One of the stranger things about Chapel Hill, a quintessential college town, is how many people here dislike college students. They dislike renters in general but have an extra level of contempt for students, who are widely regarded as rich brats with an unquenchable thirst for destroying the property values of the town’s landed gentry.

There is very little recognition that some students struggle to find and afford housing. Or that some students hold down jobs while attending UNC. Or that they are adults with agency and not wards of UNC who should have no choice but to live in a 60-year-old cinderblock dorm on campus.

Debates about housing in Chapel Hill invariably focus in part on the perceived threats posed by students: their noise, their cars, the unattractiveness of the homes they live in, and their transience (which, the thinking goes, means they are not invested in the community like homeowners are and the voices of students are thus less important than homeowners in local governance).

But which is worse: the students that leave red Solo cups in their lawn a little too long after a party, or the 50 percent of respondents to a recent survey on housing choices who when asked “What new types of housing could be added to your neighborhood as a good way to address the housing shortage?” replied “None”?

50 percent!

Given those choices, I’ll stand with the avocado toast addicts all day, everyday.

We searched the survey responses for mention of students. Here are 23 direct quotes that criticize students or suggest that housing for students is simply not important. Note the lack of concern about how housing costs affect students. Note the othering of students, and how they are unwelcome in neighborhoods, and how they are seen as different from and a threat to families.

  1. The proposed housing solution is not designed for “gentle housing ” in our neighborhoods. This is a design for more student housing in the middle of our single family neighborhoods. Middle income families will not want to live among an apartment full of students.
  2. I don’t want college students [to] live in my neighborhood. We have one home rented to students already and they drive over the speed limit, have lots of loud parties and are often publicly intoxicated. I don’t want anymore of that around my child.
  3. We can’t trust developers to do the right thing; their motivation and goal is profits. They’ll build housing for student rentals (we are fairly close to campus) and they will charge as much as the market will bear.
  4. The proposed changes have the potential to convert even wider swaths of Chapel Hill down to the lowest common denominator: bedrooms for students and commuters to RTP/Raleigh.
  5. Who will rent these structures?!?!? Students more than likely—-and park 10 cars in the yard and not clean up after parties.
  6. None of these choices fits into the character of CH. the ones that have been built are an eyesore. Aren’t there enough of these already? As has already been proven, the only people who can afford them are students who are here for a couple of years and then leave. They have no interest in preserving CH.
  7. The prospect of turning a significant portion of a neighborhood into rentals is worrisome in a college town.
  8. Neighborhoods in Chapel Hill with R1 zoning that are beloved for their green space will lose their trees and charm to luxury developments. Those close to campus may transform from family neighborhoods into student housing.
  9. Creating duplexes [or] triplexes near campus would just be high end rentals for students.
  10. We live adjacent to campus and the proposed changes would cause our family-oriented neighborhood to be all student housing.
  11. It doesn’t matter to me if Grad students need more ragers…. I bought into a single family neighborhood for a reason.
  12. I think that this plan will mainly increase housing for students, not for families. I think that the students who will mostly benefit from the added housing options will be from white families with higher incomes and abilities to pay higher rents. It is also likely that landlords will rent to more students in the smaller units than allowed. I don’t think this plan will help much with parking in our neighborhood either as every student living here seems to bring their car and their visitors also bring their cars. My family lives in a neighborhood where most of the homes have already been converted to rentals that hold dozens of students. It is common to see a small single family home with 8 or more cars in the driveway/yard and more spilling into the street. Parking, trash overflowing into storm drains, illegal dumping, and noise issues are at times big issues here.
  13. We have too many expensive and/or student-oriented rental properties. How can CH prevent any more huge, ugly, rental behemoths from being developed? I know they are cheaper to build but they are destroying the charm and the character of this town.
  14. The plan opens the door for more of what we already have: high-priced rentals that are aimed at students and high-paid, single or married couples without children.
  15. Established neighborhoods with large lots should not be developed to accommodate more student housing.
  16. Put the students back in on-campus dorms [WHERE THEY BELONG] and solve a major part of housing and traffic issues. Let the workers and their families back into homes that were effectively stolen by greedhead developers for “student housing”.
  17. I’m concerned this is nothing more than a back door way for UNC to get additional student housing funded by private real estate developers who own and rent that housing. In that scenario, UNC and developers win – and the town loses as the population becomes one of transient renters, turning over every 4 years.
  18. It is easy to envision these as being rented to students or worse used as short term rentals for UNC sporting events.
  19. Single family houses are being sold and becoming expensive student rentals, (owned by LLCs, whose only interest is profit), with too many occupants and too little care of the properties.
  20. The expensive student housing units at the end of our neighborhood already do not follow the existing occupancy, sanitation, and parking restrictions. How will this improve under the new plans?
  21. I worry about rentals because I think they might just be used for overpriced student rentals rather than affordable rentals for families.
  22. I think adding condos etc. into existing neighborhoods including my own is a great idea as long as it doesn’t just become student housing and is actually going to lower income families so that people who work in Chapel Hill can actually live in Chapel Hill.
  23. It should also be made clear that “small scale development” will likely all be rental units, which could include student housing e.g. for fraternities or sororities. The plan is discriminatory and will not solve the need for owner-occupied housing.


After this was posted, a twitterer noted that a small fraction of students behave poorly as neighbors, which needs to be address as well. We agreed and replied:

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Stephen Whitlow lives in Chapel Hill. Trained as an urban planner at DCRP, he works for a research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm and focuses on the areas of housing affordability, fair housing,...