The House Us Now rally, led by local affordable housing organizations including the Community Empowerment Fund, was held on Sunday in Carrboro.
UNC students, Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents and people experiencing homelessness gathered to march for affordable housing. Attendees held handmade signs with slogans like “House us now!” and “Help me be your neighbor” as local leaders gave speeches and the crowd marched from Weaver Street Market to the Lincoln Center.
Yvette Mathews, the office and community organizer for the CEF and the main organizer of the rally, said she began planning the event six months in advance and was pleased with the turnout.
Alongside the CEF, the rally was co-sponsored by the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, EmPOWERment, Inc., the Inter-Faith Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
Marsha Gale, a rally attendee and former Chapel Hill public safety officer, said she became homeless and lost her pension after she retired. She said there is no excuse for the Town government to not provide affordable housing.
“I lived in my car on and off for five years with my dogs because I couldn't afford to move into anything," Gale said.
Adriana Cook, a rally attendee and Chapel Hill resident who studies sociology at UNC, said she has personal experience with housing instability, addiction and poverty.
"Everyone should be able to have a house, everyone should be able to have a safe place to be,” Cook said.
At the rally, many others spoke about their experiences with homelessness. Allanah Hines and Matthews were among those who gave speeches about food and housing insecurity, racial injustice and economic inequality in the community.
Hines, the chief culture, engagement and impact officer at Weaver Street Market, said everyone should be able to live in the town where they work and that food is not something people should have to struggle for.
Matthews said the lack of affordable housing disproportionately affects people of color. UNC sophomore Sari Melitte also echoed this sentiment.
Matthews also said that people assume homeless people of color are "alcoholics or drug addicts," and that these racial biases could affect the access and support that individuals who are Black, Indigenous and people of color receive.
Melitte said UNC students play a role in limiting the number of affordable living spaces in the community.
“It matters that Chapel Hill students get involved because we directly take from them by living in this area," Melitte said.
Mathews added that daycare workers, teacher assistants and low-income people are often disregarded, and said people assume UNC students are the only individuals who make up the community.
“We are still here, you know, and it's not fair that we're looked over,” she said.
Matthews also said Sunday's rally was the first time many Chapel Hill and Carrboro government members came out to support affordable housing.
“It's important to remain persistent with this topic," Chapel Hill Town Council member Camille Berry said. "And I appreciate members of the community who continue to remind us elected officials that this problem hasn’t been solved yet.”
Sunday's event was the second House Us Now rally this year.
Mathews said the goal of the events is to uplift the voices of the people most affected by a lack of affordable housing. She said she thinks elected officials should be held more accountable for inaction on affordable housing.
"We need more resources,” Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said. "We need both more housing and more people to start building more and investing more.”
Berry said Chapel Hill is looking to see how it can increase the number of housing units in the town.
She said the community's calls for action are vital for change. Berry said people need to invite council members to these events, write emails and provide the government with a written record of their needs and agendas.
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