Community report maps housing, preservation strategy
BY TAMMY GRUBB, TGRUBB@NEWSOBSERVER.COM
CHAPEL HILL – Nine months after sitting down together, Northside neighbors and community leaders have a plan to improve the neighborhood.
It was created from the bottom up, said Della Pollock, executive director of the nonprofit Marian Cheek Jackson Center in Northside. Pollock, a professor in UNC’s department of communication studies, came up with the idea to work with the Durham nonprofit Center for Community Self-Help on the plan.
Northside, a historically black community in the heart of Chapel Hill, has struggled to balance the interests of students and longtime residents as the town has grown and the population has changed. In 1980, the U.S. Census found 1,159 black residents lived in the neighborhood. By 2010, there were 690.
With some 18,000 university students living off-campus, investors have snapped up homes, redeveloping and renting out one bedroom at a time. The return is more than a single-family home would generate, but it’s pricing out longtime residents. Those who remain said the close-knit area has been more transient, less friendly and overwhelmed by trash, noise, parking and parties.
Students will always live in Northside, said Dan Levine, Self-Help’s assistant director of real estate. Finding a balance will require working with the housing market instead of against it, he said.
Self-Help has led the 16-member Compass Group of residents, students and community advocates since July. More than 40 members of a resource group – including UNC, Chapel Hill and Carrboro officials, real estate professionals and business leaders – have been a sounding board and technical resource.
A $210,000 grant from the private, nonprofit UNC-affiliated Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., is paying Self-Help, two design professionals and a market analyst, Levine said.
A five-year plan
The foundation is reviewing the five-year Northside Housing Market Action Plan now, Levine said. It includes guiding principles and a five-part community investment strategy that seeks to keep and attract more families, preserve the community’s culture and history, and create policies for townwide housing-market issues.
A healthy Northside is important to the town’s future, said Meg McGurk, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and a Resource Group member. Plus, the neighborhood will be affected by efforts to increase downtown residential density and build an innovation and entrepreneurial hub on Rosemary Street, she said.
Northside neighbors have made progress, said resident Keith Edwards.
“I’ve seen more of a willingness of students to try to be part of the community and reach out to residents who have been here all their lives,” she said.
Aaron Bachenheimer, UNC’s director of fraternity and sorority life and community involvement, said the university has tried to educate students about living off-campus and how to be better neighbors. Complaints are isolated now, often with repeat offenders, and usually cleared up once neighbors, landlords and police get involved, he said.
But students are only one part of the puzzle.
Residents said there’s also economic pressure, created by Northside’s proximity to two downtowns, the town’s limited land, environmental rules and rising property values.
Hudson Vaughan, associate director of the Jackson Center, said neighbors already established an early alert housing network of block captains who find homes for sale and let the owners know developers aren’t the only option.
Other ideas include banking grant money that a nonprofit could use to buy affordable and workforce homes and creating a list of better-practice landlords, resident Josh Davis said.