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A proposal about creating new affordable rental housing had a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council threatening to leave town Wednesday.

The proposal sparked debate amongst council members during their meeting last week.

Council members Donna Bell and Sally Greene presented a draft developed by the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, which met eight times in the summer to discuss strategies to increase the availability of affordable rental housing in Chapel Hill.

The committee found that approximately 1,257 new rental units would be needed to serve those town residents earning at or below the area’s medium income.

But council members differed on how the town should implement the committee’s plan.

Bell said residents should decide whether they want the town to be economically diverse.

“If the citizens decide they want to create a bedroom community they should let us know, so I can pack up my family and move someplace else,” Bell said.

Councilman Matt Czajkowski said he doesn’t think that is a danger.

“Who thinks, truly, that Chapel Hill is a bedroom community, was a bedroom community, or is at risk of becoming a bedroom community?” he said. “That is sheer nonsense.”

Czajkowski said when a community is an attractive place to live, the price of land naturally goes up.

The housing supply has recently grown with the addition of 140 West Franklin, East 54 and Greenbridge Condominiums — complexes aimed at high-income buyers that also include affordable units.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the town has been challenged in the past because it has not considered the recommendations of the housing committee.

“Every time we talk about, ‘The rent’s too damn high,’ we throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

He said the strategies are not guaranteed to work, but they are still important to undertake.

“Every bit of what makes this town a great place to live is a work in progress,” he said as he held up a copy of the draft of the affordable rental housing strategy.

Councilwoman Bell said high competition keeps housing prices in Chapel Hill high, and councilman Jim Ward said UNC students contribute to the problem.

“Seventeen thousand students are looking for housing every year off-campus,” Ward said. “With that kind of demand, it’s hard to get rental prices to go down.”

The council received the report and referred the recommendations from the committee to the manager and town attorney for a follow-up report at a future meeting.

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