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September 2005
COMING HOME TO CHAPEL HILL
AND CARRBORO

By Chancellor James Moeser The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for The Chapel Hill Herald

 

About 60 percent of Carolina faculty and staff live outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we know from surveys that some of them would like to live here. For many, housing prices in this community have precluded their owning a home.

We intend to build new housing for UNC faculty and staff on a portion of a 63-acre tract that we own close to Carolina North. Last week, the university’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved use of this property north of Homestead Road as a site for reasonably priced employee housing – the first step in our effort to build a neighborhood. Detailed planning for the site will now begin.

The university’s future success depends on our ability to attract and retain the highest-caliber faculty and staff. This wonderful community is a major asset in that regard.

Carolina Commons, as we are calling this new endeavor, would provide a range of housing options in an effort to best accommodate the budgets and needs of a varied faculty and staff. We envision a neighborhood of approximately 140 single-family homes, town homes and condominiums priced so more of our employees can afford them. A lot of the details will come as we work with our faculty and staff to develop the neighborhood plan.

Our goal is to provide reasonably priced quality homes for members of the Carolina faculty and staff to make it easier for them to buy a home in one of the state’s most robust housing markets. This neighborhood will be our first venture in building homes for faculty and staff, but I hope not our last. Universities across the country are increasingly making this kind of commitment to their employees.

On campus this week, we have heard positive reaction to this news. Informal conversations with faculty and staff alike indicate there is excitement about the prospect of Carolina Commons. “Where do I sign up?,” some have asked enthusiastically. “Is it too late to be included?”

In keeping with our fiduciary and community responsibilities, we will continue to explore opportunities to use university assets appropriately to benefit our faculty and staff. As we increase their options for reasonably priced housing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, we will continue to honor our commitment to partner with community leaders, neighbors and others to work for solutions to address the important issues facing our regions.

Shorter commutes and increased engagement in Chapel Hill and Carrboro by people who work here benefit them and also those of us already living here. Moving more Carolina faculty and staff into homes of their own here “in town” is a must for the university’s continued excellence.

Improved access to housing nearer to the university can only strengthen Carolina’s recruitment and retention of top faculty and staff.

Like many of you, those who come to work at Carolina wish to find a home close to the campus and within the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district. They’ve chosen to work at a major research university and they anticipate living in an energized and dynamic community.

As I told the Board of Trustees this week, if we do this well and do this right, it will inform the process for what we plan to do on a larger scale at Carolina North.

From a practical standpoint, increasing the number of UNC employees living within the Chapel Hill Transit service area is key to our transportation strategy. We know, too, that campuses thrive when faculty and staff are positioned to easily and naturally include the campus and surrounding areas in their non-work activities and time.

While salary is most often cited when talk turns to faculty/staff recruitment and retention, quality of life, too, is a strong factor in the equation. Meeting the expectation of faculty and staff that they might actually be able to afford to live and raise their families near their campus home would benefit the university. 

For those faculty and staff members who are choosing to drive to Carolina because cost has represented a barrier to homeownership in the area, we want to provide Carolina Commons as a viable alternative to longer commutes.

It’s always good to see a faculty member and her family or a staff member and friends walking on campus, strolling Franklin Street or picnicking on the lawn at Weaver Street and enjoying a midday or evening concert.

Enhancing opportunities for more faculty and staff to live here will strengthen the sense of community enjoyed between the campus and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers may contact him at jmoeser@unc.edu.





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