UNC Students Launch Petition Against Town Housing Ordinance

UNC students have launched a petition against the Town of Chapel Hill's housing ordinance prohibiting more than four unrelated people from living in the same house.

The petition is an initiative of outgoing student body president Christy Lambden. The Lambden Administration is circulating the following blurb to students concerning the petition:

As many of you know in the past year many students have been evicted from their homes for violating The Town of Chapel Hill’s Occupancy Ordinance. This Ordinance states that no more that four unrelated persons can co-inhabit the same single-dwelling residence. We in the Executive Branch of Student Government are asking for your support in signing our petition to The Town of Chapel Hill. We ask that you please circulate this to the members of your respective organizations. Stand with Student Government, fight for students and Don’t Shut the Door on Four.


Also, if you have opinions or experiences with the Ordinance, please let us know at: https://neighborland.com/ideas/chapel-hill-to-hear-people-s-experien. Signing up is very easy and can be done through your Facebook account!

Thanks for your support,

The Lambden Administration

In the fall, there were reports about students being kicked out of their homes for violating the ordinance. This petition appears to be a response to those actions.

However, not all students are supportive of repealing the ordinance. A cursory glance at the Neighborland page emailed out (and seeing intense discussion on many of my friends' Facebook pages) indicates that this is a multidimensional issue that our community continues to struggle with, students fully included.  



Wow, do the students in CH think they are the ONLY ones struggling to pay for housing, food, insurance, etc?  If so, what do they think happens the instant they become non-student status?  Do they think all is well?  EVERYBODY in the county/city struggles with these same issues, however, has anyone thought it might be a fire hazard to house so many people in an apartment built for 4?

Danelle,If you go to the Neighborland web site, you'll see
some very thoughtful comments from students raising questions about the
specifics of the petition.  The Lambden administration could have
petitioned the CHTC without soliciting broad student input, but instead
they have posted their petition for signatures and also requested
comments from students.  I think you'll find that most of the comments
on Neighborhorland convey a perspective of community needs beyond the student's individiual
situation.Linda Convissor

The specific issues aside, it's so often said that the youth don't get involved enough, I'm glad to seeing students making their voices heard.

Because they are so remarkably easy to join by anyone anywhere with internet access, electronic petitions aren't always seen as a useful or particularly valid expression of public opinion. The "signatures" are overwhelmingly anonymous. Elected officials tend to want to hear from real people with an actual stake in an issue. Those on one side need to realize that other sides exist on issues and can make equally compelling cases. Ed Harrison

The requirement of a name on the petition under discussion is certainly positive, but again it's very easy to "sign" the petition.  The Chapel Hill regulation is matched by those in many other localities with significant off-campus student populations, including some nearby.  Ed Harrison

I think you'll be surprised that most (if not all) the stduents posting there are expressing very thoughtful comments on the ordinance and the impact of students in the community. https://neighborland.com/ideas/chapel-hill-to-hear-people-s-experien.Linda Convissor

I have always thought it was bad idea for the town (or any governmental body) to get into the business of judging the legitimacy of various types of families. The fact of whether people are "related" doesn't actually have any impact
on anyone outside the their house, and I don't believe we should be
legislating about it. What if they are gay and can't legally marry? What if an older couple has taken in a younger friend who helps take care of them? What if a bunch of homeless teens are taken in by a concerned adult?I would like to see some alternative policies proposed that can address the actual problems, which are landlords that don't respect the neighborhood, and overcrowded off-campus student housing that has many spillover effects such as parking and garbage. On a related note, I was VERY sorry to see the Town cancel the rental licensing program that many of us worked harde to enact. It seemed they neverenforced the program, and then judged it to be ineffective becauseno-one was using it.

Your comments ring very true to me. Why should the town get to pick and choose who is and isn't a family? If there are legitimate reasons to limit the number of people in a particular space, that shouldn't depend on how similar their DNA happens to be.

I have yet to see anyone demonstrate concretely that this policy is achieving its intended goals, assuming that those intended goals are to prevent rents from continuing to rise.The only thing I can assume is that because landlords and students are continuing to ignore this policy is that it has had little to no effect on rents at all. Is there any evidence to the contrary?The bottom line as I see it is that if we want to keep rents low and keep Chapel Hill affordable, we have to increase the overall housing supply, which is something the Town has not done very well.

When LUMO was being debated, the council pointed out issues with crowded student housing: parking and trash cans being left out were 2 of them (I suppose noise and trash left on the yard are others).  It seemed that regulating who can live in a building was easier than enforcing the behaviors we want and don't want.  That didn't make sense to me at the time.  Mark was very passionate about it being the wrong way to address, but then he voted for the ordinance anyway.

From today's DTH:

“The student population is competing with working families for properties and we have to figure out a way to serve both communities,” said Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell.As a UNC alumna, Bell said she understands housing is one of the biggest costs students have when they come to college.But Bell said if there is a house where students can pay $600 to $1,000 in rent per bedroom, it’s not an affordable rental property for a family.“A mom and a dad and two kids cannot compete with the income of four adults,” she said.

If parking and noise are the issues, there have to be better policy and enforcement measures that can be implemented to specificially target those issues (in fact, we've seen this with the new parking restrictions that are now in effect in Northside and Pine Knolls). More can also certainly be done to educate students about these issues, and I hope that we see a full discussion with students, community members, and University officials all at the table to come up with effective policy solutions as a result of this petition, even if it is ultimately decided that this ordinance should remain in effect.But my point is that if folks are going to defend this ordinance as a means to keep rents lower, I'd like to see some numbers that support that claim, because it appears to me that rents have not stagnated or lowered as a result of this policy, and that students and landlords are continuing to violate this ordinance regardless, so the rents for those houses remain higher and out of reach for families in our community, which is a serious problem that requires effective solutions, not policies that result in more people in our town having a hard time finding a place to live. Ultimately, if the Town and the community members defending this ordinanace are serious about making Chapel Hill affordable for all people and families, the solution is to increase housing supply, which is something the Town has not adequately done (which is why we have seen rents continue to rise despite policies like this one, and why we have seen families forced to leave our community). Density makes cities more affordable, for both families and students. 

I worked hard during the LUMO process to get this changed, but as James points out, I wasn't ultimately successful.  We may have had a straw vote on this specific issue, and I lost.  I was actually making headway with other council members right up to the end.  I ended up voting for LUMO because it was an enactment of a collection of policies of which this was just one.  I wasn't going to vote against RCD expansion, NCD creation and steep slope protection because of this.  I did receive acknowledgement from other council members that they understood in concept that this policy was overly broad and there was hope that enforcement of noise, parking and trash regs would improve.Over the years the ordinance was modified to include domestic partners, adoption and foster relationships.Follow me on Twitter @MayorMarkK or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/groups/91222152476?ap=1 or http://www.facebook.com/mark.kleinschmidt

It's unlikely that the  purpose of the policy was to hold rents down. More likely is that the town wants to protect neighborhoods from some of the undesireable effects of a two or three bedroom apartment being occupied by seven adults. That affects neighbors (noise, traffic, access to common areas and facilities like laundry machines, parking lots and swimming pools) and landlords should care about fairness in that regard.As to the issue of developing more affordable housing - we need it and we need creative approaches far beyond just building more, The idea the town "hasn't done this very well" would suggest that the town is a real estate developer. It isn't. The town's job here is to fairly regulate development in a way that protects what's best about Chapel Hill and creates mechanisms for revenue to hold the cost of living here to an affordable level. No reasonable person can believe that overpopulated apartment complexes is consistent with a great quality of life in the community overall.What we need for the town to do is strike a better balance of developing commercial spaces to bring a more diverse tax base to Chapel Hill while protecting our wonderful Village-That-Really-Isn't-A-Village. Doing this IS a policy that will help hold the line on the affordability of living here. It's a mistake to see any of these things in a vacuum - each separate from the others. Jean BolducChapel Hill

I'm confident that Chapel Hill is not seeing "two or three bedroom apartment being occupied by seven adults." Rather, there are 5- and 6-bedroom houses for rent that are being occupied by 5 and 6 students.And I'm not suggesting the town is a developer. The Town regulates development, and we have seen the development process in Chapel Hill take an incredibly long time for many different types of developments - including the commercial development that you reference (which, I agree, Chapel Hill also needs in order to improve affordability).The development process has made it difficult for developers to build in Chapel Hill, which has resulted in a two-fold effect that has diminished the affordability of our town: Property taxes have had to increase because of a lack of sales tax revenue while rents have also increased due to increased demand for housing and an inadequate increase in supply to meet that demand. Streamlining the development process and creating reasonable timelines that don't stretch on for years is a step in the right direction to addressing both of these issues that are signficantly impacting the affordability of Chapel Hill. 

I'm quite sure I agree with you, Travis, about 5 or 6 adults occupying a 5 BR house ... what's the problem with that? As I was growing up, we occupied a five BR house with a family of six. I can see no compelling public policy excuse for the town prohibiting an owner who would want to rent such a house to 5 or 6 adults. If a couple has four kids and they all grown up and continue to live at home, paying rent to their parents, someone should get evicted?I'm surprised to learn if that's what the ordinance is meant to prohibit, but appreciate the education nonetheless. How are the fraternities/sororities exempted from that?I also agree that development regulation should be reasonable, efficient and meant to encourage quality, not discourage development overall. The towns that do this well ... they exist, right? Jean Bolduc
Chapel Hill

Thank you for this post Travis.  I think it does a great job in posing the issue without advocating a particular position.  As a renter in CH/Carrboro for the past six years, I understand the
change in culture and distinct separation between some historic
neigborhoods and apartment complexes.  These differences however do not
and should not preclude students from living in the nieghborhood.  If a
property owner wants to rent out their house to anyone, they have that
right.The cases that have come under scrutiny in the past few
months are having to do with students living in a rental home within a
neigborhood.  In the past year or so, I've heard a lot of angles argued
against this style of occupancy in general from both a town official and
the citizenry.  It seems to me that this ordinance is a manifestation
of a larger issue that affects Chapel Hill between the students and
nuclear families and other residents.Some might think that the
best policy is to regulate students to university property, or no
students can live off-campus until the dorms are at capacity.  I've
heard both of these ideas espoused before, and as a former student at
UNC who lived off-campus for 3 of 4 years, it is prohibitive of my right
to live where I please.   I agree with Ms. Bolduc about the
intention of the policy overall (albeit the example is hyperbole), but I
think the intention varies depending on who you talk to in town.  I've
heard that it all started because of cars being overparked in lawns and
makeshift driveways, a fire hazard, rent stabilization, a blue law
against brothels, etc.  Either way, it seems that the ordinance no
longer is operating as originally intended.  If we limit the
occupancy to under the NC standards (which I THINK is 5) then we are
diluting the ability for denser development.  Denser development seems
to be a priority of the town officials from the increase in special use
permits issued for apt style housing and complexes.  If this is the way
in which the town wants to go, then allow for a denser occupancy.  If the neigborhoods see student housing as a phenomenon with undesirables and negative impacts on the historic district, then allow for denser occupancy to concentrate the occupancy of them.  Not to mention that raising the occupancy rate per household would be a step in the right direction to increasing public transit accessibility on our major corridors.I think that the ordinance does not accomplish what it was originally intended to do.  I think that at one time, maybe it was needed.  The fact is though that our town is growing every year.  UNC is enrolling a steadily increasing amount of students over a long period of time.  UNC itself is sprawling "into Chapel Hill."  We need to find a happy medium to allow for this melding process to occur.  If we limit housing options for students, we will need to compromise one way or the other.  Denser housing to "protect" historic neighborhoods, or allow for the dissolution of students into said neighborhoods.  There can't be both.  Evicting students and fining landlords is not a sustainable solution to this issue.  Now we need to discuss all options to find one.

If the problem is noise, enforce noise laws.  If the problem is trash enforce trash laws.  If  the problem is parking enforce parking laws.  if the problem is inadequate laws about the above, then pass adequate  laws.  Students are not the only ones who might need to live together to save money and share expenses.  If the problem is objectionable behavior, then deal with  the objectionable behavior.    Anita Badrock 


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