Jessica Holmes, in her first term on the Wake County Board of Commissioners, has chosen well her issue of focus. It is affordable housing, and how to create more of it. Commissioners and community leaders acknowledge that there is a critical shortage of affordable housing in a booming county that is adding 63 people a day.
The term “affordable housing” applies to space that’s considered affordable to people who earn 60 percent or less than the county’s annual median income of over $78,000 a year. That puts the affordable housing figure as applying to those making $47,000 and less.
Holmes lives in Cary and knows as well as anyone how much housing values have escalated only in the last few years. Toward the end of expanding affordable options for newcomers and long-time residents alike, Holmes proposes to have the county, and perhaps interested partners, build public housing on land bought for schools but deemed unusable.
The property in many cases is next to existing schools. The Wake school district has over 38 acres of property, and Holmes believes the benefits of using it for affordable housing are multiple: One, obviously, the housing could put new taxpayers on the rolls buying homes they could afford to buy; two, it’s a creative use of property now not in use; three, given the proximity of the land to schools, providing affordable housing to families might boost the economic diversity in schools.
An enlightened county recognizes that it needs housing for citizens of all income levels, and that to neglect developing affordable housing only increases the gap between rich and poor and, as housing costs go up, diminishes the chance that more citizens will realize the dream of owning a home. Monday, school board members Tom Benton and Susan Evans said they thought the idea was worth considering. (Benton is seeking re-election; Evans is running for the state Senate.)
Holmes deserves to be heard on this issue, and the county should send in its accountants and development experts to see how viable the idea is. Then commissioners have to factor in the intangible as well as the tangible benefits to the county in the long term. For now, though, Commissioner Holmes has demonstrated foresight, common sense and compassion in seeking to help ease a long-acknowledged crisis.