Friday, June 21, 2024

Council to vote next week on spending plan to support affordable housing

City of Wilmington’s community development and housing planner Suzanne Rogers presents the draft annual action plan for affordable housing money to city council last week.

WILMINGTON — The city is proposing an upcoming plan for fiscal year 2024 that could benefit 228 affordable housing units and residents with federal funds and additional money from the city and area banks.

A draft for the annual action plan for Community Development Block Grants and HOME money, totaling $1.6 million, was presented to city council last week; if approved, it will be adopted at its next meeting, May 16.

READ MORE: City allocates $1M in gap financing toward senior affordable housing project

A recipient of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money since 1975, the city manages multiple programs that assist homeowners and renters with affording places to live. An annual plan on how the money will be spent is a requirement from the government and it coincides with the city’s five-year goals.

This year the city was allocated $937,775 in CDBG and $700,820 from HOME Investment Partnerships Program, 18% less money than fiscal year 2023, for a combined decrease of $159,596. HUD allocates the funding using a formula based on variables such as population and poverty rate.

The draft plan reports 49% of households in Wilmington city limits make 80% average median income or below; 27% of homeowners and 52% of renters are cost-burdened.

Partner banks also provide approximately $1 million annually for homebuyer assistance.

City council began allocating one-cent of property taxes, currently 39.5 cents per $100 valuation, toward affordable housing in last year’s budget, to continue next fiscal year. The city council also allocates $775,556 from the general fund to support local resources for affordable living, as well as the loan programs.

The proposed action plan suggests the use of money to include:

  • $1.8 million to create eight loans for the single-family houses in the Homebuyer Opportunity Pool; HOP works with local banks to offer loans to low- to moderate-income households
  • $300,000 in down payment assistance to assist six families
  • $1.02 million in the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program to fix up to 10 houses
  • $1.2 million in Rental Rehab Incentive Loans, targeted to small-scale rental projects to  assist up to six units
  • $4 million toward 198 units eligible for housing production gap financing

The goal is to preserve affordable housing units and address disparities in access to housing needs. According to the draft plan, the money is targeted mostly for families in the Northside, Southside and Sunset/Longleaf areas.

According to the draft plan, these geographic pockets — also identified by the city as racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty — need investment to revitalize affordable housing. With additional funding, comes opportunities to provide low income residents, especially the elderly and homeless, more opportunities to access jobs, education, transportation, and housing.

City community development and housing planner Suzanne Rogers told council: “If we attain those goals, that’s about $8.3 million; that works out to about $36,000 per unit.”

She added there is $5.2 million in carryover funds from fiscal year 2023 for 42 loan applications currently in the pipeline, meaning families pre-qualified and searching for homes now.

“As you know, it’s been a difficult housing market,” Rogers said. “It’s starting to ease up a bit in terms of competition. But, still, housing sale prices are outpacing peoples’ pre-qualified amounts. That’s still a challenge.”

Aside from city-run loan programs, Rogers proposes 15%, or $140,765, of the CDBG money be set aside for public services toward homeless shelters and operations. Last year, the city received close to $175,000 for homeless services, doled out to nonprofits including Good Shepherd, Family Promise, First Fruit Ministries, Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc., Leading into New Communities, Coastal Horizons’ Open House Youth Shelter and the Cape Fear Continuum of Care.

“One of the trending changes nationally is increased attention to homelessness prevention as a way to stabilize those at risk of homelessness and reduce the numbers of people entering homelessness for the first time,” the plan states. “This trend will influence future funding decisions locally as we seek to reduce the number of people entering homelessness by targeting funding at prevention and stability programs for the near term and seeking ways to increase housing supply in the longer term.”

City council has also approved a multi-year contract with Cape Fear Council of Governments for $67,600. COG oversees the Continuum of Care, a coalition of nonprofits aimed directly at homeless services and shelters.

The CoC formally adopted the housing first, low-barrier service model, which guides the city’s funding decisions to help the most vulnerable have increased housing options. In 2022, the CoC reported 1,605 people sought housing assistance through its coordinated entry process, with more than 1,800 actively enrolled in programs as of Dec. 31.

As part of the funding requirements, the city will also host at least one Fair Housing Workshop and continue fair housing referrals in partnership with the diversity, equity and inclusion department. The session will be held for landlords, lenders and housing managers, and advocate for responses to recent cases of discrimination.

Also approved by council last week, was a $15,706 grant from HUD for the city to continue its housing counseling program. The city became a HUD-certified housing counseling agency in May 2021. Funds are reapplied for annually as a member of the North Carolina Housing Coalition.

Since 2014, the city’s housing programs have:

  • Increased or preserved 262 rental units
  • Assisted 143 households with financial assistance
  • Help 1,437 homeless individuals reach permanent housing
  • Produced 76 permanent supportive housing units
  • Loaned 63 households money for home rehab/repair
  • Provided homeownership education to 1,183 individuals

City council will vote on adopting the annual action plan and proposed funding at its May 16 meeting. The public can weigh in on the proposed plan by May 16, as well.

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