In 1998, billionaire and former UNC System President C.D. Spangler took a fancy to a cottage on East Franklin Street and offered the owner $1 million for it. Almost immediately, “For Sale” signs appeared up and down Franklin Street asking $1 million-plus for houses along that stretch of the historic district. But alas, no one else would pay that kind of money for a small house, and the signs came down, or the owners reduced their asking price by half or more.
All this to show that the housing market can’t be explained by the simple supply-and-demand theory that governs, say, restaurants. If a town has only high-priced restaurants that are beyond your budget, you can decide not to go out to eat.
But, realistically, you can’t decide to live unsheltered. So real estate developers and landlords push housing prices as high as they can go while still retaining enough market share to turn a profit.
A thriving town like Chapel Hill will get affordable housing only through a gift from a developer in exchange for a rezoning, or by using taxpayer dollars to subsidize units down to a price point affordable to the workforce.
Chapel Hill has quality public schools, mature trees sprinkled around town, good restaurants and cultural amenities typically found in college towns. We’re going to attract people with money, who will nudge out the middle class and working class. If we’re going to have a balanced town, we must be intentional about what housing development options we approve and recruit those we need.