Wednesday, June 29, 2022

From public transportation to government regulation: possible solutions to address Wilmington’s workforce housing shortage

As population increases in the Greater Wilmington Area, working class housing will continue to be a topic of discussion (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
As population increases in the Greater Wilmington Area, working class housing will continue to be a topic of discussion (Port City Daily photo / FILE)

WILMINGTON — There has been lots of discussion about the lack of working class housing in the Greater Wilmington Area, from local leaders to land developers the problem is being bandied about – but what can be done to help solve the problem?

For Steven Spain, executive director of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, developers moving into the area with the hopes of constructing mixed-use developments can play a large role in helping to alleviate the problem.

Instead of building luxury apartments only, Spain developers have the opportunity to put in some more affordable units by using less expensive materials. For example, instead of granite counters, they could use laminate countertops.

Shelly Wilkie, a property manager in Wilmington and native to the area, thinks part of the solution could come from apartments offering more incentives with monthly rent. The area is experiencing a growth, with an estimated 50,000 new residents over the next several years, so providing more housing options is necessary, but Wilkie believes the area is being saturated with expensive apartments.

“Why would I rent an apartment (two bedroom) in Wilmington for $1,900 with no utilities when I can rent a house at Wrightsville Beach for $1,850 and everything included? Apartments are going to saturate the area and no one but the retirees and the students are going to be living in the apartments while the local gets run out of town,” she said.

The role of public transportation

Currently WAVE Transit operates from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. making it difficult for employees working shifts other than first shift a chance to utilize the system (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
Currently WAVE Transit operates from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. making it difficult for employees working shifts other than first shift a chance to utilize the system (Port City Daily photo / FILE)

Public transportation is another issue facing the Cape Fear Region, while it is easy to overlook transportation as a housing problem, the issues are related. Traffic in the region is becoming increasingly worse, and it’s a commonly discussed topic by both developers and local leaders when discussing new developments.

“Public transportation is actually part of the problem that needs to improve,” Wilkie said. “Have you noticed that there are only two stops for the bus going to Wrightsville Beach? I used to work at the Silver Gull Motel on Salisbury St. and in the morning, I would have to go meet our cleaning girls and bring them to work because the bus does not come over the bridge.”

Spain also said there are links between affordable housing and public transportation. The current bus schedule in the region runs from 6 a.m. – 9 p.m., meaning workers who work second or third shifts do not have the option of using public transportation.

“Areas with affordable housing just outside the city, like Castle Hayne, Leland/Navassa, and Murrayville/North Chase/King’s Grant have very limited service.  As a result of the limitations of public transportation and the distance between areas with relatively affordable housing and areas with employment opportunities, Wilmington has a growing traffic problem,” Spain said.

Another problem Spain sees with the current public transit system is the circular routes.

” … Users can have a 10 minute ride in one direction and a 50 minute (or longer) ride to return,” he said. 

There are also opportunities for local leaders like City Council members or County Commissioners to place requirements on developers who request permits to build new developments like The Avenue, proposed for Military Cutoff Road. These requirements could compel developers to include affordable housing options if they want exceptions to zoning laws made for their development.

As the Cape Fear region continues to attract new residents, the issue will remain one of discussion among local leaders and the public.

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

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