Right off the I-40 highway on Sunrise Road sits a 32-acre plot of land that is the projected site for Weavers Grove Community, a proposed mixed-income development to be built by Orange County Habitat for Humanity.
It’s a quiet piece of land, with trees and currently surrounded by marsh. The proposed development borders the community of Chandlers Green, where homes currently sell for around $600,000 and up. The new development will have 243 units, 99 of which will be affordable housing.
In Chapel Hill, this means the costs of the home cannot exceed 30% of a household’s income. So, these units would cost the average Chapel Hill family of four around $72,000.
The disparity between those numbers is why this plot of land has been a battleground for Chapel Hill since Weaver’s Grove was proposed in 2002. It is a symbol of this town’s fight over zoning, racism and our values as a community.
Chapel Hill often prides itself on being an inclusive and progressive college town, but those values are superficial. Community members literally don’t want change in their own backyard, and that attitude is upholding institutional racism.
The false war that Chandlers Green residents are waging with the Weavers Grove development is an example of that not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) attitude that has been displayed countless times in Chapel Hill.
And all of it goes back to zoning.
Zoning is an inherently racialized practice because it has always been meant to keep Black people out of white neighborhoods.
Explicitly racialized zoning practices are no longer legal, but zoning policy still keeps the poor, and often people of color, out. The progressives of Chapel Hill might not be racist, but their demonization of poverty, much like the Town itself, is built on racist policy.
In Chapel Hill, as with many suburban towns, zoning for homes is largely dedicated to single-family housing, meaning only one occupant can purchase each home. These are typically much more expensive than multi-family housing such as apartment complexes. By zoning Chapel Hill as largely single-family housing, it preserves the white wealth and their property values.
Time and time again, the Town has tried to push forward affordable housing developments that have been squandered or heavily delayed by community members overly concerned by their property values.
Black people are just under 10 percent of Chapel Hill’s population, a number that has remained largely stagnant over the past two decades. This lack of diversity is due in part to rapid growth from the University that has ushered in gentrification and pushed out poverty.
In a liberal haven like Chapel Hill, it can be expected that this idea of helping the less fortunate is widely accepted. And it is in theory, but in practice, there have been vocal dissenters.
Research shows that mixed-income developments like Weavers Grove can be the "antidote" to urban poverty. It improves cultural understandings of one another, and it helps give people in poverty an economic opportunity at success.
That is why it is so sad to see Chapel Hill, a place that boasts progress and inclusivity, consistently decline affordable housing to people in need. It is the epitome of fake white liberalism to say you want to help the poor, and then not actually step up to the plate.
These NIMBY arguments to keep poverty away are happening around the country, but right now the debate is in our backyard.
If we are going to be the liberal do-gooders we say we are, then we need affordable housing like Weavers Grove to get us there.
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