Early voting is underway in Orange County, and in Chapel Hill there are seven candidates on the ballot for four open Town Council seats.

One of the biggest issues facing the town is how to preserve affordability in the long term: adding more mid-range housing and mitigating the overall cost of living. What ideas do this year’s candidates have? That issue (and many others) came up last week at WCHL’s Town Council candidate forum, moderated by Aaron Keck in Chapel Hill Town Hall.

Allen Buansi is a civil rights attorney and member of the Chapel Hill Carrboro NAACP. He says he believes more affordable retail stores would help bring down the cost of living in town.

“I remember growing up here in Chapel Hill, there was a store over in University Mall called Roses that offered a lot of cheaper products…(where) hard-working, low-income folks could get a nice pair of socks for not much money,” said Buansi. “I would like to see us bring in more of that.”

Hongbin Gu is a quantitative researcher at UNC’s School of Medicine. She says the town can create more affordable housing options by partnering with other organizations and businesses.

“We have Habitat for Humanity, the Community Housing Trust, CASA, even the State Employee’s Credit Union,” said Gu. “They have all contributed in the past.”

Incumbent Ed Harrison has served on the council since 2001; he says he looks to Durham as an example.

“Durham has jumped out from the depths,” said Harrison. “I think it realized it had problems, it had to figure out how to work better – and they are now the model, in terms of renovation, for the state.”

Rachel Schaevitz is chair of the town’s Cultural Arts Commission and American Legion Task Force. She says she wants to see more affordable after-school care and summer programs for children.

“This will go a long way towards helping parents keep those jobs that they need that go all day and throughout the summer,” said Schaevitz. “It will also go a long way in bridging the achievement gap that we’re seeing in our schools.”

Incumbent Maria Palmer has served on the council since 2013. She says her experiences living in other communities around the country and the world have shown her creative ways to solve this problem.

“I’ve lived in four countries and about 10 states and they are all beautiful places,” said Palmer, “but I think we’ve picked the best.”

Carl Schuler is a clinical research associate at Duke. He says the issue is something worth investing in.

“It will take money,” said Schuler, “but I see that there is the will of the people in Chapel Hill to support sales tax increases and to support bond referendums.”

Karen Stegman is the director of business development for the Chapel Hill-based nonprofit IntraHealth International. She says the Town Council should do more to incentivize economic development for local businesses, to promote jobs that pay a living wage and to reduce the tax burden on homeowners.

“I think we need to explore some kind of tax incentive to owners of property in our downtown area,” said Stegman, “especially if they rent to local business owners and small business owners.”

Early voting began on Thursday, October 19.