At a council work session on Oct. 19, town staff presented the findings of David Paul Rosen & Associates, a consulting firm that we taxpayers hired to help us come up with a plan for affordable housing. The study focused on land the town owns and how much it would cost to subsidize various types of housing units.
In total, the amounts were substantial. And we still would end up with the less-than-ideal situation of all low-income people crowded together in one building or complex. Witness Northwood Ravin’s plan to cram 50 low-income apartments onto a single acre in Carraway Village.
Chapel Hill’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance has the right idea — include low-income residents with those paying market rate for housing. But we don’t have a majority on council who will vote to adhere to the ordinance when eligible projects come to us for approval.
Based on the development proposals we, on council, have approved, we are building aspirationally. We are making room only for the upwardly mobile, college-educated white-collar professionals. In doing so, we push out people who do the work we don’t want to pay much for. That imbalance ultimately undermines our success as a community.
The people we rely on to educate our children, care for our aging parents, haul away our trash, and cook and serve our food in restaurants, to name a few, can’t afford to live in the community they serve. We push them farther out of town, and we’re already seeing signs that we can’t find enough people to hire for modestly paid jobs.
Some council members have lobbied, for instance, for Habitat for Humanity to change its model and stop building single-family houses affordable to the modestly paid in favor of building multifamily units. Some council members have gone so far as to argue that the only affordable housing we should approve is apartments, the implication being that houses should be only for people who earn a lot of money.
The underlying sentiment of that plan is: If you were worthy of living in a house, you’d get a job that paid more.
Have the residents of Chapel Hill really become that arrogant to dismiss someone’s lifestyle choices because they differ from what some of the wealthy or wealthy wannabes choose?
Money is not the main driver for everyone. A good thing, given that so many employees who do work that upper-income folks rely on to enable their lifestyle choices are paid so little. People willing to accept those jobs should be allowed to live in — not simply be warehoused in — the community they serve.
Those modestly paid workers are not simply tenants for someone to profit off of; they are people who deserve to be treated as valued members of our community.
— Nancy Oates