Op-Ed

How Raleigh, Wake can energize affordable housing efforts

Brookview Apartments in Raleigh were demolished to make way for new upscale single family housing. The amount of affordable housing in and around downtown Raleigh and elsewhere in Wake County is declining as real estate values rise, thanks to a flood of global investment dollars. Fewer traditional starter homes are being built, and affordable rental projects are being redeveloped to target higher income tenants.
Brookview Apartments in Raleigh were demolished to make way for new upscale single family housing. The amount of affordable housing in and around downtown Raleigh and elsewhere in Wake County is declining as real estate values rise, thanks to a flood of global investment dollars. Fewer traditional starter homes are being built, and affordable rental projects are being redeveloped to target higher income tenants. tlong@newsobserver.com

As nonprofit builders of affordable housing in Wake County, we see the incredible and growing demand for the housing we produce, as well as the persistent challenges that the working poor, people living with disabilities and vulnerable low-income seniors in our community face when searching for quality, safe and affordable housing. Our area’s growth, rising rents and home prices, along with limited transportation options, have created housing insecurity that is almost unimaginable.

We serve these individuals everyday through our collective work and see firsthand the effect the lack of choices in affordable housing has on their lives. People like the 76-year old woman whom CASA moved into a permanent home after living in a homeless shelter for months, or Charlie who has worked downtown for 17 years but was recently displaced when his longtime apartment was sold to make way for more expensive homes.

We see the demand as reflected in the one- to two-year wait list at a DHIC seniors community or the families earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income who are waiting to be selected for affordable homeownership opportunities through Habitat for Humanity.

As the New Year approaches, we’d like to reflect on the housing accomplishments of our local governments, as well as offer our 2 cents on how Raleigh and Wake County might energize local housing efforts. Popular support to address housing needs is high, and we urge local leaders to put into place a sustainable source of funding for affordable housing.

Led by Mayor Nancy McFarlane, Raleigh leaders recognize the importance of our community remaining an inclusive, affordable place to live. The city council’s recent adoption of a new Affordable Housing Plan and Location Policy, as well as hiring a new director of Housing and Neighborhoods, bode well for the future of affordable housing, but further action is needed.

Models to address housing affordability exist, so the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented. Austin and Charlotte are possible models to emulate. Council members should implement a dedicated source of funds for affordable housing as soon as possible to ensure more production so that individuals and families with modest incomes have an opportunity to secure and afford a home and the stability that a home offers.

Our county commissioners also have expressed an interest and commitment to support affordable housing. The county recently partnered with the City of Raleigh to assist CASA in buying an apartment community near Wake Med, permanently preserving those homes for workers earning a modest wage. Yet, the funding that the county has allocated for affordable housing efforts is insufficient to meet the need now.

We can’t let another year go by without ensuring that Raleigh and Wake County each has in place a dedicated, sustainable source of funds for affordable housing production. We suggest a three-tier, concurrent approach:

1Provide a “Penny for Housing” general fund program at both the city and county levels, which would contribute funds annually to the budget to support local affordable housing development. This would generate approximately $5 million at the city level and $14 million for the county and could assist with developing a range of programs to produce more supportive and affordable housing, including land banking. Chapel Hill has a Penny for Housing fund, and so does Durham.

2Create a Synthetic Tax Increment Financing district for downtown and other areas in Raleigh with tremendous growth such as North Hills, which would simply involve approving a policy to dedicate a portion of tax revenue gains for new affordable housing.

3Continue local bond referenda for affordable housing, on a schedule of at least every five years at both the city and county levels.

To families who are working hard to support themselves and contribute to our economy, and to low-income seniors and people living with disabilities who need affordable housing, we offer our 2 cents as well: They are an important part of our community, and we value them as neighbors. We also appreciate their struggle to better their circumstances and are with them in the fight.

Kevin Campbell is president/CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Wake County. Gregg Warren is president of DHIC. Debra King, CEO of CASA, also contributed.

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