Former Planning Commission Chair Robert Mulder sent the following to City Council and has granted us permission to publish it.

It’s become popular among some groups to say that single-family zoning is a fetish and racist. There was an op-ed in the N&O (2/9/2020) entitled “Let’s quit fetishizing the single-family home.” Is Missing Middle Housing the answer? 

What’s keeping a lot of people – of all ethnic backgrounds – out of single-family neighborhoods are high prices. My subdivision, Brentwood, has a high degree of ethnic diversity. Maybe getting close to 50% non-white? Brentwood, once affordable, has also become unaffordable. In December 1994 the purchase price for our current home was $81,000. 

Missing Middle will not repair our history of racist redlining. With all the discussion of zoning’s racist past, there is surprisingly no discussion to ensure that zoning changes will result in more equitable and truly affordable housing choices. It appears that our racist past has been weaponized to support changes that in the end may do nothing to repair it other than providing more opportunities for the building industry. 

Supply, demand, and poorly focused density planning are causing a shortage of truly affordable housing – not zoning. 

There is a desperate need for truly affordable housing. Raleigh is creating a few hundred affordable units per year while the current loss of naturally affordable units is beyond 4000. 

In addition, you don’t just make wholesale changes to residential zoning without notifying the neighbors and giving them a chance to respond. I served on the UDO review committee back when it was being formed. I remember that when the remapping changes were proposed for commercially zoned areas, all those commercial property owners were notified about the potential changes to their zoning categories. Current policy does not allow notification to Raleigh’s single- family homeowners. I can just imagine the hue and cry from commercial property owners if those changes had been made without notification. They would’ve been screaming to the high heavens that their property rights were being violated. But consideration for the average homeowner? Not so much, even though homeowners’ property rights have been violated. I don’t hear any concerns from the real estate industry about that! The commercial real estate industry has the money and the lobbyists to try and get what they want. The average homeowners do not have that kind of clout and are therefore at a severe disadvantage. 

When buyers are looking at homes in single-family residential neighborhoods, they purchase homes in these neighborhoods because they appreciate mature trees, some privacy from their neighbors, room to grow a garden, and, if they have children, room for the children to play. I have not known any buyers in all the years I’ve been in the real estate business that want to buy a single-family home in the middle of a large number of rentals. They feel that in a single-family residential neighborhood people tend to stay longer and they like that stability. These buyers have an expectation of consistency in housing types and styles, without worry about a 40-foot multistory multi-unit building, popping up next-door to them. 

People are fond of saying that human beings don’t like change. That doesn’t mean change shouldn’t come, but it does mean that you have to take this human trait into consideration. That requires notification, discussion, and a maybe a fair amount of persuasion. When that happens you typically end up with a compromise. It can be a messy process, but it must be done. 

What happens when a city council severely damages community engagement? The result is an angry public and legal challenges, all of which could have been avoided had there been active notice, community engagement and transparency.

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