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Considering housing as a regional good
David Anderson’s point of view
I moved to Chapel Hill in 2017 from Pittsburgh after receiving a great new job offer. My family and I rented for two years and then we bought a house.
We chose to live in Chapel Hill because of the amenities. The schools are perfect for our kids, the library is amazing, the park system is wonderful for my morning walks, and there’s enough downtown between Chapel Hill and Carrboro to have a few favorite restaurants depending on what strikes our mood – be it’s a good burger and fries at Buns, a very good dinner at Tandem or beers with friends at Steel String. It doesn’t hurt that there is great football to be seen during the fall.
This amenity package is desirable. It’s also expensive.
The rent for our first condo here was nearly three times what we paid for our mortgage and port charges in suburban Pittsburgh for roughly the same square footage in a city whose main source of employment historic site – a coking plant for the declining steel industry – had closed two decades ago.
The Pittsburgh area is a great place to live and raise a family, but over the course of my lifetime the city itself has shrunk by half and the entire metro area has slowly lost its population over 40 years. Housing is cheap in Pittsburgh because demand is low and there are few foreigners coming to the area.
We are part of a regional economy
This is not the case in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan cluster. We are growing. And we are likely to continue to grow. This region has a good combination of highly educated populations, intense agglomeration economies of scale in a few key industries, available land, decent infrastructure, good weather, and better barbecue. It is a good endowment of growth factors. And that growth is going to happen no matter what we do in Chapel Hill.
We are part of a regional economy. People with a job and a purpose in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan cluster have many options. This is especially true for people who don’t have strong ties to the area and who may be looking for a particular amenity and price intersection instead of trying to balance the amenities they want with the type of home they want. ‘they wish while looking to stay in a ten to fifteen minute trip to grandparents.
People can look for a single-family suburb in Cary, or they can be plugged in and with that in downtown Durham or Raleigh, or they can trade far fewer amenities for more land and bigger homes at a lower price in western Chatham County or unincorporated parts of Orange County and Alamance. Or people can buy high services, good schools, higher taxes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
As thousands of new households migrate to the Triangle, they have to live somewhere. As long as Chapel Hill’s amenity mix is attractive enough for a decent number of people and housing supply is limited, people will drive up rents and sale prices. Higher selling prices are transfers to historical owners who sell. Higher rents are accumulations for owners of capital. Higher rents also affect the whole market. If a new set of apartments has higher rents, soon other apartment buildings will increase their rents. This will displace households that were just able to make things work on their old lower rents, but can no longer.
Chapel Hill is an amazing place to live. I really like it here. But we are part of a large growing region. To pretend that we’re not just increasing our housing stock of all housing types just means that we’re pricing our current neighbors and never meeting our future neighbors who want to live in Chapel Hill and enjoy our set of amenities but cannot afford the rent or the mortgage.
We need local solutions to the right challenges of living in an economically dynamic region. And a key part of that local solution is building more housing.
Viewpoints on Chapelboro is a recurring series of opinion columns submitted by the community. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.