We are lacking in affordable housing options for lower income people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro for many reasons. Some of those reasons are the direct consequences of decisions we have made locally. For example, about thirty years ago some visionaries in Orange County determined that we did not want to encourage suburban sprawl, so we created the urban services boundary and the rural buffer. The urban services boundary limits where municipal water and sewer services will be provided.
Outside that boundary, land owners must rely on well water and septic fields. Thus, development in this rural buffer must be fairly low density, which prohibits suburban sprawl. Although we all appreciate having farm land just a few miles from our downtowns, the urban services boundary has also probably caused land prices within the boundary to be higher than if the boundary did not exist.
As the population of our towns has increased over time and the land that has access to water and sewer has been developed, developers have sought increased density in developments such as Greenbridge, 140 West Franklin, 300 East Main and others. These newer developments are taller than would have been contemplated 20 or 30 years ago. But circumstances change over time and elected officials recognize that our towns must change as well.
As a 20 year resident of Carrboro, I truly appreciate the beauty of the farm land that is just minutes from my home. As an affordable housing advocate, I understand there is a community cost to maintaining that pristine land. I feel very fortunate that my wife and I could afford to purchase a home in a great neighborhood with easy access to our downtowns. Not everyone has that same good fortune.
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In fact, increasingly, fewer households with modest incomes are able to buy homes or even afford to rent homes in our community. This trend is surely not caused solely by the rural buffer. There are other, larger trends at work here, notably the increasing income and wealth gap between the few and the many. But no matter the cause, we should recognize these trends and the impacts they will continue to have on our community.
As we move into the future and growth continues, how will we provide housing options for regular working folks? We need citizens like teachers and public sector workers living in and contributing to our community. How do we do that?