A lot of our Chapel Hill and Carrboro municipal candidates talked a big game about affordable housing. Candidates wanted more affordable housing in Chapel Hill, but what they envisioned that affordable housing to look like was vague.
As to what that affordable housing would look like, here’s my proposal: let’s build us some rowhomes.
The OG affordable housing rowhouse construction allowed average working people in American cities to buy homes, something not particularly common before then. Compared to detached housing, rowhomes were incredibly cheap and efficient to build. All a prospective rowhome developer needed to do was build a large, linear building and then separate compartments with firewalls.
In addition to being stupidly cheap, rowhomes were (and still are) an incredibly versatile urban building block. On the first floor, shopkeepers could peddle their wares and then have their home on the second floor. This type of mixed-use development is coming back into style, and we don’t need to look far to see that: just take a look at Carolina Square. Even if they are purely residential, rowhomes can be chopped up into several apartments should the need arise.
During the election, some of the candidates pointed out the difficulties faced by local government when proposing affordable housing solutions. Among these are ordinances that restrict the number of tenants that can live on an acre of land. Have no fear, however, because there is this brand new method in municipal governance of changing ordinances called “passing new ordinances, thereby repealing the old ones.” It is possible, I promise.
Our solutions to affordable housing don’t have to be shining, happy, single family homes or gleaming apartment towers. Sometimes, one of the oldest solutions can be the best. So, Chapel Hill Town Council: let’s build some rowhomes.
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