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The Daily Tar Heel

Habitat for Humanity opens new housing in Chapel Hill

The duplex is part of an ongoing effort to drive down housing costs in the area. Chapel Hill was recently named the most expensive place to live in North Carolina by realty service Coldwell Banker.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Chapel Hill town councilman Jim Ward. “The demand is high, and the supply is low currently, which prompts more expensive houses being built — to take advantage of a wider profit margin.”

Councilwoman Donna Bell said having a large number of multi-individual households of students living off campus also tends to drive up housing prices.

“Most families can’t afford $500 a bedroom,” she said.

Ward said these high prices, while indicative of Chapel Hill’s vitality, cause problems for both low-income workers and large employers in Chapel Hill.

“UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Hospitals and Chapel Hill schools are the three largest employers in Chapel Hill,” he said. “All of them have employees that would benefit from more affordable housing.”

Susan Levy, executive director of Orange County Habitat for Humanity, is hopeful the new duplex will help low-income families looking for housing.

“(The families Habitat usually serves) earn somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 a year,” she said. “They can’t afford an average rental.”

Ward said the high prices in and around Chapel Hill usually drive low-income households to look for housing farther away.

“These people do critical work for the hospitals, the University and the schools, and living farther away leaves them more vulnerable to traffic and weather and other conditions that would leave them unable to get into work,” he said.

Levy said these are the people Habitat focuses most on helping. They provide a zero-interest mortgage to the families they help.

“They’re owning a house for less than they would pay for an average rental house,” she said.

Habitat keeps their costs low by using mostly volunteer labor, but Levy is certain of the quality of their work.

“People are capable of doing quite a bit if they are properly organized and equipped and motivated,” she said. “The volunteers put a lot of care into this work.”

Ward said that while the current affordable housing in Chapel Hill is insufficient for the present need, he remains optimistic the problem will be solved.

“We’re urging for more participation and interest from UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Hospitals,” he said. “We are working with the private sector to do more than they would do otherwise.”

In the meantime, Levy said volunteer labor is beneficial for the community, the volunteers and the recipients.

“It’s one of those situations that’s really a win-win for everyone.”

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