Editorials

Raleigh must do more to provide affordable housing

April Carroll relaxes with her kids, from left, Naomi, 2, Addison, 6, and Neveah, 4, in their room at the Raleigh Inn. April and Dwight Carroll have been living with their four children in the second-floor room at the Raleigh Inn for over a month.
April Carroll relaxes with her kids, from left, Naomi, 2, Addison, 6, and Neveah, 4, in their room at the Raleigh Inn. April and Dwight Carroll have been living with their four children in the second-floor room at the Raleigh Inn for over a month. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The Carroll family has been living in the Raleigh Inn, off New Bern Avenue, for more than a month now. Both parents work at modest jobs and hope for better. They have four children. And home is a hotel room.

As April Carroll explained the dilemma, hers is a family caught in a maddening crunch. An application for a Section 8 housing voucher to help them with a subsidized apartment may take five more years for approval. And they have suffered an eviction, which virtually eliminates their chances to rent another apartment.

Meanwhile, their kids are in crowded conditions not exactly the best for studying or playing.

The Carrolls are victims, in a way, of a shortage of affordable housing in Raleigh, something that seems a perennial problem in a city where older neighborhoods are getting gentrified and rents in nice, new apartments are climbing in some cases to $1,500 or more a month.

And this family is not alone. Others live at the Raleigh Inn, lacking the money to pay the standard first month’s rent and a month’s security deposit to secure an apartment. But at the Raleigh Inn, if they can’t pay a month at a time, then they pay a higher weekly rate, a rate they might be able to beat at some apartment complexes if only they had more money up front.

Apartment owners and hotel owners aren’t in the business of giving space away, and the housing crunch isn’t their fault or their problem. They’re entitled to make money, and in the case of apartments, owners reasonably don’t want to risk that someone will move in, sign a lease and then not be able to make rent payments.

Raleigh’s a tough place for these families because affordable housing options seem to be rare, and in neighborhoods once thought to be destined to remain run-down, developers are building nice, new homes that carry with them nice, high prices.

That may be a sign of good times, and it may be answering a need to provide urban housing for more affluent people moving to the area with high-tech companies or other sound and growing businesses.

But what about the people, such as the Carrolls, who have low-wage jobs and little cash on hand?

They are part of this community, too. Their children go to school here. They do business with local merchants, to the degree they can. They are partners in Raleigh’s future.

Raleigh’s City Council members are, to be sure, more enlightened than those in many Southern cities, and they want to serve all their constituents. But even giving the council credit for what it has done, it’s clear that more energy needs to be put toward providing more affordable housing for lower-income residents.

The council has zoning powers, and though developers don’t like it, the city can be more aggressive in requiring that huge projects include plans for lower-cost housing, which is in the best interest not just of those who need it but for the entire community.

The city also can seek to rehabilitate properties when it can, creating its own affordable housing rather than relying on the free market. The city has participated in these types of projects before. Clearly, there needs to be more thinking outside the box when it comes to housing, a tough issue in a city that for many is wildly affluent and for others downright poor.

But this we know: Families with small children, children who only want the same dream their classmates have, who want some room to run and a feeling of settled security, should not be limited to long stays in hotels. People who are working, sometimes more than one job, to provide for their families ought to have a chance to better their circumstances. And their fellow citizens, through the government they elected, should help.

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