Frequently asked questions
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How do we achieve Chapel Hill for All?
We have the opportunity to create a more inclusive community that is diverse and builds upon the university's vibrant culture, by allowing types of housing that matches the needs of people of different incomes and at various stages in their life.
An increased supply of homes, especially missing middle housing, will help moderate the increasing cost of housing. This will help the large number of households trying to find a home in Chapel Hill. These efforts would build upon the town's substantial funding of dedicated affordable housing, which continues to provide new opportunities to low-income households who the market does not serve.
More broadly, we need to build a network of supporters to advocate for a local government that is responsive to all of us, not simply homeowners or those who have lived here a long time. We need a government that prioritizes equity, affordability, connectivity, and responding to the climate crisis.
How do we achieve a sustainable Chapel Hill?
It's settled — numerous studies show that compact, walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented development is environmentally beneficial. This is not only because it helps preserve open land, but because it uses existing infrastructure (i.e. water and sewer) and is closer to jobs and transit. A new building with multiple households is more energy efficient than a single, large one-family home on a lot. A denser Chapel Hill is a greener Chapel Hill.
What happens if we do nothing?
As our town's housing continues to age, more of our older homes are being torn down and replaced by McMansions. If only single-family homes can be built, then only single-family homes will be built, limiting the housing that's available in Chapel Hill to the largest, most expensive homes. Over time, our housing will continue to get more expensive and more exclusive.
Why are housing prices going up so fast?
The Research Triangle is an attractive place to live, with dozens of people moving to the region each day. Many people are drawn to Chapel Hill because of the university, top-notch medical care, the public schools, and access to jobs. The pandemic has accelerated these trends, and is pushing the cost of living in Chapel Hill (either as an owner or renter) out of reach for many.
As with any increase in demand, a key way to address the rise of housing costs is to build more housing, but we are not building enough. While we've seen an increase in rental apartments, our zoning codes do not allow for smaller, cheaper, "missing middle" types of homes such as duplexes and cottages that are modest in size and chepaer to build. In Chapel Hill, the only ones who can build are large out-of-town developers. Smaller developers, or a family loooking to build a multigenerational two-family home, are out of luck.
Will these changes lead to overcrowding in our schools?
No. Each year the school system prepares a Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) that projects school facility needs for the next ten years. The most recent SAPFO report, released in March, projects that no new school buildings will be needed in the next ten years. In fact, between last year and this year, the student population in Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools decreaed by 75 students.
If the housing choices ordinance is adopted, it is likely that some new duplexes will be built, and some of those will likely include school-age children. But the pace of growth will be slow, and there is plenty of capacity to accomodate the new families that we hope will be able to live in Chapel Hill.
Will this proposal slow our town's gentrification?
Gentrification refers to displacing people from their homes due to market changes that increase housing costs. Drastic price increases mean that people who may be renting in Chapel Hill, or those who could formerly afford to buy in Chapel Hill, including those who grew up here, are priced out, and forced to move elsewhere.
In addition, over time many of Chapel Hill's existing homes will be torn down and replaced with new structures. By allowing some of those homes to be replaced with less expensive duplexes, the housing choices proposal can help slow gentrification in our town.
Do we have the infrastructure (water, electricity, roads) to support more housing?
Yes. Per-capita water usage has been declining for several years, and we have more than enough water to accomodate the slight increases in population that will occur annually if the housing choices proposal is adopted. In fact, it is likely that several years of missing middle housing development willl be needed to accomodate as many people as one multifamily apartment building in Blue Hill.
In addition, most of the roads in town have plenty of excess capacity. Roads that are busy, such as Fordham Boulevard, are crowded because they are used by people forced to live in Chatham County and Alamance County and drive through Chapel Hill, or to UNC-Chapel Hill for work, because of the lack of housing options within Chapel Hill. Adding more housing in town will make our investments in high-quality transit and biccyle facilities pay off by giving more people the opportunity to take advantae of transit and biccyling trips.
What impact will the housing choices proposal have on our neighborhood character?
There are regulations right now that limit the size and location of single-family homes in our neighborhoods. Those same regulations will apply to duplexes, as well as triplexes and quadplexes where they are allowed. So all these new homes will fit beautifully in existing neighborhoods, the only difference is they'll house more families.
What is 'affordable housing'?
Talking about affordable housing can be confusing because the term means different things to different people.
Sometimes affordable housing refers specifically to housing that is subsidized by a government and is targeted to households below a certain income.
More generally, the term refers to housing that a household can afford based on its income. Ideally, housing is affordable for everyone because when it is not other important needs, like healthcare or food, may go unmet.
Some households have such low incomes – roughly 30 percent of the median area income – that their housing will have to be heavily subsidized, typically with federal dollars (which are difficult for any local government to obtain). A private developer simply cannot supply housing that will be affordable to households at that income level without a significant subsidy.
But in an expensive town like Chapel Hill, higher-income households, including those making around 80 percent of area median income, may struggle to afford a home. While they don't require the same level of subsidy as the lowest-income households, they can benefit from assistance, such as down payment assistance to help purchase a home. They can also benefit from housing types that are relatively affordable, including condos, townhomes, and apartments, because they have reduced land costs compared to individual homes on large lots.
There is no silver bullet to solve the affordability crisis. We need to use every tool in the toolbox.
How do we build more affordable housing in Chapel Hill?
We continue to support the town's extensive efforts to encourage the development of dedicate affordable housing — that is, housing which is legally restricted to households below a certain income. Each year, the town spends millions of dollars supporting the preservation of existing affordable housing, and subsidizing developers who are building new affordable housing while leveraging state and federal funds. This "all of the above" strategy to enable new market-rate housing and continue to subsidize affordable housing is the best way for the town to provide housing opportunities to households of all incomes.
Should we only build affordable housing?
Affordable housing with income and price restrictions is vitally important, but serves only a fraction of households lucky enough to find a home. Housing is also needed for middle income households. Adding to the supply regionally is our only hope of stabilizing prices for everyone, including our teachers and other Town employees.
If dozens of families are moving to the Triangle each day, home prices and rents will continue to escalate unless there are dozens of homes available each day for new residents to buy or rent.
Chapel Hill doesn't have to meet that entire need, but as an anchor of the Triangle, it should contribute its fair share. Each community in the Triangle can and should do its part to help alleviate the great need for housing in our area.