Tuesday, February 27, 2024

County’s affordable housing framework prioritizes shovel-ready projects

The New Hanover County commissioners have approved a five-year plan to allocate $3 million annually to affordable housing projects.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The lack of available housing options to serve low- to middle-income families has been compounding the affordable living issue countywide. There is an estimated housing gap of over 10,700 rental units and over 13,000 for-sale housing units within the county over the next 10 years, according to results from a county and city housing survey.

County staff presented Monday a framework to combat the issues by spending $3 million annually for five years — paid out of the general fund each fiscal year. The money is part of the New Hanover County Commissioners’ promise to increase affordable housing.

READ MORE: NHC commits $15M to affordable housing, ditches $50M housing bond

After foregoing discussions on a possible $50-million housing bond, which never made it to a vote as it received community pushback when surveyed, commissioners voted unanimously on a different strategy in February. It pledged to spend $15 million over the next five years to expand and enhance the stock of affordable homes and form a new department, located within Planning and Land Use, focused solely on affordable housing.

The new team will be led by senior planner Rachel LaCoe and consist of a long-range planner, housing program manager, housing program coordinator and a fiscal support specialist. Positions were approved in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

County spokesperson Jessica Loeper said some positions have been hired and some are still being recruited.

At Monday’s meeting commissioner Rob Zapple, who presented the five-year plan, called it “aggressive” and said it was “putting the county in the game in a big way.”

Results from a public housing survey, conducted by Bowen National Research, for the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County, indicate more than half of all renters pay over 30% of their income toward housing (with 30% being the national rule of thumb). It also shows only 58 of the 931 homes available for purchase on the market in 2021 were priced below $200,000, representing just 6.2% of the supply. 

LaCoe laid out the guideline for workforce housing services describing the criteria staff will use to prioritize projects. To determine the community needs, the county is developing a request for proposals.

For-profit and nonprofit agencies are welcome to apply for a piece of the first $3-million pot, but there is a limit of $1.5 million per project. Submittals will be judged on a point-based system, with priority going to projects that are shovel-ready prior to July 2023.

Points will be assigned for three components: financial feasibility — considering the project’s other funding sources and likelihood of coming to fruition, development quality — projects zoned for proposed development, good quality materials and unit size comparable to market rate, and management — developers highlighting a track record of maintaining workforce housing and financial history.

The number of proposed new units, length of affordability and acceptance of housing vouchers will be factored into a project’s approval for funding. When the survey was conducted there were 2,321 people on a waiting list — closed since July 2018 — for housing vouchers as well. 

According to the Wilmington Housing Authority, the housing voucher list opened back up in March. Roughly 1,200 people have applied since and 1,577 are on the waiting list.

The county will grant preferential treatment to units that would target individuals with an average median income (AMI) — which is around $56,000 — under 80% (bonus points for units priced under 50% to 30% AMI).

The most stock in the point system will be given to the financial feasibility and development team, as well as how closely it aligns with New Hanover County’s housing goals. According to the county, the RFP will encourage development of complete communities instead of individual units instead of individual units.

Eligible proposals would increase the number of rental units available, help to retain the county’s affordable housing stock by rehabbing current units and improve residents’ access to housing. The housing survey revealed plans to demolish and redevelop 256 units of public housing, but no timeline is set.

County staff will release the RFP in July and a sub-committee of the Workforce Housing Advisory — consisting of five workforce housing advisory members, with three appointed by commissioners — will review the applicants. Recommendations will come before the commissioners in October to finalize the funding allocations.

Update: The article has been updated to reflect the correct makeup of the Workforce Housing Advisory. It incorrectly stated commissioners would be part of it. Port City Daily regrets this error.

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