Off-campus housing is a rite of passage for many. But the leases available are often limited and often lead to permanent residential quarters.
In Chapel Hill, where unique racial history impacts current housing, historically black neighborhoods like Northside and Pine Knolls have felt the effects of gentrification.
In the middle of the 19th century, slaves who built UNC and their descendants lived in these areas. Many of the neighborhoods’ current residents belong to families who have lived in the community for generations. In recent years, the number of black residents has dropped due to displacement.
Local nonprofits have spearheaded efforts to create mutually respectful relationships between longtime residents and student tenants, but some community leaders say more could be accomplished with student membership.
Evolution of neighborhoods
From Northside’s origins as a working-class enclave, it grew into a tight-knit community that worked extensively for the university and Carrboro’s textile industry during the 20th century. In the 1960s and 1970s, Northside residents were active in the civil rights movement, leading a wage strike for campus food service workers among many other efforts.
Robert Campbell has seen Northside change throughout his life.
“The Northside I grew up in is not the Northside you see when you come to Northside now,” he said.
Campbell is the president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, a community organization that organizes efforts such as food pantries, after-school tutoring and other activities for the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood — another historically black community.
In the 1970s, Chapel Hill created a landfill in the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood in exchange for recreational facilities and infrastructure. The City has not acted on a resolution to set aside land for affordable and mixed-use housing as well as low-intensity commercial development on the 164-acre lot near Roger-Eubanks called Greene Tract, until November 2021. .
In the community of Northside, where Campbell grew up, developers began buying properties in the 1990s and selling them to investors who rented them out to students at prices that were unaffordable to residents.
An article titled “An Introduction to Northside History” by the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, an organization that works to preserve and build community in the historically black neighborhoods of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, explains the phenomenon of college students starting to rent Northside.
“Oversized construction, predatory sales and the emergence of a student rental market that thrived on the flagrant violation of occupancy codes followed,” the article said.
In 2004, the city created the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District, a zoning overlay district that limits house sizes to encourage area-compatible development.
Even so, Northside’s black population has declined sharply. The census documents 1,159 black residents in 1980, which fell to 690 in 2010, according to the City of Chapel Hill.
Noting the conversion of single-family homes into rental properties for students, the Town Hall implemented a development moratorium from 2011 to 2012.
Campbell points to the residents of Black Northside who, despite development displacing them, have continued to invest in the community.
“Through gentrification, we haven’t just gone to bed,” Campbell said. “We stood up trying to do everything we could to say, ‘Hey, see me. We are here. That’s what we offer.
The hunt for off-campus student accommodation
The University requires all freshmen to live on campus. When moving off-campus, the housing options consist mostly of apartment complexes, luxury apartments, and houses.
Last year’s scramble to find off-campus housing when the University quickly transitioned to distance learning only and reduced the number of on-campus student housing posed further complications to the current student rental landscape. .
UNC senior Charlotte Dorn was one of many students who sought new accommodations after the semester moved online.
Dorn moved from Lark Chapel Hill, an off-campus apartment complex, to a house on Sunset Drive in the Northside neighborhood. She was brought into contact with the place through a search that began on a local rental housing website.
She had never rented a house before and didn’t know much about the place. But the rent for the house was much cheaper than her space in Lark, she said.
After Dorn and his two housemates moved into the Northside house, they discovered that a family had lived there before them. Graduate student neighbors told them about the previous occupants. They met many neighbors while doing homework remotely from their yard.
She began a process of self-education that included college courses on gentrification and learning about Northside history.
“I’m more aware of that and felt a responsibility to figure out what we could do as students about it,” Dorn said. “Or what we could do to not make the problem worse.”
What students can do
For students moving to a gentrified part of town with no knowledge of the area or history, there are ways to make the most of the situation.
Several local nonprofit organizations work to preserve the history of the historically black Chapel Hill neighborhood and foster mutual respect between longtime residents and students, including the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, the Community Empowerment Fund, and EMPOWERment, Inc.
Delores Bailey is the executive director of EMPOWERment, Inc., an organization that focuses on housing justice and economic development in historically black neighborhoods.
Bailey, who grew up in Northside and currently resides there, won the 2021 Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award. She recommends that students get involved in non-profit organizations and look for ways to help.
Students can be respectful tenants, she says, including letting neighbors know ahead of time if they’re having a party and respecting the property itself.
“Coming in and out without ever paying attention to the community is just as much a disservice as leaving your red mugs on your porch and making noise and leaving your trash outside,” Bailey said.
Students can also participate in the Good Neighbor Initiative, a program that fosters respectful relationships between student tenants and permanent residents through a neighborhood walk and barbecue in Northside.
The GNI began in 2004 and is a partnership between UNC, the cities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, EMPOWERment, Inc., the Jackson Center, and other community partners.
A small action that can have a big impact is simply saying hello to neighbors, Bailey said.
Chapel Hill resident Keith Edwards expressed similar sentiments in a 2011 oral history interview focused on gentrification with the Jackson Center’s “History of Homes” initiative. Edwards had lived her entire life in the same house on McDade Street in Northside until she moved to a house built with a Chapel Hill development grant.
Edwards said students move in and bring their own community instead of embracing the one that’s there. She said she usually approaches any white student who passes by, but she’s lucky if one or two talk to her.
“Even if you’re showing courtesy because that’s how you were raised and that’s what you do in a community and they don’t give it back to you, it’s a painful feeling,” said said Edwards.
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