Reckoning with the lack of affordable housing in Wilmington

43 percent of residents in Wilmington are considered severely cost burdened according to the CFHC

New Hanover County ranks “very high” in housing insecurity rankings according to the North Carolina Housing Coalition’s findings. (Port City Daily photo /COURTESY NCHC)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Expensive housing, minimal affordable options, stagnant and low wages: a mismatched equation that is squeezing the working class out of the coastal county.

“When we don’t have enough housing for the folks who are working in our community, how does that affect our bottom line in the municipality?” Paul D’Angelo, chairman of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition (CFHC), asked at the group’s 2018 Housing Legislative Breakfast Thursday.

Related series: Can the people who work here afford to live in Wilmington?


The meeting was intended to advocate for the need of affordable housing developments in New Hanover County, however, D’Angelo said it was tough to get economic developers in the room.

“Communities like coastal tourist towns suffer from our own success,” he said during the meeting. Quality of life attracts an increased population, a town’s status as a destination spot increases real estate costs, the tourism industry is boosted alongside the need for service industry jobs.

Increased housing costs paired with an increased in service-sector jobs has resulted in an imbalance that has nearly half of the city “severely cost burdened.”

Low income and cost burdened

According to the CFHC, the median income in Wilmington is $68,200. If an individual makes less than $38,200 a year, they are considered low income.

A slide from the powerpoint presentation shown at the Cape Fear Housing Coalition's 2018 Housing Legislative Breakfast showing cost-burdened residents are "just like us."(Port City Daily photo /COURTESY CAPE FEAR HOUSING COALITION)
A slide from the powerpoint presentation shown at the Cape Fear Housing Coalition’s 2018 Housing Legislative Breakfast showing cost-burdened residents are “just like us.”(Port City Daily photo / COURTESY CAPE FEAR HOUSING COALITION)

With cost of living on the rise in New Hanover County, nearly half of residents are considered severely cost-burdened.

“The more we spend on housing, the less we spend in our local economy,” D’Angelo said.

At 38 percent of the city’s population, over 35,000 residents are considered cost-burdened in Wilmington according to research produced by Mel Jones, Research Scientist at the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia.

“The math doesn’t work,” D’Angelo said.

A beast of a burden

Housing is affordable when households spend no more than 30 percent of gross income on living costs, including utilities, taxes, and rental or homeownership fees. CFHC defines households cost burden by following scenarios:

  • Cost-burdened more than 30 percent of your gross income on housing
  • Severely cost-burdened if more than 50 percent of gross income is spent on housing

In Wilmington, 39 percent of the population is cost-burdened and 43 percent of the population is severely cost-burdened according to the CFHC. In New Hanover County, 38 percent of the population is cost burdened and 41 percent is severely cost burdened.

Possible solutions

D’Angelo presented comparable communities’ approaches to affordable housing and offered local policymakers and developers potential solutions to address New Hanover County’s crisis.

Inclusionary zoning, redeveloping city-owned land and offering land-use incentive grants were all among action-based options D’Angelo suggested as viable options. 

“Are we attracting a for-profit developer?” D’Angelo asked.

For alternative solutions and more information on the affordable housing shortage, check out our previous coverage and five-part series


Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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