Affordable housing

Northside and Pine Knolls face a losing battle to remain affordable (and black, for that matter) unless we, as a town, address the demand for student housing near campus.

Tonight Town Council will receive the Planning Department’s update on the town’s affordable housing strategy, a plan the council adopted in June of last year. One of the key components in the plan is to conduct a survey to learn income levels and what type of housing the workforce would like. (We hope that the sentence stating the staff would survey “employers” was simply poorly worded and that staff actually intend to ask the people who need affordable housing what their preferences are.)

Nevertheless, even if the town creates housing that fits local employees to a T, the units will be snapped up by students whose parents provide financial backing. And that demand will raise housing prices. The town’s plan to buy property as it becomes available and preserve it as affordable housing will have limited success, because the town can’t outbid what a private developer could pay.

To prevent teardowns, the town would need to arm the individual parcels with all sorts of protective covenants similar to those of Community Land Trust housing, which would limit resale value. Creating a Historic District Commission-type body to approve any sort of renovation has done nothing to improve the affordability of neighborhoods farther east. To the west, Carrboro found that limiting the footprint and height of the houses won’t achieve affordability, either. The Carrboro millhouses, on a price-per-square-foot basis, are among the most expensive real estate in the Triangle.

One of the tricky aspects of crafting development restrictions for the Northside/Pine Knolls neighborhoods is how to control who moves in and what the owners can do with their property without preventing current owners from reaping full market value for their real estate investment. The only significant savings many working class people have is the equity in their home, and it is downright un-American to prevent them from harvesting the equity when they need it.

Reducing demand will help keep prices low. Building apartments – not condos – downtown will ease the pressure. Projects like Shortbread Lofts – garish color and cheap windows notwithstanding – may be in the best interests of the community.
– Nancy Oates

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4 Comments

  1. John Kramer

     /  January 23, 2012

    Affordable Housing: More social engineering from the sponsors of Greenbridge.

  2. Nancy, at Saturday’s 2020 Unconference Chancellor Thorp said and avoided saying two things of interest.

    One, that if UNC was crafting the Carolina North plan now it would be insisting on more parking for student residences. Without plentiful parking, which I guess is provided by Northside’s frontyards, students aren’t interested in campus living.

    Two, Holden, in discussing campus living options, dodged the issue of price. UNC has increased the cost of living/parking on campus much faster than rental costs – especially in Northside – the last decade. As one Northside landlord recently pointed out – that economic pressure alone can account for the dramatic exodus from campus.

    Holden did get a chuckle from the audience when he asked a front-row sophomore student what she thought of extending mandated living on campus rules to her class. “No way” was her direct response.

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  January 24, 2012

    UNC’s Housing program is self-supporting, i.e., they must charge the real cost. Because the university is held to a higher standard of design to meet state codes such as fire protection, it costs more to build than what private developers pay.

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  January 24, 2012

    And the dichotomy of who wants to live on campus and who doesn’t holds a clue to some of the objections people have to having too many students in a neighborhood. My daughter and her roommate for next year, both serious students, are looking for housing — on campus. They’re scouting which dorms would be their top picks. I’d guess that students who can’t wait to live off campus may see college as a few years of freedom between living under parents’ rules and being responsible adults. Those who see the continuity between parents’ expectations and society’s probably make better neighbors.

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