In three months, Alanna Davis will pack up her home, load her life into a moving truck, and drive 150 miles southeast to Wilmington, where the housing costs are about three times cheaper than in the Triangle.

“It’s bittersweet,” Davis told the INDY. “My partner grew up in Chapel Hill—this has been home for him—but we just can’t afford to live here anymore. While moving to Wilmington is exciting, an adventure, it’s also pretty bitter to be priced out of a community we have deep roots in.”

Davis is one of the lucky ones. Her current job, as a community organizer for nonprofit Carolina Jews for Justice allows her to work remotely, so she’s able to live almost anywhere. She also has financial support from her family as she looks for a new home, a place she can buy and invest in long-term.

But many of her neighbors don’t have those advantages, Davis says. The people who live in Regent Place, a group of aging duplexes around a cul-de-sac on Old Fayetteville Road in Chapel Hill, are teachers, single moms, people with special needs, and working-class families.

“I’m thinking a lot about my neighbors who don’t have backup plans, [who don’t have] flexibility in their budgets,” Davis says.

Davis and her neighbors are being forced out of their homes because of an all-too-common phenomenon in today’s housing market: local property owners selling to big companies.

As the Triangle grows, property owners can make a quick buck from investors looking to capitalize on the demand for housing. It’s a tempting prospect, especially if they’re unable to maintain the property themselves. A million-dollar check can be a lot more appealing than constant visits to fix the roof.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in this case. Last fall, the owner of Regent Place, a local landlord with an LLC, sold the property and it is now managed by the global conglomerate Greystar. That new owner, California-based Folsom Gateway Associates L.P., is raising rents by nearly 20 percent.

“They initially wanted to take mine from $1,210 to $1,550,” says Heather Ray. “If we went month-to-month, our rent would be $1,900.”

After protest from residents, the new owner agreed to cap rent increases at $200. But that’s still out of Ray’s price range, she says. Ray and her partner struggle to make ends meet as it is.

Greystar, in a response to a request for comment from the INDY said in an email that the rent increases will pay for an “improvement program” to the property.

“We appreciate that the rapidly changing real estate market is a cause for concern to our Regent Place residents,” a spokesperson for Greystar wrote. “It is our desire to see the Regent Place community prosper as we improve our environment and facilities. … Paying higher prices is never welcome but it is a reality of our current times. We are committed to working with our residents to cushion the impact of these increases and provide as much notice as possible.”

But residents say, in the pandemic economy, providing notice isn’t enough.

“I’m an elderly undergrad student,” Ray says. “I work part-time and I get a housing stipend. But because of the pandemic, that has been several months behind. [And] there’s only so many hours I can work while I’m going to school.”

Davis has also had a tough time affording her rent, she says. Like Ray, she was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I lost my job at the beginning of the pandemic, so I make about $20,000 less than I did when I moved into this place,” Davis says. “I’m hard-pressed to even afford the rent without that increase because of the impact the pandemic has had on me. I just can’t afford a $200 increase.”

Millennials today know that renting a home in the Triangle is a long, frustrating, and often expensive process. As of February, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment was $1,342, putting it out of reach of anyone who makes less than $54,000 a year.

The best option for many is to split the cost of a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, a partner, or both. Even then, market rent ($1,536 for a two-bedroom) can be unaffordable for people who make less than $30,000 a year.

Demand for housing means investors usually don’t have trouble finding people to rent expensive apartments. When the residents of Regent Place continued to protest rent hikes, they received a letter in return stating that “​​the [lease] renewal rates offered are below current market rent.”

That may be true, Davis says, but it doesn’t help her or her neighbors, who can’t afford market rent.

“Our wages aren’t impacted by the market value of real estate,” she says. “[Greystar] took a risk buying these places but didn’t at all consider the human element, the impact that was gonna be had on the humans that live [here].” 

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Greystar manages Regent Place but is not the owner. The property owner is California-based Folsom Gateway Associates L.P.

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