Leading from the Left

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Diversity is Threatened by High Costs

The Board of County Commissioners recently received a report on housing affordability in Orange County. At the time of the preparation of this report, the least expensive single family home listed on the MLS in Chapel Hill was in the neighborhood of $450,000. That was a bit of an anomoly; I checked today and the least expensive single family home in Chapel Hill city limits was in the mid-$200's. Carrboro prices are similar.

These high housing costs raise some important, and difficult, questions for our community I think. Do we really want to become the kind of place only the upper middle clase and rich can afford? How have we come to this point that Southern Orange housing is increasingly out of range for middle-class home buyers? What decisions have we made--or not made--that have contributed to the affordability problem?

And, really, aren't there some steps we can take to address it? Something concrete and practical?

There was an article in yesterday's Chapel Hill Herald about housing costs in OC. If you have a few minutes you might want to check it out. The article doesn't really break any new ground, but it does remind us where we've ended up in OC with regard to housing costs.

While Orange County has some excellent non-profits that work to address bits and pieces of housing affordability, it seems to me that the problem is larger than they can adequately address. Each of those organizations (Habitat, Empowerment, the Land Trust, for example) focus on important but narrow segments of the housing crisis. A broader vision is necessary if we're really serious about wrestling this beast to the ground.

Some nay-sayers claim that the there's nothing we can do. I don't buy that. Do you?