Local need for moderately-priced housing continues

June 6, 2014 

It’s May 20, 2034 and UNC is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the new Law School building at Carolina North. There are now six academic buildings on the Carolina North campus, which of course, is referred to as North Campus. In addition, there are several multi-family residential buildings that house more than 200 individuals and families, all UNC employees.

Although the national economy is seemingly stuck in slow growth mode, with unemployment rarely dropping below five percent, the State of North Carolina has experienced better than average growth for much of the past fifteen years. This growth, which has been fueled by in-migration of retirees from northern states, has swelled the population of Chapel Hill and Carrboro to more than 120,000 residents.

The relatively moderate climate, where northerners can still experience a taste of winter, has caused many retirees to relocate to Chapel Hill and other cities like Charlottesville, VA, Asheville, and Wilmington. Many of these newcomers were able to sell their former homes for prices that far exceeded the average price for a home in the Southern Part of Heaven. Since residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro dearly love the open space just north and west of Town, they have steadfastly resisted calls to expand the urban services boundary.

This, in turn, has fueled denser development along urban corridors such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Fordham Boulevard, 15/501 and Main Street in Carrboro. Rosemary Street, which now features office buildings and five-story apartment buildings from Henderson Street to the Carrboro line, long ago ceased being an afterthought to the more popular Franklin Street.

In fact Rosemary Street is now the preferred location for higher end restaurants that cater to the older demographic. Of course, Franklin Street still has lots of T-shirt shops, pizza joints and fast food options for the more than 24,000 undergrads at UNC.

Life is good in Chapelboro — if you are a student, a retiree or a professional who earns more than $200,000 annually. If however, you are a teacher or a public sector employee without a PhD or an MD, life continues to be a burden. Most of these individuals and their families are relegated to poorly maintained, yet expensive rental housing, or long and even more costly commutes from nearby (or not so nearby) counties.

Older residents continue to lament the loss of diversity in the resident population — wishing they could turn back the clock and do things differently.

Robert Dowling is the executive director of Community Home Trust. Reach him at rdowling@communityhometrust.org.

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