Welcomes Students, Residents

CHAPEL HILL – Thursday evening at the Hargraves Community Center, you’re invited to come out for the Good Neighbor Initiative’s annual Neighborhood Night Out and Block Party, an event designed to build connections between UNC students and Chapel Hill residents, particularly in neighborhoods near campus.

“We plan all year long for this program,” says Aaron Bachenheimer, UNC’s director of fraternity/sorority life and community involvement.

It’s a free event, co-sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill, UNC-Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, Empowerment, Inc., and LUX Chapel Hill (formerly Bicycle Apartments). Buns and Ben & Jerry’s will provide food; there’ll also be music, games, kids’ activities and prizes–plus information about local and community resources.

“It’s just a great event,” says Bachenheimer. “Get there early, because (at 5:00) we actually do a fun little community pride walk…(and) folks who participate get a free t-shirt and get first place in the food line.”

The Block Party is one of the biggest projects of the year for the Good Neighbor Initiative, which works all year long to promote strong relationships between longtime Chapel Hill residents and students living off-campus–especially in neighborhoods like Northside and Pine Knolls, where the influx of students has sparked some tension.

“We visit students and non-student residents and talk about what it’s like to live in a neighborhood, what community involvement and good neighborliness means, (and) some of the rights and responsibilities of living off-campus,” Bachenheimer says. “(And the Block Party) is a really important event, in terms of helping to set the tone of what it means to have a positive community relationship.”

Bachenheimer says the initiative has been successful, though there’s still work yet to be done. “These events make a difference,” he says. “They help inspire both the year-round residents and the students to reach out to one another, to get to know one another–which ultimately helps build relationships and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

The Neighborhood Night Out and Block Party runs from 5-9 pm Thursday at the Hargraves Community Center, located at 216 N. Roberson Street. Bachenheimer says it usually draws several hundred attendees every year.