Sunday, May 22, 2022

Traffic and mixed use developments: Live and play at home, but not if you work there

Lots of new development in Wilmington, but little affordable housing

Developments like Mayfaire Town Center offer a place for residents to "live, work, and play," but with a hefty monthly rent, can employees at retail shops afford to live where they work? (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Developments like Mayfaire Town Center offer a place for residents to “live, work, and play,” but with a hefty monthly rent, can employees at retail shops afford to live where they work? (Port City Daily photo / MICHAEL PRAATS)

Editor’s note: This is part three of a multi-part look at the cost of living in Wilmington and its effect on the people who work here. 

WILMINGTON — Traffic in the Greater Wilmington area has proved to be a consistent concern with residents as well as local leaders; this is why the City of Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan has been encouraging the construction of mixed-use developments.

These developments, like Mayfaire Town Center, combine retail, residential and office space, but there have been concerns about the cost of living in such locations. Among those with concerns is Steve Spain, executive director of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.

“One of the concerns I have about the mixed-use projects, is they talk about live, work and play at the same place. They use that concept to dramatically reduce the traffic impact, they say if you live work and play at the same place you don’t have the same traffic,” Spain said. “The proposals that are currently out there are very good at covering live and play, but the people who are going to work there, in the hotels and retail shops, they are not going to live there. They are not building housing for them.”

Read part II: High rents are pushing workers out of Wilmington, but that’s not their only problem

Currently, a one-bedroom, one bathroom apartment at The Reserve at Mayfaire starts at $1,366 a month.

With more than 50 retail stores in Mayfaire Town Center, and the average wage of retail workers is $526 per week before taxes, according to state data. At that rate, it would take 61 percent of an employee’s income to be able to afford the least expensive option for housing.

The average weekly wage for retail workers in 2016 was $526 (Port City Daily photo/COURTESY ACCESS NC)
The average weekly wage for retail workers in 2016 was $526 (Port City Daily photo/COURTESY ACCESS NC)

Craig Stinson, a real estate agent with Intracoastal Realty has seen the housing market change over the past several years, and believes that the population growth in Wilmington is having similar effects on surrounding areas. Not only is space limited in the Greater Wilmington Area, but surrounding counties have their own space issues; from nature preserves to swamps, land is limited, Stinson said.

“Two big items are the water-driven nature of property values and the boundaries that exist where housing is not going (Holly Shelter Game Land, Green Swamp, camps Davis and Lejeune, Sunny Point, Brunswick Nuclear, Atlantic Ocean). That’s why I think we’ll see growth toward Rocky Point and Burgaw in Pender County,” Stinson said.

What can be done?

City Councilman Paul Lawler believes the city can encourage developers to build affordable housing through incentives. The city can work with developers and offer things that would typically not be permitted.

“The other option out there is some sort of incentive, so if you are a developer and you want to build a five-story building with maybe some retail on the first floor, offices and then residential, some people have suggested you let them build an extra floor if they put affordable housing in there,” Lawler said.

The city also has programs that help residents find housing, and even offers loans for residents who might have homes that need repairs but cannot afford to fix them. These programs are typically designed to help older homeowners “age in place.”

Spain said he hopes developers will include affordable housing options in these mixed use developments that have been approved, and future developments.

He says the developers have the opportunity to include affordable options with relative ease.

“The big difference between affordable housing and regular housing is size and the quality of the products,” he said. “If you are building apartments above retail in a Mayfaire like place, you have the opportunity to build smaller houses with laminate floors instead of hardwood … it’s such an opportunity for people who are going to be working in the hotels.”

Current housing stock

Housing for the working class in the Cape Fear Region is disappearing. With more large developments moving into the city bringing retail and luxury apartments, finding land for affordable housing has become the biggest issue for Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, Spain said.

It is not just up to government leaders to help bring such housing to the Greater Wilmington region – Habitat for Humanity, as well as other developers, continue to build new homes in the area helping more residents become homeowners. As land becomes more scarce, even developers are having trouble finding property to put these affordable homes on.

“We can’t build affordable housing in the city except in extremely challenged areas. Where housing stock is dilapidated or there might be high crime, a general lack of amenities. That’s the only places in Wilmington you can find land that we can build a $120,000 house. That has forced us to look out in the county. It’s just going to get worse and worse,” he said.

With apartment prices topping $2,000 a month in new developments, Spain said he has a hard time figuring out who the people are who can afford to live there.

“I don’t see the employers here that can offer that kind of pay,” he said.


Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.p@localvoicemedia.com

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