Residents are divided along socio-economic, generational and racial lines when it comes to the city’s most-pressing issues such as growth, affordable housing and safety, according to a recent survey.
Raleigh’s older, wealthier, white residents overwhelmingly said growth is the top issue, while black and young residents said they were more concerned about the lack of affordable housing.
The city last year commissioned Kansas-based research group ETC Institute to collect feedback on topics such as city services and whether residents feel safe.
Survey participants were asked to pick their top concern among eight topics: pace of growth, transportation, affordable housing, job opportunities, public safety, social justice, city services and environmental protection.
The results highlight a divide between residents who worry about traffic and development and those who are trying to make ends meet in a growing city that is becoming more expensive to call home.
Nice and affordable don’t mix right now.
Theresa Garrett, 33, who wants a house in the eastern or southeastern part of the city that costs about $200,000
Theresa Garrett, 33, who works in customer care and support at Citrix in downtown Raleigh, has been living with friends off Tryon Road since she started looking in October for a house to buy. She wants a house in the eastern or southeastern part of the city that costs about $200,000, but so far she hasn’t had much luck.
“Now that we’re in a sellers’ market, it’s very difficult to find something. Then when you find something and want to go look at it, it’s gone,” Garrett said.
The average sale price of Raleigh homes last year was $261,000, according to county data.
“Nice and affordable don’t mix right now,” Garrett said. “You can live someplace that’s nice and close to downtown with roommates, or you’re going to be pushed further out from the city to live on your own and have to commute.”
More than 64 percent of black residents who took the survey picked affordable housing as their top concern. Residents who earn less than $60,000 a year also said it was at the top of their list.
Like most age groups, survey takers ages 18 to 34 were most concerned about Raleigh’s growth. But millennials said they were much more concerned about affordable housing than older residents.
The results come less than a year after the City Council last year raised the property tax rate by 1 cent to bring in $5.7 million to expand this year’s affordable housing program from 200 to 325 units. Tax revenue generated by the additional penny is expected to go toward affordable housing each year.
They also come just six months ahead of the October City Council elections and may be key campaign issues for candidates.
$261,000 Average sale price of Raleigh homes last year
Councilman Bonner Gaylord said those concerned about growth want to limit development, while those concerned about affordable housing would benefit from an expanded supply of housing to “create competition and keep costs down.”
“We have to be smart about it and allow our city to grow in strategic areas, along commercial corridors and growth centers,” Gaylord said. “We need to grow up and not out. If you grow vertically as opposed to horizontally, you have less impact because you can pack in more people into less space and that’s more efficient for the city.”
Councilman David Cox said he doesn’t think market forces alone will keep housing prices low. Sure, an apartment complex might open with lower rental rates than its competitors, but its rates will creep up as more people move to Raleigh, Cox said.
There’s no “magic” answer for protecting the character of neighborhoods and boosting affordable housing, he said.
“There are a lot of things we don’t have in our tool boxes,” Cox said. “We don’t have the ability to zone for affordable housing, for example.”
Stef Mendell, 62, said she thinks the city can promote affordability by protecting its neighborhoods.
Mendell is a retired executive from GlaxoSmithKline who lives near Wade Avenue. She said a developer tore down one house in her neighborhood to build two new homes on the property. She wants the city to adopt stronger standards to prevent tear downs – something she thinks would help preserve housing costs.
“Tearing down houses means that people who work for the city can’t afford to live in the city anymore because we’re pricing them out,” Mendell said.
“I’m not talking about $100,000 homes or anything, I’m comparing $300,000 homes to million-dollar homes,” she said. “If we can get homes built that can fit more with the existing character of a neighborhood, we won’t have these McMansions.”