Chapel Hill Voters Approve Bond to Increase K-12 Housing Stability

 North Carolina voters in line at a Raleigh polling place in 2016 ( Image )

North Carolina voters in line at a Raleigh polling place in 2016 (Image)

 

Chapel Hill voters in the midterm elections a week ago overwhelmingly approved a $10 million affordable housing bond, with 72.55% voting in favor of the proposal. This bond will support the construction of 400 affordable housing units, maintain 300 existing units, and prioritize the housing needs of residents with less than 60% of the median income in Chapel Hill.

The need for this bond is largely understood by UNC students. As many college students in Chapel Hill can attest, rent for even a modest home can be extremely expensive. In fact, more than half of Chapel Hill residents dedicate more than 30 percent of their income to rent. These high rent prices have historically been driven up by the growing demand for off-campus housing by Carolina students whose middle-class families can foot the bill that some of the long-term or permanent residents in the town cannot. Students who’ve scrambled to secure housing in late fall for the upcoming year have “first-hand knowledge” of the housing instability that exists in Chapel Hill. Therefore, they should also consider the ways in which the new housing bond could benefit the families who live in our community year-round.

One of the potential groups to benefit from this bond, we speculate, is the growing number of homeless K-12 students in North Carolina. From 2013 to 2017, for which the most recent data is available, the homeless student population in our state grew from 24,492 to 29,545 students.

There is plenty of evidence demonstrating the negative correlation between housing instability and educational achievement. First, students suffering from poor attendance score lower on standardized tests than their peers at the state and district levels. Students suffering from homelessness are typically absent more often, sometimes missing up to one entire month per school year. Furthermore, suffering from homelessness is associated with a decline in mental health. Half of all students in these circumstances develop depression and anxiety, and 20% of preschoolers in the same situation require professional care in order to treat their mental health. The inability to fully address these mental health problems can lead to higher dropout rates, lower educational attainment, and chronic absence, which compounds the low attendance rating already accompanying students suffering from homelessness. Thus, preventing homelessness, particularly in student populations, bolsters the academic success of our students and improves their lives by promoting their health and wellbeing.

To be clear, this bond only affects Chapel Hill residents. However, we already know that the housing market in Chapel Hill particularly affects families, considering that a family of four earning 80 percent of the median income in Chapel Hill cannot afford 75 percent of the available rental and for-sale housing. Last Tuesday, voters signaled that the people of Chapel Hill do care about the families and children suffering from insecure housing and homelessness. This outcome gives us hope that in the future more students statewide with insecure housing might be privy to more resources if and when similar political attitudes are expressed and political actions are taken. Bond measures may be more popular in towns that skew liberal, like Chapel Hill, yet we remain optimistic that voters across the state will back similar measures in order to support those suffering from homelessness and, indirectly, support the educational success of North Carolina’s young students as a whole.