“I think for me, I want to move over here and I've been looking for a place that I could afford,” she said. “I am a single mom. I'm in college full-time right now. I'm taking classes through UNC-Pembroke online, and then I'll be going to law school next year and I work full time.”
Brignola works at Syd's Hair Shop, which is an Orange County Living Wage-certified employer. She said it is her first time working for an employer that claims they offer a living wage and actually offer it.
Brignola said she’s heard some community members say the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the cost burden facing many people in Chapel Hill, while others think Orange County has always been a very expensive area to live in.
Rental unit monthly prices in the Chapel Hill area have increased roughly $400 to $600 in the past few years, Sharron Reid, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development housing counselor at EMPOWERment, Inc., said
“We've seen the steady increase and that has caused a burden for families, some paying more than, you know, 40 or 50 percent of their income trying to stay housed,” she said.
Linda Ellison is the case manager at the HomeStart women and families shelter and said many women coming into the shelter cannot afford daycare for their children.
“A lot of people don’t have the proper transportation, even though Chapel Hill has a bus system,” she said. “Sometimes it's kind of hard for a mother to put children on the bus and give them to daycare and get them to work and things like that.”
Ellison added that some people are unable to find work because they have backgrounds that make it difficult for them to get hired.
She also said it is important to know that many unhoused people are simply down on their luck.
“I work and everything, but when COVID hit and my better half lost his job and I had to come to head of the household, it was hard,” she said. “Everybody goes through all types of situations and things happen, and so we’re a paycheck away from being homeless ourselves.”
Reid said she and her coworkers at nonprofit organizations feel the effects of the housing crisis along with their clients. Those who work at nonprofits in the area also have to decide whether to stay in Chapel Hill or move farther out due to the increased rent prices, she said.
Reid said more subsidized housing and more landlords who accept vouchers are necessary steps to assist families experiencing cost burden.
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“A solution needs to be made, not more conversation on what can happen and what can change it and make it more affordable,” Brignola said. “Some hard policy needs to be put into place that will actually offer a solution.”
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Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.