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