An economically healthy community needs “a variety of housing units in all shapes and sizes for all the variety of income levels we have,” said Paul D’Angelo, chairman of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition.
To D’Angelo, that’s what affordable housing discussions need to include. To boost awareness about what affordable housing means in the Wilmington area, the Cape Fear Housing Coalition is hosting its first Real Households of New Hanover County Tour starting at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 to showcase affordable homes in the area.
“We’re hoping it will become a yearly event,” D’Angelo said.
In New Hanover County, which includes the city of Wilmington, 32,000 households, or 1 in 3, pay more than 30 percent of their gross income for housing, according to a recent report by the city-county Workforce and Affordable Housing Ad Hoc Committee.
More than 41 percent of households in the county earn less than 80 percent of the area median income of $65,100.
Housing is considered “affordable” to a homeowner or tenant if their housing costs, including mortgage or rent, utilities, taxes and insurance, are 30 percent or less of their gross household income before taxes, a Cape Fear Housing Coalition (CFHC) definition points out.
To drive the point home, CFHC officials came up with the tour idea “to really showcase the people that sit around our table and the houses they maintain, preserve or create that are affordable for members of our community and what does that look like,” D’Angelo said.
When: The Cape Fear Housing Coalition-hosted Real Households of New Hanover County Affordable Housing Tour takes place 2-5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Starting and ending at Waterline Brewing at 721 Surry St. in downtown Wilmington, with transportation between the tour’s eight homes provided. A tour afterparty is also scheduled at Waterline Brewing.
Tickets: $10 each; For details and ticket info, go to Facebook.com/ capefearhousingcoalition
The tour features eight homes and displays the efforts of organizations such as Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, Cape Fear Community Land Trust and Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry. A Good Shepherd Center project that celebrated a groundbreaking this summer, SECU Lakeside Reserve, is another of the stops on the tour.
SECU Lakeside Reserve is a 16-unit, affordable housing development that provides housing for disabled residents at 2126 W. Lake Shore Drive, on the site of the former Adrian B. Rhodes Armed Forces Reserve Center that was closed by the federal government in 2011 and turned over to the city.
Local officials in recent years have been discussing the problem of affordable housing and potential ways to alleviate it.
In addition to leading the housing coalition, D’Angelo was one of 14 members of a city-county committee, along with Dave Spetrino, president of Plantation Building Corp. The panel wrapped up this spring and presented their findings to local officials.
“It’s going to continue to be a growing problem. There is no clear-cut plan or solution, and it’s going to fall on pretty much the shoulders of everyone to figure out how to better manage this problem,” Spetrino said in an interview in August.
The city approved a resolution Aug. 1 to transfer affordable housing funds earmarked in its latest budget. Of the $400,000 in this fiscal year’s city budget for the committee’s suggestions, $250,000 is set to go toward funding for low-income home loans, $90,000 for low-interest home loan repairs and $60,000 to be held for future committee recommendations, according to the city of Wilmington’s website.
Spetrino said at a minimum, it would make sense to find out where the area stands with regards to affordable housing.
“Are we short 100 or 10,000 affordable homes?” he said.
The panel’s presentation stated that “A statistically valid survey should be conducted on housing affordability. This study will provide a more detailed analysis of the market dynamics influencing housing and pinpoint gaps in supply. Further, it will offer a better understanding of the housing and economic conditions impacting production, preservation and availability of affordable housing so that strategies can be formulated to have the greatest impact in providing equitable access to affordable housing throughout the community.”
Spetrino said those in the housing and building industry in the area like himself could gravitate toward areas where there’s a need more easily if they know exactly where and what those needs are.
Meanwhile, the panel recommended that both the city and the county revise land use ordinances to add or improve accessory dwelling units and density and height requirement regulations.
Cameron Moore, executive officer of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association, said looking at density and height limits could help.
“We have a very highly desirable area that folks want to move to and live in, and that certainly poses some challenges when it comes to affordable housing,” Moore said.
He said those challenges include regulations, along with the costs of lots, materials, labor and permitting fees.
In addition to land use code revisions, among the many recommendations made by the affordable housing panel were streamlining and expediting the permitting process in the city and county, establishing a Housing Trust Fund, inserting affordable housing requirements for city- and county-owned property identified for redevelopment and supporting public awareness of the issue.
“Put a face on housing affordability; convey messages using stories about real people, reflect the community’s diversity,” the panel recommended, something that D’Angelo and others involved said the Real Households Tour aims to do.
A home at Harnett and Sixth streets in downtown Wilmington that’s on the tour is an example of a collaborative effort between Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity; the city of Wilmington, which donated the land; and Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage and Coldwell Banker Commercial SunCoast, the home’s sponsors, said Steve Spain, executive director of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.
“I think it [the tour] gives people a chance to see both the need for affordable housing and also that it doesn’t look the way most people think it does,” Spain said. “I mean there’s an image of affordable housing, and to a lot of people that means a public housing project. But the tour is an opportunity for people to see the different kinds of housing that’s out there to help all the different groups of people who need affordable housing.”