In the two weeks since its release, Student Body President Christy Lambden’s petition to repeal Chapel Hill’s four-person occupancy rule has elicited a mixed response from students and town residents. But the resulting conversation has converged upon the lack of affordable housing in Chapel Hill.
“I think we are at the height of a housing crisis in Chapel Hill,” said Jackson Center Deputy Director Hudson Vaughan, who has struggled to help longtime Northside residents find affordable homes.
Chapel Hill’s occupancy limit allows only four unrelated people to live in a home together:
- January 2003: The Chapel Hill Town Council added the occupancy limit to the town’s land use management ordinance.
- November 2013: Students come forward after they were asked to leave their Northside homes for violating the rule. Student Body President Christy Lambden forms a work group to address the rule.
- February 2014: Lambden released a petition asking for students’ support in overturning the controversial occupancy rule.
- March 2014: Lambden will go before the Town Council to discuss the limit later this month.
Lambden released a statement last week explaining the motivation behind the petition.
In November, he formed a group to research the history of the ordinance and how it has been enforced. The students concluded the rule has not been effective.
“There’s a large discussion to be had about affordable housing in Chapel Hill,” Student Body Vice President Jacob Morse said.
“We are in no way, shape or form saying this is a comprehensive solution to fix all affordable housing problems in Chapel Hill. We are just saying this doesn’t work for students or the residents of Chapel Hill who are not students.”
Student government is aware of the community’s concerns, Morse said.
“The student government’s number one priority is advocating for students, but that doesn’t mean we blindly support student initiatives,” Morse said. “It is our opinion that this policy is not a good policy.”
Alex Biggers, financial services coordinator for the Community Empowerment Fund, said the ordinance is critical to her work helping people transition from homelessness in an area that lacks affordable housing.
“I find it frustrating that people in organizations and communities that have been on the offensive trying to fight for affordable housing for a long time are now on the defensive, trying to defend something that we already know works,” Biggers said.
“This focus has been on the plight of the student — and that’s definitely true in some cases — but I think our point is that we want affordable housing for everyone.”
Lambden recommended that the town repeal the occupancy rule and increase the allowance to six unrelated people.
But Vaughan said the current rule is essential to sustaining Chapel Hill neighborhoods.
“Students should be aware that this is in place and that there’s a reason for it, and the reason is for their safety and for the viability of the community they’re living in,” he said.
He said the change from a four-person rule to a six-person rule would make a difference.
“When you turn it into a bedroom community, you raise the amount that somebody can make off of these homes,” he said. “It has such a damaging effect on the community.”
He said the occupancy rule is not a complete solution.
“They’re arguing that a law is ineffective, but what they haven’t effectively argued is that the law is unjust,” he said. “There needs to be increased enforcement across the board.”
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