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Landlords: the town’s new Northside initiative is futile

Maria Palmer, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said she thought the town should reverse the rental population as much as possible, but it is proving to be a difficult task.

“Low-income families can’t compete with a landlord who wants to make it student rentals,” Palmer said.

Northside is the historically black neighborhood located along the north side of Rosemary Street and bordered by North Columbia Street to the east and Lloyd Street to the west.

Palmer said if the town wants to preserve Northside it has to work with nonprofits like The Marian Cheek Jackson Center and EmPOWERment, Inc. which help place low-income families in affordable homes.

Landlord Mark Patmore, who owns Mercia Residential Properties, said only a handful of homeowners still exist in Northside. He said there are almost 800 residences, and 100 of those have owners living in them.

“It’s so far-fetched from reality to imagine changing this back to a family neighborhood,” Patmore said.

Town council member Lee Storrow said he would like to see more long-term, low-income residents move back into the neighborhood, but he doesn’t know how feasible that is.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to completely reverse the trend,” he said. “Northside is never going to be 100 percent owner occupied.”

Todd Neal, a Northside investor, property manager and real estate broker, said there are many misconceptions about the neighborhood.

He said investors and landlords in Northside have made the neighborhood a better, safer place to live.

“There’s no slumlords on the Northside,” Neal said. “It used to be a treacherous place.”

Neal also expressed some concerns about the Self-Help Community Development Corporation, a Durham-based group that wants to buy homes in the area and sell them back to long-term residents.

The University recently invested $3 million into the project. The Self-Help Credit Union, the Jackson Center, the town and the University will work together to manage the money, which was given in the form of a loan.

Neal said Self-Help will have trouble finding cheap properties to buy because the neighborhood has been greatly revitalized in the past ten years, so homes there are more expensive than they used to be.

“There’s nothing left; it’s played out,” Neal said. “We are well into the three and four hundred thousands now.”

But Hudson Vaughan, director of programs at the Jackson Center, said there is a lot of work to be done besides helping residents buy new homes.

With the aid of Self-Help, the center has connected 15 long-term Northside residents with critical home repairs this year, Vaughan said in an email.

Landlords like Patmore feel that advocacy groups and the town are collaborating on new policies for the neighborhood without including them.

“If we don’t know about it, we can’t protest it until it is too late,” he said. “The only time we find out about this stuff is when it goes before the town council for a vote.”

Vaughan said there are monthly community outreach meetings at the Hargraves Community Center that investors are welcome to attend.

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“We have continued to consult an array of over 45 partner agencies and hundreds of residents and landlords in the ongoing community work,” Vaughan said.

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