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Think you pay too much to live in Chapel Hill? UNC is responding to high rent prices.

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Affordable housing has been an ongoing issue in Chapel Hill, and with 50.5 percent of UNC undergraduate students living off campus this year, the town and the University have had to work together to mitigate the issues that gentrification brings. 

“I was surprised at the amount of off-campus living options, I didn’t realize how many apartments were available,” said sophomore Anastasia Freedman, who lives in Shortbread Lofts. 

Freedman was one of the 9,520 undergraduates that decided to live off campus. She lived in Ehringhaus her first year, but wanted to live in an apartment for her sophomore year.

“Financially, it was a fine option because it ended up equaling out with what the dorm would have costed," she said. "But I felt like it would’ve benefited (me) more because it had more space and a bigger cooking area and, kinda cheesy, but was new step toward independence in college.”

She said rent works well with a college budget because landlords know that they’re students who want to live in the houses.

UNC Associate Director of Housing Rick Bradley said from the survey data they’ve collected, there’s a natural progression of upperclassmen wanting more independent and private housing. He said they have a large number of single bedrooms, but not enough to meet the demand. 

“We try very hard to keep sophomores on campus, that’s our focus,” he said. “We house a lot of junior and seniors but we really feel like the first and second year are really critical years for students to be on campus.”

He said peer institutions hold only 25 to 33 percent of students, and it’s very uncommon for a university as large as UNC to house 49.5 percent of students. 

“We have not turned away students who wanted to live on campus for probably 15 or 20 years,” he said.

Granville Leasing and Marketing Consultant Katelin Franklin said Granville also has initiatives to keep students returning to Granville. 

“Rates for apartment housing, campus housing, they all go up every year,” she said. “But at Granville, if they sign before our certain date — usually that date is in January — then they are allowed to lock in the rates that they currently have, so they would just keep paying the same amount of rent instead of the rent going up.”

Franklin said Granville will encourage students to sign with them at a certain time by having free giveaways. Some of those giveaways include free parking, free room and board with an inclusion of a hundred meals, and two tickets to the UNC vs. Duke game with a limo ride and dinner on Franklin Street. 

Granville can house 1,280 students and they currently have about 1,250 residents. 

Bradley said beginning in the early 2000s, UNC housing has added a lot of residential space to campus, such as Ram Village. He said before the construction, the University could only house 6,800 students. 

 Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the University has been mandated to grow, and last year they added 275 students to the undergraduate class. She said with more students, there is less on-campus housing, which means more of them will be searching for housing in the community. 

Hemminger said because Chapel Hill is a desirable place to live, the pressure is tremendous. As more people move here from other parts of the country, she said, land prices go up and builders want to build expensive homes for higher profit margins. 

“It’s really important to retain a balanced and a more diverse community that welcomes all to have a larger stock of affordable housing for folks,” she said. “We’ve got to work really, really hard to increase the percentage of affordable housing in our community so that people can be here who want to work here and have their kids in the school system and be part of this community.”

She said independent students are willing to pay $700 or more each per month, which is not cost competitive for a family trying to rent a house. 

“We have made it clear that we don’t want any more student housing downtown ... because it doesn’t help our downtown economy when students are only here 9 months out of the year,” she said. “We need family housing downtown, or people here 12 months out of the year.”

The town has been talking with the University about making dorms different for graduate students who don’t want to live in the hallway dorm style and want more private space, she said.

The Northside Neighborhood Initiative is a partnership with UNC, Self-Help, the Jackson Center and the town to preserve the historic Northside neighborhood. UNC has given Self-Help a three million dollar loan to resell housing properties and create new housing opportunities. 

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Hemminger said last year the town spent six million dollars on affordable housing, and after doing inventory of all the affordable housing in the community, they set a goal of 400 units in the next four years. She said they are on track to meet the goal, and also want to rehab existing affordable housing as part of the goal. 

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