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'It’s a struggle': CHCCS teachers choose between expensive housing or long commutes

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School teachers commute from areas like Mebane and Greensboro due to difficulties finding affordable homes in the private market in Chapel Hill, despite being one of the highest-paying school districts in North Carolina.

Although Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is one of the highest-paying school districts in North Carolina, teachers are increasingly unable to afford housing in the district.

Kelly Fox, a 6th grade social studies teacher, commuted from Greensboro to her job at Guy B. Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill for three years before moving to Carrboro. 

While she lived in Greensboro, Fox paid tuition to be able to send her two children to CHCCS schools. 

“I had to pay tuition at that time, and gas and all of that stuff, so I figured I could find an area where we could move,” she said. 

CHCCS previously required that employees who lived outside of Orange County and chose to send their children to district schools pay $1,000 for the first child and $500 for each additional child. The tuition policy was temporarily waived for the 2021-2022 school year, and then permanently ended in March 2022. 

“The years that I paid for tuition were difficult, so there was an incentive for me to move here,” Fox said. 

After searching for housing in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Fox and her children moved to an apartment in Carrboro within district limits.  

“As a single mom and a teacher in Chapel Hill, it’s a struggle,” Fox said. “I work a full-time job and I have to work a part-time job throughout the school year to even afford my rent.”

Fox said although she makes more money working in CHCCS than she has made working in other N.C. school systems, she wishes the district would do more to connect teachers with housing.

“They give us bonuses, they just don’t give us the opportunity to live in the area,” Fox said. 

CHCCS pays teachers a supplement to their base salary and additionally pays teachers local supplements based on years of experience. 

“We need to recognize that being competitive in the marketplace is incredibly important,” Andy Jenks, chief communications officer for CHCCS, said.

Aside from the local supplements that CHCCS provides, the district is also providing incentives for new hires such as sign-on bonuses and waived rental deposit fees to increase teacher retention. 

“We’d like to not only make it an attractive place for folks to consider but a place that they can stay, and being able to afford to live in Chapel Hill is one component of that,” Jenks said.

The local supplements and hiring incentives that CHCCS is providing teachers aim to promote both retention of current teachers and attracting new teachers to the district.

“The school system has been really faithful to their employees, you know, they’ve bumped up our pay and all of these incentives,” Jennifer Danilowicz, an instructional coach at Phillips Middle School, said.

Danilowicz, who has worked for the district since 2004, moved to Mebane after renting multiple properties in Chapel Hill. Now, her commute is 35 to 40 minutes.

“I could have afforded a 1,200 square-foot home in Chapel Hill, and out here I was easily able to afford a 1,600 square-foot home with a garage,” she said.

When Danilowicz moved to Mebane, she decided to send her two children to the Alamance-Burlington School System due to the old out-of-district tuition policy. 

Her commute and familial responsibilities make it difficult for her to stay after school and be involved in the Phillips community.

“That’s definitely something that has been hard for me because when you’re a teacher you want to support your students, but as a parent, you need to support your kids,” she said. 

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While Danilowicz is content with her home in Mebane, she thinks the district could advertise housing options like the Community Home Trust to new employees looking to live in the district.

CHT is a nonprofit organization in Chapel Hill that provides permanently affordable housing to individuals making less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income, which includes CHCCS teachers. 

“When you purchase a home from CHT, you sign an agreement so that when you sell your home, when you’re moving somewhere else, you sell that home back to us so that we can sell it again at an affordable price,” Daniele Berman, marketing and communications manager for CHT, said. 

Once homes are bought by the CHT, they are never sold back to the private sector. CHT currently owns 320 homes across Chapel Hill, Berman said. 

She also said about 50 percent of CHT homeowners work in the public sector in Chapel Hill. 

The organization reaches out to CHCCS employees, the UNC health care system and other public servants. 

“It’s really important to us that people who serve the community in Chapel Hill can afford to live here, and right now that’s really not the case,” she said, “Teachers can’t afford to purchase a home in the private market in Chapel Hill. 


@DTHCityState | 

Walker Livingston

Walker Livingston is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer city & state editor. Walker is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and American studies, with a minor in data science.  

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