City creates committee to address affordable housing

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Port City Daily file photo.
Port City Daily file photo.

In an effort to remedy the lack of affordable housing in the region, the Wilmington City Council on Tuesday created a joint city/county ad-hoc committee to examine the issue and provide recommendations for solutions.

The population of New Hanover County is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decades, but the county’s small land area is already getting crowded, leaving less and less room for developers to create homes and driving up the prices of existing residences. Add to that a lack of stable, well-paying jobs in the county, and the problem is compounded.

“The idea is to try to make it so that everyone in our area can have decent housing at an affordable rate,” said Councilmember Earl Sheridan, who along with Mayor Bill Saffo proposed the committee. “The idea is not just to see housing affordability merely as public housing, but see it as something that we all need at various income levels in some way or another.”

The creation of the committee, which will meet for six months, stems from conversations local government, business and community leaders have had on the issue, most recently at the Mayor’s Roundtable on Affordable Housing that was held last fall.

“There were so many things that were mentioned [at the roundtable], ideas and thoughts, that [the committee] would itemize and prioritize what they thought was important to the city and county governments and would come back to this body for us to discuss it and take a look at it,” said Saffo of the task force’s job. “Ultimately we would like to see a number of recommendations come back to the governing bodies, and we either implement them or we don’t implement them.”

According to Saffo, the committee will tackle things such as the definition of “affordable housing” and what kind of incentives, if any, can be given to developers who create such properties. They will also look at public policies from other areas around the state and country to see if any of those would work for New Hanover County and the city of Wilmington.

The group will consist of leaders from several different areas of the community, including real estate, banking, non-profits and city and county staff. Members will be chosen by the appointment committees of the city council and and county commissioners (once they approve it), who will screen applications. The exact number of committee members is yet to be determined,  but Sheridan said he didn’t want it so big that it would become “unmanageable and unwieldy.”

The next step is to get the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to formally support the joint agreement. City leaders said cooperation from all parts of the community is paramount, as everyone will benefit from better housing options.

“Affordable housing is something that is very important for our area as far as economic development is concerned, as far as our quality of life is concerned, as far as public safety is concerned,” said Sheridan.

Though Saffo said the county seems receptive to the idea of partnering on this issue based on informal conversations he has had with Commissioners Chair Beth Dawson, he believes the city must begin to take action regardless of what the county decides.

“I think we have talked enough about it that we need to put some specifics behind what we’re saying,” said Saffo. “Hopefully we can get something that makes sense. I’m sure it’s going to cost some money, but doesn’t anything cost money if you really want to fix things?”