A recent editorial addressed the dissolution of the Lakeview Mobile Home Park and, more generally, the identity of Chapel Hill. Relying on CHALT talking points, this editorial argued that Chapel Hill has two identities, increasingly in tension: first, a small town where everyone knows each other; second, a dense city with high-rises and yuppies. This conception of Chapel Hill is wrong and exclusionary. Chapel Hill has not been a small town for decades. The diversity and vibrancy of its community, which growth only adds to, are its great strength.
To the editorial board, Chapel Hill should have struck a blow for small-town folksiness by refusing to hear the Lakeview development proposal. But the Town could not legally have done so. Nor could it prevent the developers from disbanding the mobile home park. But it could have been ready to work with the displaced mobile home residents. In fact, Orange County has planned for this for years. Its plan has already borne fruit.
In 2013, the Board of Orange County Commissioners established a fund to help displaced mobile home residents. This fund has allowed the BOCC to help all of the Lakeview residents seeking housing in Orange County. And there is still $1.7 million left. The BOCC is using that money proactively, working to enable more than 30 affordable homes to be built on Millhouse Road — enough to accommodate every family from the Lakeview park and more.
Restricting development as radically as CHALT wants would just exclude the poor. Opposition to luxury apartments is based on the naïve hope that the well-off will pack up and go home. It is a tempting position, but it is wrong. When there is not enough housing to go around, it is never the rich who are pushed away. It is always the poor. Hostility to development has been tried and it has failed. It has failed in San Francisco. It has failed in New York. And it would fail in Chapel Hill.
The displacement of the Lakeview residents is a sobering reminder that we have not done enough to provide and protect affordable housing. But the County’s response is a model for practical and effective change. We cannot provide affordable housing without embracing development. CHALT — and the DTH editorial board — must realize this.