Local News

Flooded Chapel Hill residents struggle to find affordable rentals

Posted July 11, 2013

— Aaron Sibilla is thankful that he was unhurt when his family’s apartment in Camelot Village flooded during heavy rains last week, but he can't ignore what they lost.

“We escaped with the clothes on our back. We’re alive,” he said. “It’s been condemned completely.”

Sibilla and his wife are now on the hunt for a new, affordable rental apartment. It’s a formidable challenge in affluent Chapel Hill, where census data shows the median household income is $58,415.

“Me and my wife are both disabled and have a very limited income,” Sibilla said Tuesday. “It’s been really hard finding a place, especially in Chapel Hill.”

That’s because the town already had a lack of affordable rental housing long before the flood, which happened after more than 5 inches of rain fell within 19 hours on June 30.

Affordable rental hard to come by for flooded Chapel Hill residents Affordable rentals hard to come by in Chapel Hill

According to the town’s most recent data, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment was $772 in 2010. The average rent for two-bedroom apartment was $926.

“Many of the units that were affected were some of our lower-cost units, so those families are looking for units that are comparable, and they’re having difficulty finding those,” said Tara Fikes, director of the Orange County Department of Housing, Human Rights and Community Development.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said elected leaders are well aware of the issue and have been attempting to tackle it since the early 1990s.

“Have we been successful? No, I don’t think we have,” Kleinschmidt said. “I think there’s a lot of work to do.”

He said at the heart of the issue is high demand that pushes up prices and the town’s lack of legal authority to control it.

“State law prevents us from setting rent rates,” Kleinschmidt said. “We can’t do that. You can do it in New York. We can’t do that in North Carolina.”

Kleinschmidt created a task force last spring to come up with creative solutions and said he’s optimistic about the results. The Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing met Thursday morning to continue working on the goal.

Meanwhile, Orange County authorities have appealed to the public to help find affordable rental units for the 150 residents who were displaced by flooding in Camelot Village and other apartments and town houses in the Estes Drive area. Fikes' department last week requested property managers, apartment communities or homeowners who have vacant units for rent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area to come forward.

Displaced residents say they have to find what they can and hope the price is something they can live with.

“We really want to get our independence back and start our lives over,” Sibilla said.


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  • isaacewallace Jul 12, 2013

    The mayor and town council are to busy approving high end housing like Shortbread Lofts under construction on Rosemary St. and Greenbridge on Graham street.The next reduction of affordable housing will be the demolition of Glen Lennox apts.

  • pagevanessam Jul 12, 2013

    I thought we lived where we could afford to live? I didn't know towns owed us cheaper housing options so that we could be where we wanted! Silly me...

  • mpheels Jul 12, 2013

    The problem is not lack of rent control. The problem is that there is not enough supply to keep up with demand, and the housing that is available is out of line with the incomes of those seeking housing. The town keeps approving luxury condos, many of which are vacant, and many more are sold to out of town owners who use them as crash pads for sporting events. Meanwhile, the mid-range rental market is at capacity and there are almost no condos or houses priced within reach of the average salary. Any time a house goes on the market for less than $200K, it's sold within days. The town has such a strangle hold on development, it takes years to get anything approved, so developers only attempt high end projects that give them more bang for their buck. I'm all for smart, measured growth, but this community desperately needs more retail and moderately priced housing.

  • jenakids2007 Jul 12, 2013

    they already have public housing in chapel hill it is intentionally spread all through town and isnt very obvious in its signage

  • DickHefner Jul 12, 2013

    oleguy, you're certainly not dumb. You're among the bright ones. Live long and prosper oleguy!
    Live within your means. Such a simple idea. A fool and his money soon shall part.

  • DickHefner Jul 12, 2013

    I don't really believe that it is anyone's intention to keep anyone out of chapel hill. Individuals choose where they want to live based on what they like and can afford. The market decides which direction an area grows in. Government intervention is what causes the real problems. An effect of government and politics is that it confuses very simple facts about supply and demand and personal choices which are overwhelmingly tied very closely to income levels. If I can afford to buy a new Ferrari I am more likely to buy one. If I can afford to buy an older model Honda then that's what I will buy. Some people will be foolish and reach beyond their means, some will do the smart thing and live within their means whatever that level is.

  • DickHefner Jul 12, 2013

    tarheelfan41, I too am a huge tarheel fan. Building a housing project is not the right idea. That is just fodder for bigger government. Letting a free market economy decide how the ball bounces is the best way. Setting a minimum wage will not work. If in theory CH made employers pay $25 per hour that would only cause prices to rise higher, when people can afford to pay more prices will rise. It is supply side economics 101. Most folks just will not or can not believe this very very very basic concept.

  • DickHefner Jul 12, 2013

    wakewiseone- Your leaving CH is exactly what will change things there so good for you for being a part of the change. If people stop paying the higher tax rates and higher home prices they will go down. Supply and demand always wins, but its not overnight. There will always be places with higher home prices and that's where the well to do will live because they can afford it. You can't legislate true equality in housing. People who can afford more won't participate. People of lower means would like to believe that they wouldn't be that way if they were of higher means, but statistically MOST would gravitate towards higher priced living. Its all about preference and ability to pay. Change is slow. I like Chapel Hill and could afford to live there, but I wouldn't because I have no desire to live in that type of environment. I won't live in a neighborhood with an HOA either. Not my bag.

  • rocket Jul 12, 2013

    The market should dictate housing prices. If you can't afford to live in Chapel Hill, move to another city or, gasp, find a place in a rural area. There are plenty of places I cannot afford to live but I don't expect tax payers to make up the difference so I can move there.

  • DickHefner Jul 12, 2013

    I believe setting rental rates is a bad idea. That is one of the main things about a free economy. Supply and demand helps set prices. Not government intervention. When the government gets involved things get screwy fast. If you can't afford to live in Chapel Hill, then you should find housing where you can afford to live. I'd like to live in Beverly Hills, can the government help me pay my rent or subsidize my life style. Unfortunately there will always always always be those with more and those with less. Its always been that way and always will. No amount of effort or government meddling will change it. Please stop wasting tax dollars trying.