On an average Chapel Hill drive, from Eubanks on through Elliott and on Franklin and Rosemary, Chapel Hill is awash in luxury condos and apartments. Yet the lights rarely seem to be on. Housing economics are, even at their simplest, complicated. The core problems are those classics of abstract economics: supply, demand and incentives; yet certain governments try to massage these with regulation.
According to Indy Week, while there are provisions in Chapel Hill to require a certain percentage of for-sale units to subsidize affordable housing through payment or construction, these have been skirted by developers who opt to build rental properties that are not subject to an affordable housing commitment. The leverage that can be exerted by towns and counties in the interest of affordable housing is further constricted by the North Carolina constitution, which reserves a large amount of legislative power to the state.
Pursuing another option, in November, Chapel Hill residents voted heavily for a bond that may provide more than 700 affordable housing units through direct public purchase and construction. The housing has yet to materialize, though. People cannot live in good intentions, and even if these units are built, there will likely not be enough affordable housing to meet demand and need. Yet there may be some available land nearby, and laying down gas, cable and electricity for mobile homes is cheaper than building homes themselves.
Two years ago, the editorial board professed cautious optimism regarding Orange County’s Affordable Housing Strategic Plan, written out to 2020. In doing the research for this piece, they found the kind of informational nugget only careful digging through the data can reveal. The single best option for providing affordable housing and also providing growing, or at least stable, homeowner equity is not sequestered condos. It is not small houses. It is standard prefabricated trailers.
The American dream we all may somewhat share is not one with a trailer at the center of it (even if it is double wide). But as the Rolling Stones once opined, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find you get what you need. Trailers are a piece of housing capital poorer people can own, even if they have to rent or lease land. If the situation requires, the owner of the trailer can move it to another amenable location, keeping a piece of valuable wealth in the process.