By Andrea Wuerth
“They will continue to build two story residences right across the street from you for students to live because, as the developer told me, it’s more economical to rent to students than to families.”
It was a beautiful sunny fall afternoon in Northside and the tiny party was in full swing. On the corner lot at Sykes and Craig, builders and sponsors were showcasing the brand new floor plans of what once was a three-bedroom family home, and will soon be two homes under one roof. These two tiny houses will give someone who otherwise would never be able to move to downtown Chapel Hill a tiny piece of some prime real estate. Rent is only a few hundred dollars a month per unit.
On this October day, contractors chatted with curious residents about tiny floor plans; fair housing activists served up barbecue on tiny buns; and kids ran around dipping tiny wands into tiny bubble dispensers, blowing tiny bubbles at each other: tiny props celebrating a very big deal.
Some would say the big deal is that the university and other community organizations with money to lend recognized the need to provide affordable housing to low income individuals and families who want to live in Chapel Hill.
Others might say it’s a big deal that local activists persisted over years in getting the university to pay attention to this need. Now they are able to offer resources, financial and other, to help low-income homeowners make property tax payments and repairs.
Without minimizing the role that so many played in the construction of two 350-square-foot houses just blocks from Franklin Street, none of it would have happened had not someone decided to give back rather than to do what most would have done—make a bit of money on the sale of a property.
The biggest deal of all are the heroes whose names very few know: the Northside home owners who sacrificed the fruits of their investment for the community of the future: Tasha and Theresa Edwards, who sold their quadraplex to the landbank way below market value so that they will remain permanently affordable; and Annie Hargett, who held on to her houses so they wouldn’t be lost to developers; and Paul Caldwell, who has refused developers’ offers since, as he puts it: “My home is a rock and I shall not be moved.” And there are more and will be more, following the way made straight by Tasha, Theresa, Annie, Paul and other heroes.
This handful of people wanted to make sure the house in which they grew up would not be sold to the highest bidder, but would continue to house people who otherwise could not afford to live in the neighborhood they love. Their generosity and kindness brings so much joy to so many families. Their act of love is spreading the love all over Northside and beyond.
This moment and others like it in the last year or so are turning the tide of gentrification. As state senator Valerie Foushee put it: we’ve witnessed “a transformation from dreams to hope, from hope to promise and from promise to reality.” And the spirit of generosity will live on in Northside for generations to come.
Andrea Wuerth is a volunteer participant in the Center’s Learning Across Generations local history curriculum and our Oral History Archive. She agreed to let us post her blog entry after archiving Hollywood’s oral history interview. Access to Andrea’s full blog can be found here.