Community and Change in Carrboro: a Student Renter Perspective

I opened the mailer and threw it away. The return address was “Planning Department, Town of Carrboro”. As a city planning student, I thought I would have been more intrigued. But the notice was for a zoning change in a neighborhood I knew nothing about, despite the fact I live just across the train tracks in a North Greensboro Street apartment.

I live with 7 housemates. When I tell that to people, sometimes their mouths go agape.

“Seven?!” they’ll wonder or say aloud in surprised disbelief.

“Yeah, seven, and I like it that way.”

When Town Alderperson Jacquie Gist proposed a 4-person/unit limit on people living in Carrboro last Tuesday, I started paying attention. In fact, when I read Joe Johnson’s article, I was incensed. I saw the proposed zoning overlay and unrelated resident cap as another attempt to marginalize a disenfranchised class of town residents (renters) at the expense of a well-off group of landowners. That’s the attitude and fear that led to my response on Twitter.

And thankfully, it also led to conversations with Barbara Foushee, Bethany Chaney, and Damon Seils, all Carrboro Alderpersons committed to their role as public servants. In our conversation, I learned about the history of the Lloyd/Broad Neighborhood, a place with a deep and storied meaning to its African American residents. The Jackson Center notes that this neighborhood is defined by “tight networks of neighbors and kin that [make] up family.” I learned from the alderpersons that residents of Lloyd Broad had organized and attended community meetings to advocate for policies that would retain their neighborhood’s social fabric. The very fabric they believe directly threatened by speculators flipping single family homes into student rental housing.

The fabric of my senior year of college was my home in Carrboro. It was warm pancakes on the snow day in January, late night conversations with my housemates on the porch, and collective frustrations with a drying machine that always took two cycles to accomplish its simple task. It was the most personally fulfilling living situation I’ve ever experienced.

It is an arrangement that is illegal in Chapel Hill, where I rented the two years previously. The Town never checked, but I lived six a side in a duplex run down by managerial neglect and six young men attempting to cohabitate. It was the only way we could make rent work, and it was what our friends did before us. We were constantly in fear of ordering a maintenance request; they could have evicted us on the spot upon seeing six beds in a dwelling unit permitted for four. But we did it anyway, and paid way too much rent, and lived in fear of being evicted.

Students face different challenges when it comes to finding somewhere to live. First they have to find 1-7 other people they want to live with. They have to find a house through a property management company or through older friends moving out. Securing affordable rental housing requires luck, persistence, and patience. And the end result can be ideal, and certainly an improvement from on-campus options. A full kitchen, your own bedroom, and a place to park a car is the holy trinity of student housing. But there are drawbacks. We often have little leverage or relationships with our landlords, and that can lead to exploitation. Maintenance requests go unfulfilled or ignored. Housemates decide to study abroad and don’t find someone to sublease. Students go through a hell of a lot to secure housing in our community.

If Carrboro passed a similar cap to Chapel Hill’s, tenants there would be forced into an even more fearful position with their landlords. In many situations, they would continue to live eight to a dwelling unit, and merely deliver their landlords four checks. What other rational option is there in a house with eight bedrooms?

Carrboro has to be a place for all. I believe that passing a tenant cap for Lloyd Broad is an adequate, though temporary solution to prevent the neighborhood from losing its social fabric. I also believe that extending the same cap to the whole town will further marginalize the rights and legal recourse of renters. Thankfully, the Alderpeople I spoke with seem to agree.

We all want to live in a town where we can live and thrive. Where we can come home and be with people who love and respect us. Students, like other town residents, actively seek that community. We should be seen as members with something to contribute, not merely as a faceless raucousness. And we can live in harmony with other communities, not in place of them.

I believe the Board of Aldermen will vote on to set an unrelated persons cap in Lloyd Broad June 26th meeting. It would be a grave mistake, and an affront to the rights of the 60 percent of Carrboroites who rent, to extend the same policy townwide.



Back in Chapel Hill my old rental at Townhouse Apartments is being torn town and rebuilt. Three of us grad students rented it for a year and passed it on to a new generation of students. It was cheap and conviently close to campus. The only negative was the continous blaring of stereos into the early hours of the morning.

towns should adopt a zoned maximum occupancy restriction that caps the number of occupants per dwelling unit, typically in relation to floor space or the number and type of rooms. These restrictions are non discriminatory applying uniformly to all residents of all dwelling units. Their stated purpose is to protect public health and safety by preventing overcrowding. 

Two things; first, it's not all about you. Rather than displaying your entittlement about housing in a neighborhood you know nothing about in 160 charachters you should after listening thououghly, paticipate by using that city planning education to offer some solutions.

Secondly, you might also recognize that 7-8 cars parking on the street (or what used to be a lawn) for a single household might be disenfranchiseing your neighbors. Perhaps late night conversations  on the porch, along with many people coming and going at all hours in all conditions is a drag for those around you? I am not suggesting a solution, because I have none but being seen as members of a community with something to contribute, not merely as a faceless raucousness goes both ways.

BTW, perhaps instead of complaining about it, you could clean out the obviously blocked dryer vent so the poor tired dryer can do its job and not burn the house down around you and your friends.

"Secondly, you might also recognize that 7-8 cars parking on the street (or what used to be a lawn) for a single household might be disenfranchiseing your neighbors."





  1. the state of being deprived of a right or privilege, especially parking.


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