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Residents grapple with differences in pricing between Chapel Hill and Carrboro

Housing is pictured in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

Despite rent prices continuing to rise alongside demands for increased housing in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro, residents wanting to remain in the area might have to choose between the towns. 

Catherine Chaquea, a UNC sophomore who currently lives in Chapel Hill but is planning on moving to Carrboro next year, said Chapel Hill is more expensive than Carrboro.

The average overall rent in Chapel Hill is $1,917 and $1,419 in Carrboro, according to RentCafe. 

The average rented space in Chapel Hill is 968 square feet and 857 square feet in Carrboro, meaning the cost per individual square foot in Chapel Hill is roughly 16 percent more expensive than Carrboro.

The issue of high housing demand is not unique to just Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said it is true for the Triangle as a whole, too. 

“The whole Triangle region is facing high demand for housing,” Seils said. “It’s one of the fastest growing areas of the country.”

He also said both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have been slow to respond to housing needs, especially for low-income residents. 

Seils said affordable housing is a “specific challenge” which differs from the larger issue of housing supply, and the Town is funding programs for people with income below a certain level.

However, this process is expensive and difficult to execute with limited funds, according to Seils. He said this emphasizes the importance of meeting housing demands in different market segments and creating different types of housing.

The Town of Chapel Hill reports roughly 30 percent of UNC students live off campus in Chapel Hill. Thirty-five percent of UNC students live on campus, and 29 percent live outside of Chapel Hill.

Kathryn Obenshain, a recent UNC graduate and Chapel Hill resident, noted that Chapel Hill has a limit on the number of tenants in one unit — something she said makes it less accessible.

Chapel Hill does not allow more than four unrelated residents per rented unit. Tenants who disregard the regulation can be fined up to $100 per day for the first offense and more if they violate it multiple times.

Obenshain said she knows many people in Chapel Hill who were willing to take the risks of breaking the ordinance to have less expensive housing. 

“I think it leads (to) people being in some rough housing situations because you can’t talk to the Town about it because you’re knowingly living in a situation that goes against Town ordinances,” she said. 

Obenshain currently lives in a two-bedroom apartment near UNC Hospitals where she is able to walk to work at the UNC Environmental Finance Center. She said the only reason she knew of her home's availability was because she asked the landlord of her previous residence if they knew of any apartments in the area.

She also said her current apartment is more expensive than she had originally budgeted for, but it was one of the few apartments available in either Chapel Hill or Carrboro. 

Obenshain said Carrboro was also not an option because she does not have her own car to commute to UNC campus. 

Chaquea said she chose to live in Carrboro because housing in Chapel Hill was too expensive.  

She currently lives with two other people and said Carrboro had more options than Chapel Hill. Chaquea added that units she looked at were less expensive. She said she and her three other future roommates were “lucky” to find a house for less than $3,000 per month.

While affordable housing has been limited, higher-priced housing in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area has been consistent over the past eight years, Charles Humble, a longtime Chapel Hill resident, said.

He also said affordable housing has been displaced by more expensive apartments.

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“We don’t need to motivate developers to build luxury apartments. We need to steer their interest, however we can, into developing things that people can afford," Humble said.


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