WILMINGTON — The local public housing authority is “getting creative” in how it supports the addition of affordable housing in the community, according to executive director Tyrone Garrett.
As part of its federal allocation of housing choice vouchers, Wilmington Housing Authority can dole out project-based vouchers to eligible developers. Vouchers are intended to assist families earning 80% or less than the county’s AMI.
According to New Hanover County’s housing assessment, updated in 2023, nearly two-fifths of all renter households have annual incomes below $30,000.
At its Tuesday meeting, the WHA board unanimously approved issuing $3.8 million in project-based vouchers to Blue Ridge Atlantic, the group behind a 72-unit senior affordable housing complex on Middle Sound Loop Road.
The three-story Residence at Canopy Pointe will offer one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. Only individuals ages 55 and over, making 30% to 80% of the area’s median income ($63,926, according to the county’s housing assessment), can apply, with rent ranging from $367 to $1,050, based on income and available units.
“We talked about the creation of affordable housing in the city and in the county, and we want to contribute,” Garrett said at the meeting. “We can’t build new units almost immediately like other developers.”
WHA’s vouchers will subsidize 18 units in the Residence at Canopy Pointe. Construction on the project began in February and expects to welcome tenants by January 2024.
The housing authority’s vouchers are issued and paid for by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Vouchers can be used in myriad ways: by an individual with the option to choose housing or by a developer to retain a subsidized unit.
Tenant-based credits allow eligible individuals to receive a voucher based on income and use it to rent a residence that accepts the subsidy.
The voucher provides the subsidy for the majority of rent. Most residents pay 30% of their income, and the subsidy covers the remaining portion of rent and utilities.
Seventy-five percent of residents in a housing authority’s voucher program must be considered “extremely low-income,” earning less than 30% AMI.
In January, WHA hiked its housing voucher coverage to 120% above HUD’s payment standard. For example, HUD determined for 2023 the fair market value of a one-bedroom is $1,108; WHA will pay up to $1,329 to cover a one-bedroom rent.
With landlords upping the cost of rent, WHA had to increase its subsidy to allow families to remain in their residences.
Project-based vouchers — agreed upon between a landlord and WHA — carry the same dollar amount equivalent to housing vouchers but are attached to a unit, as opposed to a person. Therefore, the unit remains subsidized regardless of who the tenant is.
WHA issued its request for proposals for project-based vouchers April 18 and received one submission. It reissued the call May 12 and received the same submission a second time from Blue Ridge Atlantic.
“They were one of the first groups to call me when I came on,” said Garrett, who took over his role as executive director in May 2022.
Only developments with support from the City of Wilmington, either through land conveyance or gap financing, were eligible to apply.
Blue Ridge Atlantic received $1.85 million in gap financing from the city last June, two weeks after council approved annexing the property into city limits. It was already given the greenlight for construction by New Hanover County but wanted to be annexed for the city’s available funding.
“We wanted to do something definitive and make sure someone had funding and in a position that the project would be completed,” Garrett told the board.
For Blue Ridge Atlantic, nine of the vouchers it receives from WHA will be used toward one-bedroom units at $1,108 monthly; nine will be used on two-bedrooms for $1,229 each. They would be subsidized for 15 years at that rate, equaling the $3.8 million to be paid out by WHA for the project.
Housing authorities are authorized to use up to 20% of their overall vouchers as project-based. WHA has a capacity to dole out 1,700 vouchers; about 1,200 are being used by residents in market units, not housing authority properties.
Garrett told PCD the authority could issue another 500 housing choice vouchers over the next two years, but the process to use them “moves at a snail’s pace.”
“Once a resident is given a voucher, everyone thinks they find a unit automatically,” he said. “They don’t. It can take up to nine months.”
There are 1,573 residents — equaling a six-year wait, according to Garrett — on the housing voucher wait list, closed since 2021.
‘We’d like to get 40 families in a unit every month,” Garrett said, “but it doesn’t happen that fast.”
Therefore, it could be a more efficient process to subsidize units in another project already under development to put more affordable housing on the market.
“It could be, ‘How quickly can we get into units using the traditional voucher approach when the need for affordable housing is so great?’” Garrett said. “If we can help fund it; it’s another mechanism on the street and available as soon as possible.
Garrett said WHA has the capacity to issue about 200 more project-based vouchers in the community and will likely issue another RFP.
WHA chief financial officer Kinteh Darboe told the board Tuesday it’s better to issue the vouchers into the market since HUD could penalize housing authorities with unused vouchers.
“Building affordable housing takes a lot of different organizations,” Garrett said. “You need multiple agencies doing 18 units here, 18 units here; there’s not one entity that’s going to be able to do it all.”
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