Two articles in today's Chapel Hill News highlight Chapel Hill's shrinking African American population.
In our lead story today, staff writer Tammy Grub reports on work of a new group trying to preserve the character of the historically black Northside community. In 1980, 1,159 black residents called the area home; by 2010, there were just 690.
We have long reported the trend and those who attribute it to student encroachment, gentrification and other causes. To be fair, many of the older residents have died and passed on property to multiple heirs who have chosen to sell. At the same time, some community leaders say black middle class homebuyers moving to the region have chosen to live in other areas, such as Durham, where there is a large, thriving black community and cultural scene.
But an essay by UNC business professor Michael Jacobs on today's editorial page points to another reason for black flight.
Of the 25 largest counties in North Carolina, only two saw declines in their black population in the past decade -- and Orange County saw the biggest drop. The professor, a former U.S. Treasury official, says high taxes, overreliance on property taxes, and high government expenditures have made Orange County unaffordable to people of moderate and less means.
The professor did not mention the rural buffer, the ring around the urban southern part of the county past which water and sewer lines may not go. Critics say the buffer, which has preserved Orange County's rural character, has also artificially constrained housing supply, further driving up costs.
And last night, Carrboro aldermen grappled with their own affordability dilemma as the renovations and new owners of Collins Crossing challenge one of that town's affordable rental communities. The aldermen have formed a task force to look for answers, though the mayor says it is too late to affect what happens at Collins Crossing, the former Abbey Court condominiums.
Orange County's cost of living is the story right now, and for years to come. Work is under way to course correct: infrastructure is coming to the county's economic development districts to lure industry. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are embracing mixed use to help shift the tax base. But it will take more to hold on to and grow Orange County's shrinking racial diversity. The question is whether our leaders and the public that elects them are willing to take it on.
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