Diversity is quite a hot topic here in the 21st century. We talk all the time about diversity in schools and in the workplace because countless studies have found that interacting with people who come from a different background and have different viewpoints is beneficial.
For example, a professor at Columbia found that workplaces are more creative and productive when they have a diverse workforce, and other studies found that academic research is of a higher quality when it is done by a diverse research team.
So why is there not the same conversation about diversity when it comes to housing?
Just in the past few months, two more affordable housing complexes in the downtown area have been sold to out-of-state developers who plan to replace the subsidized housing with traditional apartments. Residents of Wintershaven apartments – all of whom are 62 years or older – and Sir Walter Raleigh apartments have been told that they must find a new place to live.
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For many residents, however, that is easier said than done. Raleigh has done very little to preserve affordable housing downtown, and many new apartments in the area cost upward of $1,000 a month. The North Hills area has the same problem, with some apartments renting for more than $1,500 a month.
In fact, housing in all of Wake County has become unaffordable. According to the NC Housing Coalition, the average apartment in the county rents for about $900 a month, but the average salary can only afford $750 a month. Unaffordable housing is in part a result of the rapid growth that Raleigh has experienced recently, and will continue to experience, in the coming years. But it is also a result of poor planning that does not prioritize economic diversity in the city.
Take a city like Freiburg, Germany. City planners there make sure that in each district of the city there is a wide variety of housing, ranging from government-subsidized apartments to higher-end row houses. And after the district is developed, the planners keep working to maintain the stock of affordable housing.
This kind of planning has many benefits for the city, the biggest one being that people of all ages and economic classes have the freedom to choose where to live. In Freiburg, citizens do not get forced out of their neighborhoods by redevelopment and high rent prices. But beyond that, having economic diversity in the districts has actually resulted in a society that is accepting, inclusive, and socially cohesive. Furthermore, students don’t have to be bused to different parts of the city just to make the schools diverse. The neighborhood schools are inherently diverse because the neighborhoods themselves are diverse.
It’s a relatively simple idea, but one that seems to have been overlooked in Raleigh and in the greater Triangle area. Here, we wind up with entire parts of the city, such as downtown, that cater almost exclusively to the affluent.
It’s time to change that. When an area is being developed or re-developed, the city shouldn’t just allow developers to build housing that caters toward one demographic. The city should require them to build a wide variety of housing that provides options for a wide variety of people. Sure, put up luxury apartments, but also include subsidized housing, housing for the elderly, and housing for families. Stop forcing low-income individuals out of certain parts of the city by putting up unaffordable housing. Instead, give every citizen the opportunity to choose the part of the city in which they live by both including affordable housing in future development, and working to maintain the stock of affordable housing throughout the city.
By using this method of planning, Raleigh can stop the gentrification and turn areas like downtown or North Hills into areas that everyone can afford to live in. Building diverse communities can also help Raleigh become a more accepting, inclusive and socially cohesive city. Not to mention kids won’t have to be bused across town just to make our schools diverse.
Downtown in particular shouldn’t become an area for just the affluent in Raleigh. It should be a place that is inclusive and available for everyone to live in.