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UNC Student Body President-elect Andrew Powell joins petition against occupancy rule

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated who created the petition against the Chapel Hill occupancy law. Current Student Body President Christy Lambden created the petition and Student Body President-elect Andrew Powell joined it following his election earlier this month. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Student Body President-elect Andrew Powell didn’t waste any time trying to make good on his campaign promise to simplify students’ off-campus housing experiences.

Part of Powell’s platform was to work with the town of Chapel Hill to overturn its four-person occupancy rule, which says a single-family home can have no more than four unrelated residents.

Following his election last week, Powell joined current Student Body President Christy Lambden’s petition for students to show their discontent with the rule.

“We hope that a combination of great research, good arguments and a strong voice from the students can help get this rule overturned,” Powell said.

This rule was added to the town’s Land Use Management Ordinance in 2003 and has drawn criticism from evicted student renters who say they were not informed of the rule prior to renting homes.

The Chapel Hill Town Council would make the ultimate decision about whether the ordinance would be overturned.

Nikita Shamdasani, who also ran for student body president, said discussion about the ordinance is taking place on Neighborland, a website that allows students to collaborate and take action on issues relevant to them.

“Even more than just saying it’ll help overturn this ordinance — it’ll be the thing that creates a dialogue of why some students are in favor and some aren’t — it’ll be more of a way to discuss the issue,” Shamdasani said.

The occupancy ordinance was created to protect property owners in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

As student renters push into these historically black, low-income neighborhoods, town leaders say longtime homeowners are fleeing rising property values.

“The student population is competing with working families for properties and we have to figure out a way to serve both communities,” said Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell.

As a UNC alumna, Bell said she understands housing is one of the biggest costs students have when they come to college.

But Bell said if there is a house where students can pay $600 to $1,000 in rent per bedroom, it’s not an affordable rental property for a family.

“A mom and a dad and two kids cannot compete with the income of four adults,” she said.

Powell said he hopes to use the campaign to educate students on the issue and create a discussion.

“We realize this is one piece of a much larger conversation of how students in the Chapel Hill community can work together to be good neighbors,” Powell said.

This topic will be presented at the Town Council meeting on March 24. Bell said she thinks the council is committed to creating more student housing so students have other options.

“I would hope the students understand that this is about the larger needs of Chapel Hill and is not against students,” she said.

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