Increasing property values in and around Chapel Hill are nothing new.
But for faculty, the ever-climbing housing prices of the past few years have triggered unprecedented financial stress.
“There's practically zero affordable housing for UNC faculty and staff in Carrboro and Chapel Hill,” said Scott Geier, teaching assistant professor of digital storytelling and journalism.
There are pockets of UNC faculty in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham — and all are facing rising prices, Geier said.
Abbey Burke, a visiting teaching assistant professor of philosophy who's originally from Australia, lives in a Carrboro apartment with her partner, assistant philosophy professor Daniel Muñoz. This academic year is Burke’s first at the University.
“The housing situation in Carrboro is certainly expensive,” she said. “I'd say it's on par with Sydney rentals, which is one of the most expensive places in the world to live.”
While Burke is somewhat new to the Chapel Hill area, longer-serving faculty have directly witnessed a decrease in affordable housing.
Political science professor Marc Hetherington has seen a significant change over the past four years.
In 2018, Hetherington left his longtime teaching post at Vanderbilt University for UNC. His wife, teaching associate professor of political science Suzanne Globetti, made the same move a year later. They now live in a house in Chapel Hill.
“Something that was expensive to us, but still something that was affordable in 2019, would have been really hard to make work in 2022 because of the run-up in housing prices,” he said.
While Hetherington pointed out that all housing markets have seen recent price increases, he imagines less-tenured faculty are under particular economic stress.
“If we were in our 20s and were just getting our first jobs, this would be a much harder set of circumstances,” he said.
Additionally, many professors have children to support. And while Geier and Hetherington both said they appreciate the caliber of local public schools, they recognize that children increase expenses.
“If you have two kids, you need a combined household income of like $150,000-plus in order to afford to live in this area. Easily. If not really more than that,” Geier said.
Affording childcare along with nearby housing can be an obstacle for faculty, as well.
As a result, many faculty with children are forced to live further away from campus, where larger houses and childcare are more affordable.
Faculty who do not live within walking distance of campus typically have to find parking or take buses. Few faculty have guaranteed parking, and most must pay for spots. Those who take the buses, which have recently experienced driver shortages, must contend with inconsistent timing and changing routes.
“You're scrambling for parking spots,” Geier said. “So if you live in Durham, that's a big problem.”
Geier used to be able to take a bus to and from campus. But since COVID, that bus route is no longer in operation, and he travels via electric scooter.
While Geier and Burke acknowledge that the University could improve the parking situation, they recognize that non-University-related factors primarily control housing prices.
Geier cited pandemic supply chain issues, labor shortages and corporations buying and flipping houses as contributors to increasing property values.
In his opinion, when renters and buyers are competing with corporations, individuals are not likely to be able to find affordable housing.
Geier purchased his Carrboro home in December 2017 and said he was very lucky to have found the house when he did.
“It's a shame when most of the faculty and staff who work in Chapel Hill can't live in Chapel Hill,” Geier said. “Because that affects the diversity and the dynamic of the campus.”
Geier, Burke and Hetherington all lamented that establishing a firm home base in Chapel Hill is now more difficult than ever.
“It will put pressure on people who are already under pressure,” Burke said.
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