This is Matt Bailey.

Recently, a grass-roots effort came together to make sure affordable housing is a priority for the town of Chapel Hill. The town responded, devoting $689,000 of next year’s budget and land on Legion Road worth $2 million to affordable housing.

Our affordable housing problem goes far beyond helping those of our neighbors who struggle the most, however.

Did you know that only two of our police officers—yes, two—live in Chapel Hill because they can’t afford to live here? Did you know that many of our teachers can’t afford to live here either? Even people with Master’s degrees and private sector careers often can’t afford to live in Chapel Hill. With the average home costing $349,000, it’s no wonder.

Why does it cost so much to live here?

The biggest reason is that town policy strongly resisted new home construction for almost three decades. Not only have those policies left us with the most expensive housing in the Triangle, too many of our homes are single-family houses from the land-hungry suburban sprawl era. Just drive around town. You’ll feel like you’re on the Brady Bunch.

Some say developers want to build too many mixed-use condos and apartments. However, that’s exactly the kind of homes many young single people want and, increasingly, what many empty nesters want, too. Some say developers will only build luxury homes, but even if they built homes targeted at upscale residents, those new options would make overpriced older housing more affordable for everybody else. It’s simple supply and demand.

Do we want people to live here because they share our values, or do we want people to live here because they share our tax brackets?

If we truly care about affordable housing, we need to allow for thoughtfully-planned private-sector development of homes for people at all stages of life. The town’s support of affordable housing is a key component, but if we don’t also allow the marketplace to provide homes for people who want to join our community, then Chapel Hill might as well be a gated community.