Oh, no, poor people in Cary!

My hometown of Cary, NC (Containment Area for Relocated Yankees) comes in for a lot of criticism for being a bunch of snobby, elite, white people.  Not true!  Okay, not true, at least in my part of Cary, as I’ve written about when discussing my kids’ schools.  But, alas, it looks like some Cary-ites in the wealthier western part of town cannot even stomach lower income folks living near them.  From an Op-Ed in today’s N&O, this is just pathetic:

This week’s decision by the Cary Planning and Zoning Board to recommend that the Town Council deny a rezoning request by Habitat for Humanity of Wake County is disappointing. Through its connections with a local church, Habitat Wake acquired 2 ½ acres of land and planned to build 23 townhomes but needed the land rezoned. Some neighbors complained and Habitat held several community meetings to hear their concerns.

After the meetings, Habitat Wake amended its plans and proposed nine detached single family homes. The neighbors continued to complain about flooding and property values and this week the Planning and Zoning Board made a recommendation to deny Habitat’s request. While the board’s recommendation is not binding, it is a strong recommendation nonetheless. It would be a short-sighted move by the Town Council to deny the request, particularly since their recently approved Cary 2040 Community Plan calls for more affordable housing…

Next, let’s look at the policy. Local zoning laws can either be barriers or aids to development. Zoning laws that restrict where and how housing can be built are especially controversial. As advocates, we often hear local support for affordable housing, as long as it is “not in my backyard”. NIMBYism is difficult for even a respected and conscientious developer like Habitat to overcome. Local governments must take leadership and really examine where their zoning decisions are restricting housing based out of fear rather than health and safety concerns.

Habitat Wake went through a great deal of effort to be responsive to neighbors. It was transparent about the quality of its building methods and how homeowners are chosen. It is the responsibility of the Town Council to honestly weigh factors like bias when considering the zoning request. Kevin Campbell, President/CEO of Habitat Wake commented, “Throughout this process, we have held the legitimate development concerns of the surrounding neighborhood in high regard. We reduced density from our original proposal by 65 percent. We eliminated attached housing units from the proposal based on concerns about compatibility. Twice we adopted plans that were suggested by neighbors only to have that support dropped leading us to the conclusion that there is perhaps an underlying concern about welcoming the future residents to the neighborhood.” [emphasis mine]

As I wrote in my email to Cary’s mayor, let’s not have our town actually live up to the ugly stereotype about us.  Also, of note.  Literally the next street over from mine is Habitat homes.  Good by me, obviously.  It’s just a nice, little, neighborhood with somewhat smaller homes than the rest of the area.  Literally zero problems in 15 years.  But, who knows, maybe it’s been keeping my own property value down because bigots are freaked out by having lower-income people nearby.  Then again, bigots would not be happy in my neighborhood.  Anyway, this is only one side of the story, but it’s a pretty damning side.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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