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The Daily Tar Heel

We aren’t the problem: UNC students should get housing preference near campus

The Chapel Hill Town Council is poised to pass a temporary moratorium on development in two neighborhoods near campus.

The ban is supposed to buy the planning board time to develop a strategy to protect the historically low-income and black Northside and Pine Knolls communities from further gentrification. The goal is noble, but the proposed moratorium is based on incorrect assumptions and would hurt those it seeks to protect.

Chapel Hill must first admit students are not the problem.

Students, in fact, have more in common with the Sustaining OurSelves Coalition, which petitioned for the freeze in March, than either group seems to realize. Families hate noise and college students hate noise complaints. And no one likes increased traffic or watching his or her rent go up.

The town needs to actively engage students rather than avoid them. The proposal is open to public debate Monday, June 20, at 7 p.m., and the council is expected to enact the ban a week later. Railroading into law a regulation that affects students over summer break is a categorically bad start.

Chapel Hill must next admit developers aren’t the problem.

The council members need to take a long, sobering gaze at the nation of dying downtowns and four years of housing market declines that surround it. Maybe then, the council will recognize how extravagant and arrogant it would be to gamble its economic growth on a social engineering experiment.

The moratorium will fail to curb housing prices because it falsely assumes location means nothing in real estate. In other words, that students only want to live in Northside and Pine Knolls because developers built high-occupancy houses there.

But that’s exactly backward.

College students in a college town expect to live within walking distance of their campus. Many parents are willing and able and agree to bankroll the Carolina experience for their children, no matter the price.

That well-moneyed student demand for downtown housing bred gentrification, not developers. Developers simply listened to the market, and the council has to recognize it can’t legislate away the principles of economics.

Against the best of intentions, the moratorium would raise rent and home prices by freezing development but not sales. Because it caps the space available, the price of existing homes would increase. And investors would know the ban expires Jan. 31, 2012, so they could snatch up homes now and remodel them later.

Until fewer students want to live in these communities, the gentrification will never end.

Chapel Hill must finally admit that’s the problem.

It may be unfair and it’s certainly challenging, but it’s the way our world works.

The town also needs to support areas that already have mixed gentrification. It should expand programs like the Good Neighbor Initiative, which connects students already in these neighborhoods to the local community.

Gentrification is urgent. It hits people’s homes and tears apart communities.

Chapel Hill deserves a swift fix based not just on pity but reality.

John Hamlin is a member of the Editorial Board for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a Senior journalism major from Raleigh. Contact him at

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