Wake County officials asked for it, and they got it.
Commissioners and staff people asked consultants to assess the affordable housing situation in the county, and what’s emerged from their work is worrisome and not just for those of lower income who can’t afford the escalating costs of housing in the county.
The county’s prosperity is one ironic problem: Incomes are going up and housing developers want to capture those of higher incomes for their markets, and thus the incentive for developers and builders is to focus on more expensive housing. It’s understandable. Developers are in a profit-making business, and higher-end housing is where the profits are.
But what’s the downside of having more housing for those with means and less housing for those whose incomes are not going up and up? There is one, and it’s not just about having a more diverse community.
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Workers shut out
Absent adequate affordable housing, those who make a city or a county go – police, firefighters, municipal workers, college students, public school teachers – can’t afford to live in that city, and Raleigh in particular is feeling the effects of the problem. Many police officers and those firefighters live in outlying communities. And, all those in the group of people who can’t buy their first homes in Raleigh or in other Wake County municipalities can’t invest in the communities in which they work.
The numbers, for county officials who are concerned and determined to do something about the shortage of affordable housing, are not good: In 2035, consultants said, the county’s population is going to be 1.45 million, and there will be 68,000 new low-income residents who make less than $39,000 a year and will need affordable housing. In a little more than five years, between 2009 and 2015, the county lost 5,000 affordable housing units that weren’t there because of subsidies from the government. And, the number of families in need of affordable housing is going up by 3,700 a year.
The options from this analysis include trying to give developers incentives – quicker approval of permits, rebates on some fees, fewer parking requirements, more units per acre in their projects – and perhaps allowing current homeowners to build small housing units, sometimes called “granny flats,” on their property, giving them income and those of more modest means affordable and convenient places to live. These are good ideas – developers and builders know that bureaucracy is expensive, and making it less expensive would be a draw for them to make an effort to include affordable housing in the mix.
Wake commissioners are thinking about a small bump in the local sales tax to pay for more affordable housing in the next bond referendum for schools, and that’s a good idea. But in the long term, the county and Raleigh and other municipalities are going to have to come up with partnerships with developers and with local businesses (which have an interest in good housing that will keep their workers with them) and explore any and all ideas for a long-term solution to the affordable housing shortage.
This isn’t just about convenience. It is about ensuring a diverse, creative and productive community that values having citizens of all backgrounds contributing to its vibrancy, and its future.