Nestled in a humid forest at the midpoint between the Appalachian Mountains and the mighty Atlantic, the Research Triangle of North Carolina has attracted migrants for decades. Raleigh’s growth has been particularly impressive: Between 2010-20, the Raleigh-Cary metropolitan area grew by 23%, the second-fastest growth rate in the country. Yet just down the road from Raleigh, and despite its magnificent tree canopy and a great university, Chapel Hill did not grow at all. The reason for this failure was housing policy.

A house in Chapel Hill is likely to be almost as expensive as in the notoriously costly region of Southern California. Because of this expense, the artists, graduate students and junior faculty who once made Chapel Hill a shining gem of Southern intellectualism have been priced out of the town, replaced one for one by wealthy people in a trade-off that left the town’s population stagnant. If students, let alone the poor, cannot afford to live in a town that styles itself the capital of Blue North Carolina, there are legitimate questions about whether the town’s liberalism is truly operative.

Alexander H. Jones is a Policy Analyst with Carolina Forward. He lives in Chapel Hill.