Elected officials were among the volunteers climbing ladders and grabbing hammers to help build a new Habitat for Humanity home, using their labor to highlight the need for more affordable housing in Wake County.
Wake Commissioner Jessica Holmes, who leads a county steering committee on affordable housing, invited politicians from all levels of local government to volunteer Saturday.
Helping build a house will “put our hammers where our hearts are,” she said.
“No one government entity can solve the problem,” Holmes said. “The key is to come together to start the conversation. We can’t have all the affordable housing congested in one particular area. My goal is low-density, affordable housing dispersed throughout all of Wake County. In order to do that, we need all of our municipalities at the table.”
Habitat for Humanity has built 630 homes in the county, said Kevin Campbell, Habitat Wake president and CEO. The nonprofit plans to build 70 this year, up from the usual 40 homes a year.
“We’ve stepped up to meet the need,” he said. But the demand is much greater than the supply. Availability of affordable housing should be considered along with other factors that land Wake and its municipalities on national “best places to...” lists, he said, because the scarcity of affordable places to live should be unacceptable.
A recent consultant’s report found that more than 91,000 families in Wake, or more than one-quarter of its households, spend more than they can afford on housing.
More than 42,000 families spend more than half their income on housing, and more than 49,000 additional families spend more than one-third of their income on a place to live.
Janice Downey will have a new Habitat home close to the house where volunteers worked Saturday.
Downey said she has worked for the state Department of Revenue for 18 years. Yet, her search for an affordable place to live for herself and her children resulted in five moves in two years.
“The last couple of years, I struggled to find a decent place to live,” she said. The city’s soaring rents caught the Raleigh native by surprise. “What happened in Raleigh? The cost of living is just blowing up,” she said.
There weren’t many places she could afford, and she rejected some as unsafe. She worried about her youngest daughter coming home from school by herself and about one of older daughters returning home from work at night. Downey has four children, two of them college age.
“Having this house means we can finally rest,” she said.
Last year, Raleigh approved a 2-cent tax increase, with half the revenue going to expand affordable housing. The Raleigh City Council adopted a goal of adding 5,700 affordable apartments and homes over the next 10 years.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the best use of the money is to collaborate with DHIC Inc., an affordable housing nonprofit, and other groups, to increase the affordable housing stock.
Developers are working with the city, McFarlane said, to “develop a toolbox of ways we can really stretch those dollars.”