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Orange County average income rises, but is it enough to outpace housing costs?

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DTH file.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce announced increases in average income and housing prices in Orange County during its State of the Community Report, causing some community members to question if low-income individuals can afford to live in the area. 

The report debrief was held on Aug. 23.

Chamber leaders, in partnership with Carolina Demography, presented research on the makeup of Orange County at the State of the Community address. Data included population rates, migration patterns, worker flows and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools' test scores. 

“We actually did not put out recommendations; there aren’t any call-to-actions,” said Katie Loovis, the chamber's vice president for external affairs. “Part of that is because it’s really important for a community to agree on and understand where they are so that together we can think about a shared vision of where we want to go.” 

Orange County’s median household income, adjusted for inflation, increased by $3,503 since 1998, according to the report, while median home prices increased by $51,245 since 2012. 

Median rent in Chapel Hill was $934 during the time period of 2007 to 2011, but increased to $1,061 from 2012 to 2016. 

“Rent is getting more expensive, but wage growth is outpacing it,” a summary of the report said. 

Jennifer Player, associate executive director for Habitat for Humanity Orange County, questioned if the increase in income is reflective of the entire community. 

Player said she didn’t think there was an increase in wages in the families she works with, who earn 40 to 70 percent less than the average Orange County resident. 

“They’re making less than a living wage, especially when you compare that to home prices and rental prices,” she said. “Wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of housing.” 

Although affordable housing in Chapel Hill is still at a crisis level, Player said the community is doing more to fix the situation than other places are.

“I think it’s great that our community is willing to talk about the tough issues,” she said. “A lot of people, including the Chamber and local government, are coming to the table to figure out solutions.”  

According to the 2018 Orange County Affordable Housing Summit, the number of households making less than $50,000 decreased by 11 percent, while households making more than $75,000 increased by 15 percent between 2009 and 2015. 

Wake County had an increase of 10 percent in households making less than $50,000 and a 20 percent increase in households making more than $75,000. 

“To us, this does not mean that people are faring well and moving out of poverty,” Player said. “It shows that people are being priced out and are moving out of Orange County.”

Of the near 50,000 people that worked in Chapel Hill in 2015, close to 39,000 people commuted from outside of the town according to the State of the Community meeting. 

Player said the majority of families she works with have jobs in Chapel Hill but don’t live in the area because they can’t afford it.

Robert Dowling, executive director at Community Home Trust, said data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also showed an increase in the average income and the average home prices. He said he doesn’t know specifically why the increases are occurring. 

In dealing with rising home prices, Dowling said he has witnessed lower-income residents leaving Orange County.

“Anecdotally, we do certainly see that, because rent has moved up a lot in recent years, and housing prices have certainly recovered from the national crisis 10 years ago, people may be pushed out of Chapel Hill and Orange County to surrounding communities like Durham, Chatham County, maybe Alamance County," Dowling said. 

Player said she didn’t know the reasons for the changes in data but didn’t want the community to jump to the conclusion that things are getting better. 

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Although affordable housing in Chapel Hill is still at a crisis level, Player said the community is doing more to fix the situation than other places.



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