Durham Public Service Company Streetcar - c.1925

Meta is coming to Durham. Let’s talk about housing.

On Monday, WRAL reported that Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram – is planning a “significant presence” in Durham.

Meta’s announcement follows Google and Apple announcing their plans to build Triangle-based offices. All are further evidence that the growth of the Triangle will not stop anytime soon and that inaction on housing and transit will only intensify sprawl and push lower-income households farther from job centers.

So what does this mean for the Bull City?

It’s possible that these arrivals will bring more opportunities for public-private partnerships for job training, and it’s possible that our new tech employees can help put pressure on our increasingly regressive state legislative body. This would be good for North Carolina.

But with tech jobs — which pay more than other jobs in our region —  comes a series of other questions:

  • Will the arrival of these new companies add strain to the ongoing worker shortage?
  • What are the economic development incentive packages being offered? What is Durham getting in return?
  • What are Durham and Wake and Orange doing to ensure that we have attainably priced homes for everyone, not just tech workers who are paid on a different scale?
  • What happens to our transportation system, which is already overtaxed, without substantial investment in other solutions to take cars off the road (like light rail?)

Amazon funds a housing grant in Maryland. Meta pledged $1 billion in 2019 to ease the housing crisis in California.  We want to see similar negotiating in the Triangle — so that our research universities and the communities around them can continue to thrive.

In many ways, North Carolina is well suited for having these conversations.

We have long been a hub for tech companies. Research Triangle Park (RTP), the largest research park in the United States, launched in 1959 and is now home to more than 300 companies. 60 years ago, North Carolina was forward-thinking in making space for scientific research, as industries like agriculture and textiles declined after World War II.

The Triangle was a natural fit. We have strong research centers and universities and — at the time — a lot of land where new graduates could live and work.

We’ve seen these investments in economic development pay substantial dividends, both for the Triangle and the state. The 7,000 acre campus in RTP is now home to over 300 companies, and tech companies have spread throughout the Triangle.

The population of our three core counties in the Triangle – Wake, Durham, and Orange – has grown substantially since 1960, and Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham now rank among the highest educated communities in the United States.

But with Meta, Apple, and Google moving in — we must change. We must change our zoning rules. We must focus on affordability, housing, and infrastructure. We have watched what’s happened in Silicon Valley — only the highest paid tech workers can afford to live there, and everyone else is pushed farther and farther out.

That’s already happening here. The suburbs of Raleigh are quickly reaching the outskirts of Fayetteville. Commutes are getting longer and more expensive. Housing prices are pushing people out and away from critical goods and services. Sprawling developments that exacerbate climate change are eating up farmland, forests, and rural areas. Income inequalities are rising.

But the Triangle has a choice:

We can fight new houses and apartments and duplexes where people live. Or we can welcome growth and change our zoning rules to accommodate it.

The success of the Triangle is not guaranteed

We only need to look north to Richmond VA,  which has barely grown since 1960, or at any number of cities in the Midwest to see what stagnant or negative growth looks like. While housing may be more affordable in those communities, jobs are also harder to find, and city services are increasingly difficult to maintain. In Pennsylvania, state universities are merging due to a decline in the number of students.

Here, things are different. Already, the Hub RTP project promises to bring housing to the core of the Triangle. City leaders in Raleigh and Durham are making it easier to build much needed housing in our neighborhoods and downtowns.

When RTP was created, there was widespread consensus that we should welcome growth. State leaders wanted a future in which we had a strong, diverse economy, leading to higher incomes and greater prosperity for all.

Now, more than sixty years later, it’s time to have that conversation again.