Wednesday, July 24, 2024

One-third NHC residents cost-burdened by housing, more local funding needed

Workforce Housing Advisory Committee Chair Sharm Brantley presented a strategic plan to county commissioners and city council this week calling out the need for more funds for affordable housing.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A joint county and city committee formed four years ago released its strategic plan this week to increase equitable housing in the region after finding one-third of homeowners and renters are cost-burdened.

The Workforce Housing Advisory Committee, chaired by Sharm Brantley, started in 2019 to promote policies that aid the rehab and creation of workforce housing. In Branley’s update to both commissioners and city council members this week, she presented the committee’s five-objective strategic plan and said it needs more funding from the government for additional housing stock

READ MORE: 100 NHC parcels to be affected by workforce housing bill, staff concerned it favors developers

A housing assessment sought by the city and county and prepared by Bowen National Research was released in March 2021 and showed a gap of 4,100 new units needed through 2030. Brantley said WHAC — comprising a 13-member board of county and city residents, as well as nonprofit representatives — is working on an updated assessment. Inflation and affordability has drastically changed over the last few years and impacting housing.

WHAC’s goal is to improve the workforce housing stock, aimed at residents making 60% to 120% average median income. 

“Using the term ‘affordable housing’ means different things to different people,” commissioner Jonathan Barfield said Monday. “We’re recognizing a first-time homebuyer price point is close to $400,000. The average salary is $35,000 to $40,000. They can’t afford to buy a home in our community.”

New Hanover County’s rate of population and household growth has outpaced the state over the past 10 years, a trend expected to continue through 2025, according to the 2021 county and city housing assessment.

While the county has recently invested $15 million over five years for affordable housing — the first $3 million approved in the fall — Brantley suggested the creation of a dedicated affordable housing development fund.

The money could be used to establish more permanent supportive housing — units for qualifying tenants that also include wrap-around services; redevelopment and rehabilitation tax credit projects; low-income housing tax credit projects; and for-sale projects.

“We need a dedicated funding source that could attract developers to close the gap in project costs,” Brantley told commissioners.

With the increase in construction supplies, land acquisition and infrastructure, gap funding could help make a final push for proposed developments to reach construction.

The City of Wilmington has approved 526 units of affordable and workforce housing in the last year, of which 421 received gap financing.

Brantley also suggested reducing barriers and supporting the production and preservation of diverse housing options attainable at all income levels. In 2020, the fair market rent — established and annually updated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — for a two-bedroom was $966. Based on North Carolina Housing Coalition’s data, fair market rent in Wilmington is now $1,258 for a two-bedroom, meaning a household needs to take home $50,360 to afford to live there. 

The average salary for a healthcare worker is $28,480, a construction employee earns about $36,360, and a local police officer makes roughly $47,310.

Of all countywide renters, 52% have difficulty affording their homes, which is 19,409 households. This has increased 2% since 2021’s county and city housing assessment. 

For homeowners, the trend has actually gone down by 5% since 2021. According to recent North Carolina Housing Coalition research, 22%, or 12,674 households, find it difficult to sustain their mortgages.

The housing committee gave examples of reducing barriers, including infrastructure investments by the county and city, nonprofit collaboration and land conveyance.

In October, the county updated its unified development ordinance to allow for accessory dwelling units in nearly all zoning districts. This increases the opportunity for property owners to rent guest units or move-in a family member for more affordable pricing.

As another step in the strategic vision, Brantley explained the committee encourages pursuing more policy changes to complement current regulations.

“Funding only works if minimal land use policies are in place,” she said.

As one-time state and federal funds mostly related to the pandemic are phasing out, the committee recommends directing additional local dollars to continue the programs’ successes. More than $36 million from county programs has supported 6,160 households to achieve housing stability with the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Gap Rental Assistance Pilot Program, Eviction Prevention Program and Rental Rehabilitation Program, Brantley said.

  • ERAP has helped 5,337 residents with $28 million allocated for rental assistance, utilities or other household costs to prevent residents from losing their homes
  • The Gap Rental Assistance Program has served 124 households with $225,450
  • Eviction Prevention Program has doled out $832,042 to 335 families
  • Rental Rehab Program has helped four households with $250,000

The city has also assisted with its own homebuyer assistance programs, with a staff of six managing a housing loan portfolio of more than $20 million.

  • 8 Homebuyer Assistance Loans for $820,274; 16 pre-qualified for loans totaling $1.8 million
  • 5 Homeowner Rehabilitation Loans for $370,000, with 18 loans in process
  • 1 Rental Rehabilitation Loan for 4 units with $460,250, five loans in process

New Hanover County ranks 40 on a scale from 1 to 100 (100 being the lowest) for evictions among renter households. In 2022, 155 families faced foreclosure and 2,305 families were evicted.

The $36 million infused in the community through housing assistance programs also includes 45 units of Habitat for Humanity donations, valued at $1.1 million, $250,000 for infrastructure at Eden Village and $5.4 million for Starway Village, a 278-unit affordable housing complex being built on Carolina Beach Road. 

The final recommendation from the WHAC is to expand housing counseling and financial literacy programs.

Mayor Bill Saffo said Tuesday the committee’s recommendations “made a lot of sense.”

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