A Realtor friend of mine recently told me that real estate in Chapel Hill is not as desirable as it once was because the Town is no longer the quaint university town it was just 10 or 15 years ago. He faulted our elected officials for promoting too much growth and too tall buildings. He also faulted me for promoting inclusionary housing, which increases prices for market-rate homes.
I, of course, defended both our elected officials and myself. Growth is inevitable, unless we become a shrinking town with fewer jobs. However, I believe UNC Health Care is growing and creating jobs throughout the county (and beyond) to meet the needs of an aging population. As they grow, I imagine private sector health care jobs also increase. Given the choice between a growing, vibrant place and a stagnant place with little opportunity, wouldn’t we all choose the former?
I think we are lucky to live in a growing place that provides job opportunities. But where will these new employees live? Do we want them driving to and from Durham, Chatham and Mebane each day?
Regular readers of this column know that I am, first and foremost, an advocate for affordable housing. I believe we need housing options for people all along the housing continuum. However, I am aware that we live in a capitalist economy with limited public resources. Therefore, I have long advocated for inclusionary housing policies that provide sufficient incentives to developers to enable them to provide the housing we need. My thinking about this is fairly simple — we in Chapel Hill and Carrboro need more affordable housing for lower income people. The capacity of the public sector, including nonprofit organizations, is limited due to decreased public investment in housing, high land costs and other factors. The private sector will not create affordable homes if doing so means they will lose money. But since the private sector will build most of the housing over the next 10 or 20 years, they can potentially have a significant impact, if properly incented.
We may be able to maximize the creation of affordable housing if we can determine how developers can help meet our needs while still earning the returns they need. This will no doubt entail compromises. But a well-constructed Inclusionary housing policy could provide both ownership and rental units that represent a win-win for developers, the community and the folks who need affordable homes.