What's up with Abbey Court?

For those of you old-timers, maybe this should be entitled "What's up with Old Well". Many of us remember that apartment complex as the cheapest option for student housing when we attended UNC. The apartment complex has shifted to being condos and has experienced a demographic shift so that most of the residents are Spanish-speaking immigrants trying to make ends meet on a less than desirable income.

I've heard a number of concerns about the current state of Abbey Court. At this point, the crime rate there is very high and only about 2/3 of the units seem to be occupied. Since it is such a large complex and potentially houses a significant number of Carrboro families, I'm hoping to start a discussion to talk about the state of this complex. I hear that a gentleman from Raleigh has acquired over half of the condo units and has begun having home owner's association meetings at his discretion to set policy. Much of this policy seems to be directed at driving out current Hispanic residents through requirements to tow cars out of the complex rather than fix them in the parking lot and to prevent residents from having dinner fundraisers to raise money for such things as rent.

It appears that the strategy of driving out some residents is working since 1/3 or so of the units is vacant. One can only assume the strategy is to eventually make this complex "student friendly" again. I think this is a difficult issue. On the one had we want changes to Abbey because it is less than desirable housing for anyone in our community. On the other hand, it continues to be one of the best options for lower income residents of the town.

Any thoughts on what we should be advocating in this instance?



I had the misfortune to live at Abbey Court from July 02-July 03. I rented from The Tar Heels Companies of North Carolina. The first apartment they moved us into (L2) was so infested with roaches that they had to move us within the first month. This was a good thing because within the year, the ceiling of this apartment caved in due to an massive termite infestation. The second apartment (J4) was also infested with roaches but not to the degree the first apartment was, although we still saw them everyday. My son has asthma and was sicker than he has ever been during our time at Abbey Court. He had pneumonia twice. We tried to get out of the year lease we signed by appealing to The Tar Heels Company, but they only responded with threats to hold us responsible for the rent for the entire term. The Department of Public Health and the Carrboro Housing Authority were no help either, the CHA actually suggested we get a geko lizard to eat the cockroaches. I believe that Abbey Court is not adequate housing for anyone, regardless of income level. I know some would disagree, including some of the residents who are very grateful to have a roof over their heads at all. I am just very disappointed that the complex isn't held to any sort of building codes designed to protect residents.

If someone like the Raleigh owner of Abbey Court units is making new rules to squeeze out respectful tenants or owners, then perhaps town government can overrule his new rules. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know, especially in state-trumps-town N.C. But it seems perfectably reasonable for a town to legislate that no HOA covenant may forbid people from repairing their own vehicles on their own property, if they do so in a timely manner. (While we're at it, we might be allowed to hang out our clean laundry, too.)

I remember "Old Hell" well...ok not really, which is why UNC students called it that.

Some steps have been taken to try to make Abbey Court (Old Well) a safer palce to live. The biggest one being that it is now patroled at night (I believe every night) by a indepent police company...WestTek.

"Although it's often true that "crime will just relocate," that does not absolve us from addressing it. In my neighborhood the crack trade moves from street to street every few weeks or months, depending on how much law enforcement is paying attention. What we really need are innovative solutions to address the community's needs rather than responding after laws are broken and people are hurt. Enforcement will never be enough."

I totally agree with you here Ruby. I walk past your neighbor on a daily bases...and often have things offered. I've also seen the police dirve through without stopping.

From an investor's standpoint, I believe that something around a 5% vacancy rate is usually computed as a given (adjusted up and down a little depending on the market and the kind of property) for the purposes of calculating net operating income, cap rate, market value of the property itself, etc.It's often a condition of the bank that an investor build that cost (as well as maintenance and other necessary capital expenditures) into the loan. So 7-8% doesn't sound so out of line to me.

There's no doubt that, back in the 1997-1999 period, there was an explosion of apartment building in the Triangle, and at that time people predicted there would eventually be a glut. (Drive down 54 into the Park, and then take a right at the intersection with 55 and keep driving, and you'll see a great big chunk of these new apartment complexes.) A few years later there was a glut, vacancy rates went up, property owners began offering incentives ("No deposit! First month's rent free! Win $1,000!) and lowering rents, and the market adjusted itself. Now we're seeing a decrease in the vacancy rate, both here and Triangle wide.

I'm trying to think of all the new apartment developments that went up in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area in the last 5-8 years, and I'm drawing a blank on anything but the apartments at Meadowmont, the apartments at Southern Village (which predate the period, I think, but nevermind), the condo/apts on Rosemary Street, the various developments around Sage Road, and a few scattered affordable housing developments. Although that sounds like a lot, I don't think we had the volume of multi-family residential construction that the rest of the Triangle experienced, which might explain why our vacancy rates, while moving up and down, haven't spiked quite as violently as those in Durham and Raleigh.

I agree with you that apartment living is flexible and often the best option for people without a lot of money, which is why you should all break out your checkbooks and make a contribution to Affordable Rentals Inc., a local nonprofit that acquires rental property, fixes the units up, and then rents them to people making between 30% and 50% of our area's median family income. It's tax deductible, too! More info here:


(Disclosure: I'm on the board of ARI)


Duncan, most people wouldn't view 7-8 % vacancy as huge unless of course you owned/managed rental property. The apartment market was going great until the economy changed. An example of what I mean is: I rented a decent apartment for my brother about 5 years ago at about $600/month and we were lucky to get that unit at the time because everything was occupied. When the occupancy rates took a big dip and scared the owners/managers...they started offering all the free rent concessions (which you can see by tons of signage all over the place). It kind of irritated me that I am paying $600 for his apartment then they move in new renters on specials at lower rents and don't offer any type of renewal concessions to good existing residents. When I addressed the property managment, I was told the apartment industry was in a "slump" and they had to do whatever to fill units. So I moved him to a place that doesn't "sell out" and respects it's residents.

Ruby, I wouldn't treat any piece of real esate as a "dot on the map". I care very deeply about the area I live in. I want it to be safe for everyone. I DID say I would like to see it cleaned up.

What I would like to know is in what manner is this majority unit owner ridding the property of anyone and why...Is it due to petty lease violations or something more severe.

The great part about renting? You DON'T HAVE to live there. You can move.

Trish, Old Well wasn't "desirable" in 1990 either (when I lived there), but it's really not accurate to treat it as just another dot on a Carrboro map. It has some very unique characteristics. In the last 5 years or so it has become overwhelmingly hispanic. I wouldn't be surpised at all if this makes residents a more likely target for crime.

Although it's often true that "crime will just relocate," that does not absolve us from addressing it. In my neighborhood the crack trade moves from street to street every few weeks or months, depending on how much law enforcement is paying attention. What we really need are innovative solutions to address the community's needs rather than responding after laws are broken and people are hurt. Enforcement will never be enough.

I am really disturbed about what I have heard of this guy who is buying up all the units and forcing other owners (and latino renters) out.


There really isn't a huge vacancy rate "ALL OVER Chapel Hill and Carrboro (and the Triangle)," at least not anything approaching 33%.

In fact, between March and September of last year, the vacancy rate in Orange County dropped from 8.4 % to 7.3%. Across the Triangle, vacancy rates dropped (on average) from 12.6% to 8.6%. In Durham and Wake, where vacancy rates had been much higher in March 2003 (around 12%), they saw a startlingly sharp drop in vacancies, down to around 8% in each case.

Regardless, Orange County has had, and continues to have, the lowest vacancy rate in the Triangle. That rate dropped last year, too. So if there's an unusually high vacancy rate at Abbey Court, there has to be an explanation other than the vacancy rate ALL OVER the Triangle. More info here:


The outdoor market is still predominantly African-American, but careers in the by-appointment sector remain open to talents.

Same goes for Ridgewood.





I think this is an interesting discussion because affordable housing is such a huge topic. I believe that not everyone can own and apartments are an affordable option or stepping stone to owning.

First: In your intro: "most of the residents are Spanish-speaking immigrants" "the crime rate there is very high". Does this mean that the Spanish-speaking immigrants are causing the crime? Or is there another element creating crime against the Spanish immigrants? Who's to blame for the crime rate and what are the crimes there (drugs, weapons, prostitution, violence or e) all of the above?) Is this information available thru the Carrboro PD?

Second: What measures are being used to eliminate the crime element. Are the individuals who own these units made aware of each instance of crime and if so, do they evict or just let it go?

Third: To address the 1/3 vacancy...There is a huge vacancy rate ALL OVER Chapel Hill and Carrboro (and the Triangle), not just Abbey Court. With interest rates down, many opt to buy rather than rent.

Anyway, I'd love to see this property cleaned up, de-crimed, etc., but I won't hold my breath. Crime will just relocate. I have lived in Chapel Hill since 1993 and Old Well wasn't that desirable back then either. Good luck.

Some affordable housing organizations in the area -- Affordable Rentals Inc., Empowerment -- have owned, or continue to own, some units in there, but it's been hard to make headway.

Mark Chilton knows much more about this.

I have thought for some time that the complex would be a perfect candidate for a redevelopment financed by state and federal low-income housing tax credits, which might be sufficient to raise the capital to buy out the Raleigh investor. (I've seen the list of owners at Abbey Court, and that investor does indeed own a majority of the units and controls the HOA.)

I'm thinking of something along these lines:




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