At the Town Council meeting on March 28, several Northside residents petitioned council for a moratorium on building permits. Although Northside was granted Neighborhood Conservation District status in 2005 to preserve the character of the historically black working-class neighborhood, developers have found ways to skirt the rules and continue building student rental housing under the guise of single-family homes.
Residents told of developers tearing down a 100-year-old cottage to build a five-bedroom behemoth in its stead. The large house was out of place on a street of two-bedroom bungalows occupied by longtime residents at or near retirement age, and specious as a student rental, given the town’s ordinance that no more than four unrelated people can share a house. Residents told of eight or nine students stuffed into one single-family house.
Council promised to review the NCD guidelines established for Northside. In the meantime, we could learn from Durham.
Preservation North Carolina has partnered with Preservation Durham to identify houses in historic districts originally designed for the working class that are now abandoned or in disrepair. Preservation N.C. buys the houses, arms them with covenants that mandate they be owner occupied and works with Durham’s Department of Community Development to secure federal, state and local grants to renovate the homes and put them back on the market as affordable workforce housing. The rehab-and-resell project is aided by Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars, Neighborhood Incentive Program money and First-Time Homebuyer Program assistance.
The houses are sold to homebuyers who make no more than 80 percent of the Area Mean Income. (In 2000, Chapel Hill’s mean household income was $51,690; 80 percent would be $41,352.) Reclaiming the homes revitalizes neighborhoods, provides affordable housing close to downtown and improves individual financial stability by turning renters into homeowners. The town benefits from the increased property tax revenue as the houses rise in value, and from lower crime rates as neighborhoods are repopulated with homeowners who have a stake in keeping the streets safe.
Preservation N.C., a nonprofit, can’t compete with for-profit developers who can pay a higher price for the aging houses in disrepair. So developers need to step up and do the right thing: Don’t tear down a small house and replace it with something that will change the character of the neighborhood. Just because you can make a buck, doesn’t mean you always should.
– Nancy Oates