The Town Council's initial reaction to the proposed redevelopment of Colony Apartments (see "Council balks" in the CH News, 7/3/12) is classic Chapel Hill: act high-minded when, in fact, our head is buried deep in the sand. I am an affordable housing advocate and a Chapel Hill resident, but I take a different view of this development proposal.
Am I concerned by the potential loss of one of the community's few apartment complexes that serves a working class population? Of course. Yet the reason such apartment complexes are scarce is that as a community we persistently fail to understand the ongoing impact of our many protectionist, restrictive policies that curb the supply of housing. (With all the PhDs in this town, you'd think we could understand basic supply and demand by now.)
Worse yet, our affordable housing policies are focused almost solely on homeownership with little attention to rental housing. For instance, communities across the Triangle utilize the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other programs that create new, affordable rental units that are as high quality and attractive as apartments anywhere. Why not Chapel Hill? Perhaps the thought of housing some of the thousands of low wage workers who help UNC run, care for us at the hospital, and fill service sector jobs across Chapel Hill makes us a little uncomfortable.
If we are sincere about wanting a diverse housing market then we should encourage dense, well-planned development. More to the point, we should actively seek partners to work with the Town to develop new affordable apartments. Finally, we should revisit the Town's 2011 decision to exempt rental developments from affordable housing requirements.
Let's get our head out of the sand and break some new ground.