WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington is using funds from the sale of Optimist Park to support the unsheltered population. During Tuesday’s council meeting, members are expected to appropriate $162,687 for the construction of “permanent supportive housing.”
The homes will serve disabled, low-income individuals who experience chronic homelessness and need ongoing support to remain housed. Using the funds, the city plans to put about $40,000 toward the Eden Village project and the rest to future housing developments.
According to city documents, there were 57 chronically homeless people in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties during a 2020 survey. More than half of those were living in uninhabitable locations, such as tents, or sleeping outside. A 2021 assessment indicated a need for 299 new housing units for households earning less than 50% of the area median income.
“Permanent supportive housing has been shown to lessen the use of emergency medical services and public safety calls, thereby reducing the cost to the community and improving the quality of life for this vulnerable population,” the city ordinance states.
The 11.3-acre Optimist Park was declared surplus property in October 2020 following severe damage from Hurricane Florence.
It was sold to the North Carolina State Ports Authority and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in April 2021. The two entities purchased the land for its appraised value. N.C. Ports paid $335,000 for 8.02 acres and CFPUA doled out $110,000 for 3.28 acres. Only 6.3 acres of the site are usable as wetlands and a utility easement limits use on the remainder of the property.
According to city minutes from April 2021’s meeting, N.C. Ports was interested in the property as a buffer between its business activities adjacent to Front Street and residential properties, to protect the vista coming into downtown Wilmington.
The Wilmington City Council already approved using $250,000 from the sale proceeds for Eden Village infrastructure in October 2021, leaving a little over $150,000 remaining.
“Local support is needed to effectively leverage other public and private investments in housing, and the sale proceeds from Optimist Park will serve this purpose,” the proposed ordinance explains.
The remaining proceeds will also address housing needs for eligible homeless individuals. From that, an additional $43,000 will be given to Eden Village for another housing unit. The other $119,687 could be used for pre-development planning, site preparation, and construction or rehabilitation of additional permanent supportive housing units. The money would be funneled through a grant or loan to an eligible affordable housing developer or homeless service provider.
Eden Village, once complete, will provide tiny homes to 32 of the homeless and disabled population. An anonymous donor agreed to pay for 16 of them with a $640,000 donation. As of last month, Eden Village project lead Tom Dalton said $800,000 was still needed to finish construction.
The 4-acre village, located off U.S. 74, will provide landscaped and furnished houses to single adults who, for at least one year, suffered from homelessness while also struggling with chronic, physical or mental illness. Dalton said the organization is already looking to build a second community, though discussions are very preliminary.
According to city emails, Dalton has asked staff to help him locate an appropriate 3- or 4-acre lot for the future growth. He will need to install infrastructure and concrete pads and is planning to keep costs down by moving to 3D-printed walls. Construction on Eden Village 2 could start in 2024.
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