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Understanding CHALT: What it is, and why some town residents find it controversial

Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) is a group of residents that work to create policies around development in Chapel Hill and the larger Orange County. The sun shines on a new development in Chapel Hill on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, known colloquially as CHALT, is an organization that has played a large role in town politics in Chapel Hill since its formation in 2014.

CHALT advocates for policy to address issues in the community, especially those surrounding sustainable development, according to its website. CHALT's main goals as listed on its website include preventing global warming and preserving Chapel Hill's character. 

The website states that CHALT strives to achieve these goals by educating citizens about Town issues and providing suggestions to the Chapel Hill Town Council and other Town leaders.

The organization's website also lists the "fairly high rates" that UNC charges its students for on-campus living as a challenge it faces because it drives students to off-campus residential options, further crowding an already competitive housing market.

Some community members, though, find the organization controversial. 

Although CHALT's goals state the organization promotes affordable housing for all residents, others find their solutions damaging. 

“I feel like their fundamental mission is at odds with what would need to happen to ameliorate the housing crisis, but I hope they start to take affordable housing seriously as an issue," Simon Palmore, a NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro coordinator, said. 

NEXT is a nonprofit organization focused on increasing housing availability and improving transit infrastructure in the area.

John Rees, a member of the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition and a board member of NEXT, said he has not seen CHALT operating positively or progressively in regard to housing, although he has never worked directly with the organization.

“They have a focus on maintaining the status quo, the character and values of what existed in Chapel Hill,” he said. “The problem is that the status quo is what’s led us to have such an incredible lack of housing in the area.”

Political involvement

Julie McClintock, a CHALT coordinator, said the organization was formed to help elect Chapel Hill Town Council members who "listen to the people." 

CHALT formed its own political action committee to try to achieve these goals, called CHALT-PAC. According to the CHALT website, the PAC uses funds to support political candidates whose views align with those of the organization, but does not directly contribute to candidates’ campaigns.

“I think openness in government — a government that’s responsive, where dialogue is fostered, where people are civil to each other — that’s my idea of what the CHALT values are,” McClintock said.

CHALT also endorses candidates in elections it believes best align with the organization's views, according to its website. 

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger was endorsed by CHALT in 2015 and 2017. In the 2021 mayoral election, CHALT endorsed former Chapel Hill Town Council Member Hongbin Gu, who lost to Hemminger. Of the current members on the council, CHALT most recently endorsed Adam Searing in the 2021 election. It also endorsed Karen Stegman in 2017 and Jessica Anderson in 2019.

Linda Brown, a CHALT member, said the organization works to keep the Town accountable in its policy responses to issues in the community. 

“We think that the Town needs to look at long-term consequences of things that they do and find solutions that are permanent, that are life-altering changes that will help people become economically independent — not stuck in an apartment that they can’t pay for if they get sick or lose their job,” she said.

From Rees' perspective, he said that when he has seen members of CHALT at Chapel Hill public meetings, they are sometimes disruptive. He noted he has witnessed some members interrupt consultants and "bully" the Town’s staff.

“To me, that just doesn’t sound like the organization that is working for progressive change,” he said. “It sounds like an organization that’s focused on preventing change.”

CHALT's role in development

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CHALT has also held webinars on housing, where members talked about possible solutions to the town's housing issues, the origin of its housing crisis and ways to finance permanent affordable housing.

But some residents, like Palmore, view CHALT as being "anti-development."

Because Orange County is a rapidly growing area, Palmore said Chapel Hill has not built the housing required for the new people moving in. He said CHALT has only made this problem worse.

“CHALT has spent a lot of time and energy trying to prevent the development of new housing and it is exactly that that makes it so expensive,” Palmore said.

He also said that when Chapel Hill began discussing turning the American Legion property — a portion of Town-owned land on Legion Road — into an affordable housing development with an adjacent park, some CHALT members supported the construction of the park but fought against the construction of the housing units.

“You can’t claim to be in support of affordable housing when you’re preventing more housing from being available to members of the community,” Palmore said. “They can say that as much as they want, but what they actually do is the exact opposite of that.”

When the Chapel Hill Town Council voted 5 to 3 in support of constructing the Aura Development, CHALT disagreed with the decision. They cited environmental reasons for being against the development, including the need to build more parking spaces for cars, traffic safety issues that may arise because of its construction and the high rent prices of the potential housing development. 

Palmore said that alongside working against affordable housing, he believes the organization spread misleading and incorrect information about the Chapel Hill Town Council and its members.

“We can have disagreements on policy, but there’s no excuse for sharing facts that are not true,” he said.

Palmore said he does not doubt that members of CHALT would like to see improved housing conditions, but he believes the organization fails to make housing available to everyone.


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