According to the last U.S. Census, only 7.5 percent of Chapel Hill’s population is comprised of non-student residents between 25 and 34 years old, compared to Durham and Raleigh’s 15.56 percent and 15.31 percent, respectively.
UNC graduate student Travis Crayton said though the town has made some efforts to retain young professionals, the measures are not enough to diversify its population age.
“When the town rezoned the Ephesus Church Road/Fordham Boulevard district in 2014, it did so with the thoughtful goal of creating a district that can be redeveloped to provide some of the housing and economic opportunities required to retain and attract young professionals,” Crayton said.
Crayton said the Chapel Hill housing market is still zoned for single-family development instead of the affordable rentals young professionals seek.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Jessica Anderson said if she were a recent college graduate, she would probably choose not to live in Chapel Hill, not only because of high rent, but also because of scarce job opportunities.
“Chapel Hill has a high cost of living relative to other places in the area, plus we haven’t done a great job of providing work opportunities for recent grads,” Anderson said.
Anderson said many start-up and high-tech companies have gone to neighboring areas that have made room for them.
Not only is the housing market more accessible in neighboring areas, but the Chapel Hill job market is very limited outside of UNC-related work.
Groups such as Chapel Hill Young Professionals have been created to help young professionals with networking and development opportunities.
“We typically meet at a Chapel Hill or Carrboro business, giving the group an opportunity to not only connect with other young professionals but also learn more about our community,” said Nicholas Johnson, member of Chapel Hill Young Professionals.
Kristen Smith, spokesperson for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said the job market was tough when she returned in 2009 after moving to pursue different job opportunities.
“The opportunities for the Town of Chapel Hill are to focus on creating job opportunities for those that want to stay and ensuring a diversity of housing options for young professionals who are making entry level salaries or choosing not to buy a home quite yet.”
The Chapel Hill job market is driven by UNC employment and student-related business, Crayton said, which is negatively affecting the local economy. He said town priorities on land use must change to slow the demographic growth of older age groups.
“Students will continue to be a major part of the town, but young, non-student residents will simply be completely priced out of the market and have no economic opportunities and thus no incentive to remain in Chapel Hill,” Crayton said.