The community can continue to argue about the development projects that have been approved, Town Council candidate Jessica Anderson said, but it won’t stop those projects from coming.
“What I really am hoping is we can turn our attention toward how do we make these as good as we can and how do we serve our residents as best as we can,” she said.
Anderson is one of nine candidates, including three incumbents, seeking four council seats in the Nov. 3 election. Early voting begins Oct. 22.
The Cambridge, Mass., native learned a lot about collaboration while working as a reading teacher in Japan, Los Angeles and Boston, she said. She also learned there are multiple ways to do something well, and has since made a career of studying what education policies work best.
“I think sometimes we don’t do enough to focus on how something’s going to be implemented,” Anderson said. “Then we get angry when people don’t necessarily do what we thought they were going to do.”
Anderson recently answered some questions about local issues for the Chapel Hill News:
Q: Talk about the fare-free bus system.
I think we’re going to have to look at a number of different options, because we have to fund the buses and we have to expand service and we have to replace buses and we have to fix the aging buses that we have. First of all, we do have to figure out a funding system that doesn’t rely, in my opinion, on bonds. I think we need to be thinking about our bus as one of our regular town services, that we put aside money for, that we anticipate that buses are going to get old and are going to need repairs. So that’s going to be part of our expenses, just like filling potholes and other things that municipalities do on a regular basis, and I see bonds as more (for) those big projects that are out of the ordinary, that you don’t need to do every day or every week or every year. I do think that we need to figure out a way to fund the buses constantly, because also we are going to have a lot more people, and we have to have transportation options for people that don’t involve cars.
I think the bus needs to be as free as it can be. I think we have to look at all the options possible. I would love for it to continue to be free, because I think that’s of course the best incentive for the people to take it. Of course, if we can keep it completely free, that’s the best way to get people out of their cars. Now, if, as we move along and we analyze those options, we have to do an analysis of what are our options, what are the financial costs and benefits, what do we project will be the outcomes, what are our unintended consequences – like if you do have people paying for buses, then are less people going to take it or will it not impact ridership that much, depending on who you charge.
I’d rather see us looking at it really critically and looking at what we think some realistic projections would be of costs and benefits. I’m not closed off to the idea of some people being charged for the bus eventually, if that’s what we need to do. We have to be realistic and pragmatic, but I certainly would not want to see us charging the elderly or those with disabilities, who I think we really have an obligation to as a place that cares about social justice and taking care of our residents. I really don’t feel comfortable ever charging people in those groups. People who are my age, who can afford it? I don’t know. We could look at it, but I don’t really feel comfortable saying one way or another, since I don’t know the projections yet. I don’t know what would happen. If by charging people, a lot less people take the bus, then we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. So I think it would really have to be weighed out, and we’d have to get a lot of input and feedback and do some analysis on what that would look like.
We can argue about who likes what developments and who doesn’t, but they’re done, they’re coming. I think instead of continuing to focus on who’s still mad about what’s happened, what I really am hoping is we can turn our attention toward how do we make these as good as we can and how do we serve our residents as best as we can, including things like bus service (to underserved) places. I think it’s going to be tough if we don’t think critically about how to expand our service to these outlying areas.
Q: How can the town provide or encourage more affordable housing?
I think we’re not alone in struggling with the affordable housing issue. It’s not something that’s unique to Chapel Hill, but I think we do have a lot of very socially minded people here who care about it, which is great, because it means we can get some traction – and we’ve already gotten some traction – but I think we can get even more. I think, in my opinion, we’re a community, and we as a community need to have all our members feel like they can live here and work here.
I think people of all income levels need to be part of our community, and they contribute a lot. We can’t just show value. When we build luxury apartments, that’s implicitly saying these are the people we value. These are the people we want to come here, and I think some of the recent developments have had too much luxury housing and not enough affordable housing and not enough commercial and office space.
I think we certainly can do some things to work with nonprofits to build affordable housing. I think we can incentivize people. I don’t think we can force people to build affordable housing. I think we can certainly make it easier for people.
I think the other thing we can take into account, when we’re thinking about affordable housing, is not just rent. We can build something way off in some remote corner that has really low rent, and then the transportation costs are exorbitant, you’re not close to anywhere affordable to shop and maybe your utilities are through the roof, your OWASA bill is going to kill you every month, we haven’t done anything about energy efficiency.
I think those are other things we need to think about when we talk about these issues is that affordable housing is about placement, too – not just an actual structure – it’s about placement, it’s about LEED certification and energy efficiency, which is good for all of us anyway and the environment. Taking all those things into account, and I think we really need to be good negotiators with developers. Developers, who can blame them for building the most economical structures that they can get easy funding for from the bank. That’s what they do. Let’s not be surprised about that. But we can be good negotiators about saying if you do X, Y and Z, if you want it to be one story higher, we get these many more affordable housing units. That’s how we’re going to play ball.
So I think we can do both. I think we can incentivize nonprofits to be building affordable housing, but also we can be working with our developers on including affordable housing and it being integrated into larger developments, which I think is also important because I like to see people at all different income levels integrated into communities. I don’t want to see just affordable housing and then just luxury housing over here, and the two shall never meet. I’m not sure that’s really great for any of us.
It makes me think of an example of last year on one of our snowy days, the buses couldn’t run. It’s not that the buses were not capable of being on the road. It’s that all of our bus drivers live outside of town, so nobody could come in to drive the buses. We actually all suffer when we don’t have workforce and affordable housing in Chapel Hill, not to mention the fact that, I guess selfishly as a mother, I want my daughter to be around all different kinds of people from all different income levels and I want all of us to have a feeling of community where the people that provide us with all these essential services are also people that can live with us and play with us and shop with us and learn with us.
Q: What do you think of the decision on:
Obey Creek: I think something there was going to be built. What it was was up for grabs. What would have loved to see, was something that had affordable housing, that had the office and retail, that was real minimal on that residential. The residential … takes away from our tax base, and we’re not in some really cushy financial position at the moment where we can just be giving handouts for residential. It’s not a wise fiscal decision for us. Also we need more places where we can affordably shop and we can have offices. I would have loved to see more of that. Am I offended by anything being there? No. I think that’s fine.
The other thing we have to deal with is that transportation issue. That’s a lot of trips per day that are coming in and out of that area, and we’re talking about on 15-501, which many of us avoid at all costs during certain parts of the day. To me, when we’re not creating that infrastructure in advance to deal with that density, that’s why I don’t love that development. I think if we had really put in a well thought-out environmental plan and transportation plan there, and we had negotiated for more commercial and office than residential, I really wouldn’t have a problem with it.
I think it’s great to capitalize on some of the traffic coming from Chatham County to get people in there for shopping, other things. An alternative to Walmart down there would be great, but I don’t think what we ended up with is what I would have chosen.
That said, again, it’s already approved, so now I think we need to look toward how do we deal with those traffic issues that are inevitable? How do we deal with some of the things that are now going to be our job going forward? A townwide traffic impact analysis is critical. We’ve been looking at focus zones, and so we’ll say, OK, in the surrounding streets by Obey Creek, we’re going to have 18,000 trips per day, whatever it was. That sounds horrific if I have to drive over there.
Then are we pretending that 15-501 doesn’t run down, past McCauley and down by Elliott and Estes. Those cars don’t disappear once they come out of that focus zone. So I think if we’re not looking at a townwide impact analysis, then we are going to have a lot of frustrated people.
So again, what we’re looking for here and what my vision is, is a place where we have time to spend with our families, where we’re not sitting in our cars all day, or looking for parking all over Franklin Street. Instead, we’re enjoying our time, and we’re enjoying the resources that we do have. I think part of that is getting serious about how we’re going to deal with all those cars.
The other thing that concerns me about Obey Creek, you know members of the Compass Committee have told me directly that they did not feel listened to and they felt like they had wasted their time and they spent hundreds of hours trying to help make this a better plan. And they weren’t heard. Whether they actually weren’t heard or they just didn’t happen to get their way, when you have a lot of people feeling like they’re not heard, that’s a problem. Regardless of what the reality is, if they feel like they’re not being heard and they’re doing all this public service for us, and lending their expertise and their knowledge to us, that concerns me too. I think we need to work on that.
Another thing I would have wanted to see there is a smaller plan. It looks like from the analysis that it would have brought in just as many tax dollars, but it would have had less of a footprint, less of an environmental impact, less traffic. I would have loved to see that considered. If we have a choice, and we’re not looking at more tax dollars or some other compelling reason to go bigger, why can’t we go smaller? I guess that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Ephesus-Fordham: I think there are some missing pieces there. We don’t have the affordable housing that I would have loved to see. We don’t have the green space. We don’t have LEED certification. How in the heck are we not, as such a progressive, forward-thinking place, going along with what I see as the future of building, which is energy efficiency. As our environment, globally, nationally and locally, gets worse, we need to be doing better and better. When you do things with energy-efficiency standards, they’re a little more expensive on the front end to build and then they become much cheaper over time. It’s a great investment.
The other thing that I feel like a lot of people in town are upset about is what’s happening as a result of Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment, some small businesses that people really love and feel like are a part of the fabric of the community are leaving.
I think part of what we need to be thinking about when we’re doing these developments and redevelopments is again who are we going to incentivize to come or leave? Who’s going to get kicked out of their lease because, even if you’re a successful business, their rent is just going to go up too much. I think that’s the other thing that I really see is an emphasis on small, locally owned businesses. That’s something people here love, and it’s part of what makes us unique. There are things we can still do. Modifications to form-based code that we can make so we can try and get some of those things that I think are really going to push us into the strongest position possible going forward.
I think we do need to have some more requirements for green space. The stormwater reclamation’s pretty good. People are saying it’s the best in Chapel Hill. I’m not so sure about that, but I think we can also really start thinking about that issue of balancing that impervious surface and that density with green space and with walkability. That’s the other thing that I think we’re missing there is some of walkability and cyclability. I think it was just another lost opportunity in our negotiations. That’s another thing that kind of worries me is as we bring in all these new cars. There are already people who have been killed in cycling accidents, recently, and if we are saying that we value people walking and cycling, but we’re not building safe spaces for them to do that, that’s a really big missed opportunity, and it’s dangerous.
Those are some of the things that I think we can work on with form-based code.
Form-based code is not the enemy. It’s not a bad idea in theory. I just think we have to make some tweaks to it. If we’re going to in essence take ourselves out of the process as a council, then I think we’re going to have some stronger requirements in there.
If the (Community Design Commission) and the town manager are going to be the ones signing off on things, then I think if we’re going to be turning that duty over, then it needs to be pretty specific about the thing that we want in terms of 20 percent affordable housing, for every square foot of impervious surface, we get X amount of square feet of green space.
I think we can get pretty specific about it, and then, if there are instances where there are exceptions to the rule or we need to look at it more closely as a council, that’s fine. But I think if we have a stricter form-base code that has more controls on it, then I would feel more comfortable handing the reins over to someone else. I think that has to be a process where things are not as controversial. To me, part of the job of the council is to make those tough decisions, and if we’re not going to have it be pretty structured and pretty in the box about what you can approve in terms of form-based code, then I think we are going to upset people.
The Edge: The Edge, I think, is again a great location. It’s right off I-40. It’s over there by Eubanks. It’s a great site for something. I think if we’re going to say that we want commercial in that space, then let’s stick to it. Then when I hear that it could go up to 75 percent residential, that really worries me. I don’t think we need the additional residential. We can’t afford it in terms of our tax base, and it’s not what we said that we were going to do, so I think at this point, we have to now follow through on making sure that that is what we said it was going to be.
I think it would be a great space for some commercial – to grab people off 40 coming through – for some shopping. Get some dollars coming our way as opposed to always the other way. And, then, that’s another great opportunity to have some mixed use, where then you put in some flexible office space. So we’re capturing some of that brainpower from UNC and having a place for them to land with their startups, using some venture capital, doing some exciting things over there. I think that would be a phenomenal opportunity, and I think that people in that neighborhood would really welcome that.
I’d be open to hearing from folks who don’t think that’s a great idea, but I think people would be supportive of that.
I’ve heard arguments that you can’t see it from 40, so people aren’t going to shop there. Well, the same can be said of Southpoint, and I don’t see any lack of shoppers at Southpoint mall. I don’t think that’s a requirement.
We have Launch in Chapel Hill, which is this phenomenal idea, and then people are being launched out into other places, because there’s nowhere for them to land in Chapel Hill.
Again, that’s another group, so let’s bring them to the table. Let’s get their expertise and let’s hear from them, what exactly would office space look like that you would need for the kind of startups that you’re talking about, because it does look different from a lot of the office space that we have now. Places like the Edge are a phenomenal opportunity for that kind of development.
Q: How should the town change in the next 20 years?
I think what we have to do, and what I want to do, my vision, is that we really capitalize on our competitive advantage – that Chapel Hill is a unique place, especially within the greater context of our area. That we have this amazing Tier 1 research university in the center of town. Not everyone has that. It’s pretty huge.
One of my visions is really kind of capitalizing on the fact that we have that, and making sure that we’re capturing all the smart people coming out of there and getting as many of them to stay here and have startups and think tanks and all these things. We have to create the spaces for them to do that.
That’s part of my vision for development, is we are going to grow and development is fine. It just needs to be working on what is going to make us the best. I think that’s one thing we need to capitalize on. I think another thing I would really like to see for my vision is that we integrate our values as a community into how we grow and how we look. I think we are a town that really values environmental stewardship and cycling and walking, and I think those things also have to be integrated into all the new ventures that we have and all the new projects we take on.
I would really want to see lots of green space, lots of connectivity, lots of bike paths and sidewalks, things that all of us like as part of our daily lives but are also incredibly important for our environmental stewardship. When we have a lot of impervious surface that comes along with development, we have to counterbalance that with green space, the stormwater needs somewhere to go.
If it doesn’t sink into the soil, it’s going to run off into the streams and into Jordan Lake, which is soon going to be our drinking water, so I first of all care about our Chatham neighbors, who are already drinking out of Jordan Lake, but I also care about the fact that we’re all going to be drinking it sometime soon. It would be nice if we could keep that healthy and clean.
I think that is part of my vision, is integrating who do we want here, how do we capitalize on what has made us so great in the past. It’s about our diversity, it’s about people from all over the world that come here for school, and people who are coming out with chemical engineering degrees. Don’t you think that some of them would like to stay? I think they would. I just think they don’t have flexible office space where they can have a startup. Or have the space they need where they can do the work that they do. We have office space, which is good, but I think we also need to be thinking about what the businesses of the future look like and what even the businesses now look like, which are high tech, which are these kind of innovative startups, where you can have a 3-D printer. That’s a different type of office space.
So I think we can start trying to meet that demand and look ahead to what kind of things are going to capitalize on our competitive advantage going forward. That’s what I see, and I think using technologies to advance our environmental concerns ... again, the affordable housing issue is huge. I don’t think that we can be the strong community that I see us being and that I want us to be without affordable housing. We’ve got the luxury right now. I know it’s easier and it’s the best value in terms of if you’re going to be developing something, it’s easiest to get a loan right now, you get a great return and all this stuff, but I think that our job as a town is to decide what we need for the community, not what will necessarily make the most money.
I guess when we talk about heights of buildings, what I would love to see is for that to be a community conversation, more than putting an absolute rule. To me, if you say nothing can be above four stories or nothing can be above five stories, well, I don’t know, does that really accomplish our goals. I’m not sure it does. I do want buildings that people feel comfortable with and that people like being around and that serve our purposes as a community, and I guess it also depends on where it is.
On Franklin Street? On East Franklin Street, it’s much different to have a seven-story building than it is to have it somewhere else in town. I think when we start looking at these things, if we can have it be a community conversation, people have great ideas. I think depending on what’s being built, people will probably be OK with some height and some density. It’s just right now, I think a lot of people are upset, and everybody’s just digging their heels in on, well, you didn’t listen to me, so now I’m going to say everything can only be four stories or two stories or half a story. What that, to me, is a sign of, is it’s coming to an impasse. People don’t feel listened to, and people feel that other people are being difficult, and it’s become this tug of war instead of figuring out, OK, what really bothers you about this? Is it really the height of the building or is it what’s in the building? If we had something a story taller, but it had a lot of great affordable housing, what would you think about that? Or what if it had flexible office space for startups? Is that OK with you?
I think there are some opportunities for some creative conversations and some consensus building that we can do. And that doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to be happy. There are going to be people who don’t like any given project, no matter what, but I think if people want access to information, they want to engage in the process and they’re willing to, then we need to use them and we need to get them involved. I think we’ll get some really great, creative ideas.
There are things you can do to also make things more palatable to people, if you feel like the density is really necessary. I think I would like to see us be more proactive and less reactive in making those decisions and saying this is what we want, who can make this happen for us? As opposed to, oh, you want to do this, OK then, we’ll talk with you about what you wanted and try to get something out of it. I think that’s also where people felt a little bit frustrated. I think if we can be transparent with people and help them understand what those tough decisions are and what criteria we’re using, it doesn’t mean everyone will be happy, but it means people will feel part of the process and they’ll understand.
I think there can be this fear of new things. We can’t talk any more about what used to be and what Chapel Hill used to be, and go backwards. That’s impossible, and it’s not constructive. We do need to think about what’s coming next and how we want to work together to get there, but I think if we come up with a shared vision that people sign on to and people feel excited about, then we may disagree on how to get there, but we can work with that. That is something I think we can negotiate.
I also think we need to have some conflict, and that’s OK. I don’t love conflict. I don’t search out conflict, but I think having people with different views and different opinions on Town Council is critical. That’s how our system was built, was to have differing voices and to have different people in the mix. First of all, it helps us all clarify our positions and helps us think critically about what we’re saying. If someone challenges you, then you have to think about the middle ground a little.
I think we need to have respectful conversations, and we need to be respectful of each other’s ideas. I don’t think we need to be telling each other that we’re lying or shushing each other. I really want to see us respectfully having conversations because we all do care about Chapel Hill and we all care about getting our next step ahead, our next 10 steps ahead, looking to the next year and also the next 20 years.
Q: What has the town gotten right?
The thing that I love most recently is the high-speed broadband to low-income residents. I think that is a phenomenal example of living our values, of private-public partnerships. I think that’s wonderful, and I think that’s actually a huge economic driver. People not having access to Internet is pretty restrictive these days in terms of job searching or anything else.
I think some of the work in Northside has been really good. I think, talking to some of the neighbors there, they do feel like the town has tried to work with them on some initiatives in terms of dealing with some of the student occupancy issues, stuff like that. I still think there’s a lot of work to do there. That’s one of the biggest things I think we need to tackle in that neighborhood – since the ship has already sailed on building some of that student housing – when there are seven or eight cars habitually parked outside of a three-bedroom house, we need to do something about that. That’s not really fair to the neighbors there and the people who have lived there for a long time and who own their homes and are an incredibly important part of Chapel Hill.
I think that they did a good job of listening in Ephesus-Fordham to the stormwater concerns of citizens and they did put in some good controls there. I think they’re trying to do some nice work by gaining connectivity with some of the new trails. I know it’s an accessibility issue if it’s not paved, so I know these are not easy decisions. I do have environmental concerns about putting a trail that close to a creek, but I do think it’s the right idea in terms of making it so that you can go all the way through Northside and get to other parts of town. I think that’s great.
I think there are efforts that individual council people have put forward, too, that I think are great. I really like some of the emphasis that people have talked about with affordable housing; I just think we need to fight more for it. It seems like people on council, individuals, have some great ideas about affordable housing. I just think we need to go ahead and do it. We have to make it happen, and we have to have that criteria in mind in all these different negotiations with whomever. I think that we need to have our checklist of what are our values and what criteria are we meeting by doing X, Y and Z. We have to have our road map.
Q: What should the town have done differently?
I think the (issue) is listening and acting on constituent input. I think we can do better on that. It’s not easy to have so many constituencies and interest groups coming at you at the same time, but that’s the job. We need to figure out a way so that even if we’re not going to make everybody happy, everybody feels like they were listened to, that their input was actually taken into account, that it was weighed against other things, and that they understand why a decision was made. I think that people coming out of advisory groups, compass committees, just citizens going to Town Hall meetings, a lot of them have come out not feeling that way. It doesn’t mean that we give in to special interests or we allow the loudest voices to dictate how we do town business, but I think we have to make people know that were going into decisions with an open mind, that we haven’t made up our minds before a vote comes up. Nobody ever wants to feel that way when they’re putting all this time and effort into trying to be good citizens and participate in the process.
I hope that we’ll find that more people feel like they can live with the decisions, even if it wasn’t the one that they advocated for, that nobody can win them all, nobody can get everything they want, but can they live with it? Do they think the process was fair?
Q: Are taxes too high? What would you do?
It’s not like I love getting my tax bill at the end of the year or anything. It’s not the highlight of my life. But I am someone who, as long as we’re using the tax money toward things that really are valuable services, I don’t have a problem with taxes.
But also, keep in mind, that we’re paying more than just Chapel Hill town taxes. The county is giving us a good hit, the state is getting their’s and the feds are getting their’s, so it’s not like we necessarily have control over your entire tax bill. I think, in terms of at the municipal level, there are people who are being driven out by the high taxes, like Northside residents who own their homes outright, and then the tax bill gets so high that they leave. I think that’s a problem.
I think we also have some systems in place to help those folks. They may not be advertised well enough. I think we need to do more outreach about that, but there are programs that help people with their taxes. I think as long as we have ways for people who want to stay here deal with that, I think, me as an individual, I’m happy to pay taxes as long as I feel I’m getting good city services.
I think that our trash guys do a phenomenal job. I think, compared to other places that I’ve lived, we have some really great services, and I think that’s worth it to pay for. Someone will come and pick up my leaves and yard debris that’s sitting on the sidewalk? That’s pretty amazing. The fact that I don’t have to lug that to a dump, as people out in the county are, I think that’s a great service.
I think it’s not an easy question. I guess, again, I don’t want to see us degrading the level of service that we have for current residents, and I think that’s something that concerns me a little, that when we’re investing $10 million of taxpayer money in Ephesus-Fordham, for example, when it’s unknown whether that will actually be tax positive for us. That worries me, because I think, what are our taxes really being spent on. But I think if we could really get back to working on the much-needed, day-to-day work of a municipal government – we pave roads, we don’t just fix potholes; we deal with trash.
There are some indicators of financial health that we need to be looking as well at when we’re making these decisions. If you need to put paving your roads on a bond referendum, that’s a red flag to me.
I think when we turn our attention toward things that don’t increase our net tax base, and don’t make us interesting or different than some surrounding places that are cheaper, there are places that you can live very close by that are much cheaper and you can get tract housing, which is perfectly fine … but let’s be intentional about that. If we’re going to do it, let’s be up front and say we just want to be an unaffordable bedroom community that caters to a certain high-income class of people, and we can agree on that and everyone can go their merry ways and decide whether they want to be here.
If we’re going to talk about a vibrant downtown and diversity and inclusiveness and all these things, and social justice, then let’s turn our attention to it. Let’s do it. Let’s focus on that.
Q: What do you consider to be an affordable home? An affordable rental?
Affordable has to be under 30 percent of your income, right, so affordable for somebody living in a high-rise luxury apartment downtown is much different, but if you’re talking about just having workforce housing, I’d love to see homes for sale in the $200s. We just went recently through buying a new home and selling our old home, and our agent told us unequivocally, oh, your house will sell. It’s in the $200s, it’s going to easily sell because there’s not enough of them. People are dying to have those homes. People want to get into Chapel Hill. Even then, there were people that were priced out.
I think there also have to be affordable rental options for people who don’t currently or maybe will never have enough to put 15, 20 percent down. I think that’s the other thing we need to focus on, and I think there are some loopholes there, where if you’re building apartments, then you don’t have to provide any affordable housing.
Again, there are some great programs in town that are helping people to buy … but I think we also just have to have some more affordable options.
The other thing that I think we have to be careful about when we talk about this issue, there’s a big difference between a place that a family can live and a single, working person can live. There are efficiencies in a place like Obey Creek, and I’m not opposed to it, but 500 square feet may not do it for a family of four. Our family would have a challenge living there.
I think there are people talking with their feet too. There are people who either are never coming to Chapel Hill or moving out of Chapel Hill or deciding on other places in the area because Chapel Hill is too expensive for them, and they don’t feel that what we offer is the things that we love about Chapel Hill. They’re saying either I can’t afford it or it’s not worth it to me to pay so much more to live in Chapel Hill, when I could live in Chatham County. I still have access to Chapel Hill, I still have pretty good schools and I can get so much more.
I think in order to be really competitive and also to work for our competitive advantage, which is having all different types of people here, we do that well ... . I think in order to really fulfill that and to be true to who we are as a community and to do us really well, I think we have to have those options and not really focus as much on the luxury stuff. It’s not that I dislike people who live in luxury apartments, but I think we have it, so I’m not super concerned about meeting that need.
I think the other thing I hear sometimes now is the only way we can get affordable housing is by building luxury housing, because that’s what investors and developers want to build and that’s what is profitable for them. In some sort of Reagan trickle-down economic theory from the ’80s, that will mean that the apartments that used to be luxury will now be affordable.
I have a policy degree. I’ve studied economics and statistics, and I can tell you that doesn’t happen. It may happen in strange instances, but the housing market is not a regular economic market. It doesn’t have a normal supply and demand curve. It’s very prone to fluctuations based on outside influences. It functions more like a monopoly, so we’re not talking widgets. This is not hypothetical.
If you build luxury housing and the places that used to be luxury, they might, depending on the area and all the other conditions going on in that neighborhood, lower their rents in order to be competitive or they might keep their rents exactly the same and let those other people go higher, so then we just have even more expensive stuff. Or they might say, I’m going to put in a pool or I’m going to upgrade the units that I have so then I might be competitive with the new luxury.
I think if we don’t start effectively addressing our affordable housing issue by explicitly and intentionally building and creating affordable housing, we’re not going to have affordable housing.
Meet the candidate
Name: Jessica Anderson
Address: 101 Eastridge Place, Chapel Hill
Career: Senior policy research analyst with the SERVE Center at UNC-Greensboro
Community activities: Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program volunteer; Chapel Hill/Carrboro Mother's Club volunteer