The short take: Carrboro City Council passed the Carrboro Connects plan over 5 months ago. To date, no significant changes to the land use policy have been brought to the council table for action from the plan. Meanwhile, sites that might have held more diverse housing options continue to be converted into grand homes that only millionaires can afford.

How neighborhoods can support different stages of an individual’s or family’s life

Our family has lived in central or west Carrboro for 21 years, despite several moves. One of the things that has made this possible is that as our lives have changed, there have been different types of housing in the neighborhood available to meet our needs. I lived in a small apartment before I got married. DW and I bought a townhouse a few years later. As we became a family of three, we moved into a house.

Age and size of housing stock and affordability

Living here for twenty years, you can distill the neighborhood into three types of housing choices and prices for each:

  • New and any size – expensive
  • Old and tall – expensive
  • Old and small – more affordable

My apartment had one floor, 2 small bedrooms and about 600 square feet. It was rented for $600/month in 2002. It was built in 1962, 60 years ago.

The townhouse, about 950 square feet, rented for about $780 in 2006 and was built in 1982. Our house was newer, a bit larger, and nearly double the rent of the townhouse for the entire townhouse. ‘mortgage.

Every property in our neighborhood is aging. But we don’t have built many small units in the neighborhood for a long time. This means that if we don’t build more small units today, even if they are new and more expensive now, we have less opportunity to have the “old + small = more affordable” units of the future.

A significant missed opportunity on Gary Rd

Earlier this summer, our neighbor Cristobal Palmer posted this excellent article about how he thought a significant assemblage of land that had come on the market would be a great place for a neighborhood cafe or bodega. His closing statement proved prescient. He said:

I don’t have the capital or skills to realize my dream, but I hope there are people who share this dream and will speak loudly about it. If we’re not vocal, developers will do what’s quicker or easier to finance and get approved: more single-family homes. Dream bigger.

Unfortunately, the most likely (and encouraged by zoning) future has unfolded. There’s no zoning that makes it easy to build anything other than a large single-family lot, and the other day I saw this on a walk:

I went to Zillow and found Cristobal’s fears (and mine) confirmed.

It is a household living in 3,150 square feet. Zillow estimates the monthly mortgage payment for the million-dollar home to be around $6,600 per month. To meet the standard that your mortgage payment should not exceed 30% of your income, this home is for a household earning $264,000 per year. Only millionaire households will live there.

Go two blocks east to West Poplar Avenue and you’ll find four households living on 3,161 total square feet in a quadplex.

Rent for 2-bedroom apartments in the area ranges from around $1,200 to $1,500 per month. At $1,500 per month, an individual or couple earning $60,000 per year can rent these quadplexes at a reasonable percentage of their income.

The quadplex above: natural affordable housing at 80% median income in the region

Orange County’s median income in the 2016-2020 American Community Survey was $74,800. A household earning $60,000 per year is at 80% of the regional median income (AMI) and can spend 30% of its income on rent of $1,500/month. This level of affordability, approximately 80% to 100% of the AMI, is the income level that programs like the Community Home Trust target for buyers in their programs.

What this example shows is that despite all the housing challenges here, especially for those at 60% AMI and below, which will require government subsidies to address, there is a part of the income market below the median that can, in the long term, be served by older, smaller units without public subsidies — but only if we build it and let it age.

How long until the next missed opportunity?

While waiting for policy changes, the real estate market is changing. Someone else will sell a lot of significant size, and if the only thing allowed is a large single-family home that costs $1 million, that’s what we’ll get.

The Carboro Connects plan cannot wait years of study to take the next steps. We need two actions from the Council to start moving as soon as possible. These actions are:

  1. Eliminate parking requirements in Carboro, period. Not downtown, not a few places, everywhere. I covered the reasons and benefits of doing it here.
  2. We need to update our single family areas to be single family + missing intermediate housing areas. On this one, no need to reinvent the wheel. Chapel Hill has already done a lot of heavy lifting in writing this sample text to enable Missing Middle Housing. City council should direct Carboro Planning staff to bring a draft version of this order to council within that calendar year. It shouldn’t take long to adapt this language to our city.

By taking these two steps, the City will at least open the door to the possibility that the next building on a lot like Gary Road will house more people in smaller units and help prepare us for a more affordable future. of accommodation.

So how do we get these things moving quickly?

Carboro’s Pre-Carboro Connections The process for public input into land use and zoning changes was deeply flawed

For many years, Carboro development decisions were subject to the worst public participation processes – those who favor wealthy, older, whiter, retired homeowners who have the time to spend 3 hours sitting in a room to speak for 3 minutes on a podium on a weeknight. These methods of engagement encourage a “pack the room” strategy that allows everyone with an opinion to speak on a podium. ALWAYS favors those who are retired and have finished working, those who work day shifts and those who are not responsible for caring for young children. In the evening.

Two Best Ways to Gather Audience Feedback

The City of Carrboro would do well to combine the public engagement approaches of Chapel Hill and Durham to address and expedite the timeline for voting on policy changes. For some of Chapel Hill’s recent initiatives, the city has used its Public Input website to not only gather opinions, but also to obtain the demographics of participants. Carrboro should use these techniques to collect data online from people who cannot attend public meetings and should report the results at meetings where decisions are being considered by city council.

In Durham, some council decisions allow no more than five speakers to speak in favor AND no more than five speakers to speak against any policy change. Each speaker has two minutes. Twenty minutes of verbal public testimony is combined with data from community surveys and broader, more intentionally inclusive initiatives like the Carrboro Connects process. Indeed, the Carrboro Connects plan recently won the prestigious Marvin Collins Planning Award – one of the highest honors a public plan can receive in North Carolina. The Daily Tar Heel reported in September:

Part of the criteria for the Marvin Collins awards includes seeking transferability and applicability to other communities, as well as originality, said Bynum Walter, co-chair of the APA-NC awards committee. Carrboro Connects has been particularly effective in its community outreach efforts, she added.

“We’ve had an unprecedented amount of community engagement and development,” Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said of the plan.

The Carboro Connects team has engaged with over 1,600 people. The plan also recognizes over 4,000 touchpoints – examples of community engagement.

There is no reason Carrboro should not provide an opportunity for public comment on these policy initiatives, but this should be reasonably limited like the Durham process, and recognize the breadth and depth of opinions generated by the process. Carrboro Connects much broader and more detailed, and the 2021 Carrboro Community Survey.

Still awaiting action five months after adoption of plan

In conclusion, it’s great that the Carrboro Connects plan has reached 1,600 people in the city with over 4,000 touchpoints. But if the policy recommendations do not move forward, this public contribution is slowly and steadily devalued. The Carboro Connects plan was passed on June 7, 2022 and as of this writing on November 11, 2022, it is unclear when the plan’s policy actions will be considered on the city council agenda.

As of Friday evening November 11, there is nothing on the agenda regarding Carrboro Connects.

I am well aware that political actions do not always happen overnight and that anything that comes to the Council table can take up to 6-8 weeks to come to a vote. But it is important to initiate these processes. Hopefully, we’ll see at least one policy proposal from the Carboro Connects plan make it to city council’s agenda in January 2023. The two policy proposals above are great starting points. If you agree, consider emailing [email protected] and letting them know you want to see the elimination of parking requirements and the expansion of housing choices on the order of the council day in the near future.