Friday, April 12, 2024

Two years later, Wilmington and New Hanover County finally commit to permanent affordable housing committee

Affordable housing in Wilmington as well as the rest of the country is in short supply (Port City Daily/Ben Schachtman)
Affordable housing in Wilmington, as well as the rest of the country, is in short supply (Port City Daily/Ben Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — It’s been two years to the day since the Joint City/County Ad Hoc Committee on Workforce/Affordable Housing suggested the City of Wilmington and the County move forward with the creation of a permeant Affordable Housing Committee to address the growing shortage of affordable homes in the area — finally, the two governing bodies have agreed to move forward with the request.

But what exactly is a workforce housing committee and who would be on it?

Related: Committee presents proposal for more affordable housing in Wilmington, New Hanover County

“The Committee would be comprised of 13 members from the various disciplines, six appointed by each entity, along with the Chair of the joint City/County Community Relations Advisory Committee. The six disciplines are the North Carolina Realtors Association, the business or education community, the development community, the non-profit housing community, the financial community, and an at-large member,” according to City Council’s meeting agenda.

As far as the purpose of the committee goes, it would be responsible for gathering proposals and awarding a contract to conduct a workforce housing ‘study’ of the area — costing up to $100,000.

“[The interlocal agreement] establishes the purview of the Commission as to oversee the completion of the workforce housing study at a cost not to exceed $100,000; advising the City and County on educational and instructional materials and programs that further the purpose (s) of workforce housing; and, the development of a long term work plan and other projects as necessary to further workforce housing.

Multiple analyses of the affordable housing situation in New Hanover County and Wilmington have already been completed like that from the Cape Fear Realtors Report, which was presented earlier this year.

One-third of households in the county are cost burdened

From the Cape Fear Realtors report.
From the Cape Fear Realtors report.

In New Hanover County alone, 38% of all households are cost-burdened, or, they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. These statistics have already been studied and even disseminated during citywide affordable housing seminars.

Related: ICYMI – Five-part series breaking down Wilmington’s affordable housing crisis

The committee’s creation has also ironed out a definition for the term ‘workforce housing.’

As previously reported, the term affordable housing has been defined as a home costing no more than 30% of a person’s annual income. This could mean someone making $10 million spending no more than $3 million annually, or someone who makes $30,000 spending no more than $9,000 annually on housing.

Because of perceived negative connotations, the phrase ‘affordable housing’ has been interchanged with workforce housing, and until now, there was no difference, but with the creation of the committee, workforce housing will have its own new definition.

Defining ‘workforce’ housing income

According to the resolution, “Workforce housing will generally be defined as that which costs no more than 30% gross total income for households earning between 60 – 120 percent of the area median income.”

In actual figures, when using data from BestPlaces.net, that would be those households grossing (i.e. before taxes) making between $25,278 and $55,556 annually. According to the website, the median area income for Wilmington is $42,130 annually compared to the U.S. average of $53,482.

But the median income is not the same as the average income of residents in the city, in fact, that number is significantly lower at $29,225 annually. (If Wilmington used the average, and not the median, the income range would be shifted down to between $17,535 and $35,070.)

Several Wilmington City Council members had some concerns with the focus being placed on this specific income range and not going below that 60% mark. But despite these hesitancies, council approved the agreement unanimously – citing the fact that the county had already approved its end of the agreement focusing on a higher income range.

“I think we’re all disappointed that it didn’t go down to the 30% mark and I think we’re all saying vehemently that we need to do that, but at the same time we have the county that has approved this at the 60% mark … what we’re saying is ‘let’s move forward and approve something and if we have to revisit it, we can revisit it as quickly as we can,” Mayor Bill Saffo said.

If revised to lower the income range to 30 percent of the median income, as Saffo suggested, workforce housing would cover annual incomes from $12,639 to $55,557.

The City of Wilmington’s leadership has been onboard with the creation of the committee for some time but getting the county to approve funding for a new position and commit to the interlocal agreement has been time-consuming.

According to the agreement, the county will be responsible for funding a staff position to work directly with the committee, and the city will appoint a staff liaison.


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