Wake County

Wake vows to address lack of affordable housing

As property values rise across the county, Wake leaders see a need for government to help connect people with homes and rentals they can afford.

Wake County commissioners capped what they called an unprecedented meeting of government officials, nonprofit leaders and housing experts Monday by vowing to address the county’s declining affordable housing stock.

The Wake County government spends about $2 million a year on affordable housing development. But, as Wake grows by 63 people a day, commissioners said it’s more important than ever to keep the county affordable for the people with disabilities and low-income residents employed as hourly workers, teachers and emergency responders.

“I firmly believe that this is a watershed moment,” said board chairman James West. “It’s time now to begin looking at how we can lay this out and have some impact.”

Monday’s meeting helped commissioners get an idea of the affordable housing situation in Wake County so they can come up with a strategy for improving it with next fiscal year’s budget, said commissioner Jessica Holmes.

“The county understands that this is an urgent issue, and we’re responding with a sense of urgency,” Holmes said.

“Affordable housing” is a blanket term that can refer to anything from government-owned and subsidized living spaces to homes owned by the private sector for which low-income residents can pay on their own. Wake County considers it to be any space affordable to people earning less than 60 percent of Wake’s annual median income, $78,800, which comes out to $47,280 a year. Roughly 126,000 Wake residents earn less than that, county statistics show.

Representatives from the Raleigh, Cary, the Raleigh Housing Authority, the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, Habitat for Humanity and several other organizations crowded a conference room in the Wake County Public Safety Center on Monday to speak about the situation. Demand for such housing is rising rapidly, they said, but supply is limited.

Nearly 3,000 people applied for Habitat for Humanity homes in Wake County in the last 15 months, but 80 percent of those didn’t qualify, said Kevin Campbell, president of the organization’s local chapter.

“Affordable housing is leaving the market every day,” said Jeanne Tedrow, CEO of Passage Home. “We need more tools in our toolbox.”

Experts called for a range of actions, from boosting nonprofit funding and expanding the county’s housing voucher program to running existing programs more effectively.

The Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness knows of 50 homeless veterans that qualify for the county’s housing voucher program who have yet to find a landlord willing to accept them, said Shana Overdorf, its executive director. Alliance Behavioral Healthcare knows of 120 landlords who have refused subsidies that would help someone with a disability, said Ann Oshel, the group’s chief community relations officer.

“Imagine how demoralizing that is for someone with an illness who’s trying to get their life together,” Oshel said. “Housing is a health-care strategy, and it needs to be funded as a health-care strategy.”

Subsidized housing accounts for less than 3 percent of the housing stock in Apex, Cary, Holly Springs and Morrisville. It accounts for 3 to 6 percent of the housing stock in Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Raleigh, Rolesville and Wake Forest. Eastern Wake towns Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon have housing stocks that are from 7 to 13 percent subsidized.

County Manager Jim Hartmann emphasized the need for local municipalities and nonprofits to work with Wake on addressing the issue.

“The market forces are extreme right now,” Hartmann said. “We can think through this and make a difference ... but this is not something that we can do alone.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht