Wilmington-area officials made some strides toward improving the local affordable housing picture in 2017, though the complicated issue is expected to remain a major topic of discussion this year.
In November, a private developer said his firm, Tribute Companies, is committing some of a new project to affordable housing in a development proposed on Military Cutoff Road on the site of a former mobile home park. The plan for the apartment project, Arboretum West, includes 360 units.
Mark Maynard Sr., president and CEO of Tribute Companies, said Tribute will set aside 10 percent of the apartments to be affordable at 80 percent of the area median income “to help provide a private sector solution to the needs of Wilmington’s workforce.”
Suzanne Rogers, community development and housing planner with the city of Wilmington, said in November, “Tribute’s voluntary addition of affordable housing into this development is laudable and demonstrates an understanding of the need for more rental housing that is affordable to working families in our community. When adjusted for family size, [80 percent of the] median income for a one-person family is $38,200; using 30 percent of gross income as the definition of affordable housing, a one-bedroom apartment should rent for approximately $955 [per month] including utilities ($825 excluding $130 utilities).”
She said that according to the 2016 Out of Reach report issued by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), in Wilmington the estimated hourly mean renter wage for 2017 was $12.44 per hour or $25,875 annually, and at that income, an affordable rent is $647 including utilities.
“I applaud Tribute for this great step in providing housing that is affordable to the hard working members of our community earning around $38,200 annually ($19 per hour), and I’m hopeful that Tribute and other developers will continue to include housing that is affordable in future projects, especially for workers earning the average rental wage ($25,875) as reported by the NLIHC,” Rogers said in an email.
Also in November, Wilmington City Council unanimously approved a resolution to direct the city to include workforce/affordable housing as a criteria for Request for Proposals for projects developed on city-owned real property.
“The City of Wilmington Comprehensive Plan includes a theme of Creating a Place for Everyone and identifies diversity of housing stock that is affordable and available to everyone as a policy focus. Similarly, the City/County Workforce/Affordable Housing Ad hoc Committee identified the shortage of housing that is affordable as a problem in the community, and recommended the City and County include workforce/ affordable housing as a component of future Public/Private development projects that include residential uses,” wrote City Manager Sterling Cheatham, in a memo on the resolution. “To that end, the resolution institutes a policy of including workforce/affordable housing as one of the criteria to evaluate proposals for the development of City-owned property for residential use.”
Cheatham went on to point out that the resolution did not require solely the inclusion of affordable housing in proposals received to develop city-owned property, “but rather establishes workforce/affordable housing as an important component of public/private development projects with residential uses. Further, the resolution provides direction for including workforce/affordable housing in a development plan proposal.”
In October, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved a measure to boost a Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity project on Gordon Road.
“The county will be helping to fund the extension of water and sewer service to Habitat’s new housing development,” said New Hanover County’s Community Development Planner Julia Moeller, in a news release.
Habitat plans to build 27 energy- efficient homes along Daniel Boone Trail in the 6300 block of Gordon Road. As part of this project, main water and sewer lines will be extended to the property, and road improvements will be made to Daniel Boone Trail, a dirt road that has been without adequate turnaround space for emergency vehicles, the county release said.
“We are grateful to the Commissioners for seeing this as an opportunity to further their investment in the county and in our homeowners, and for their commitment to affordable/ workforce housing,” said Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Steve Spain, in the release. “Securing this funding means that we can begin construction in 2018, and then 27 families in our community will be able to purchase and move into their own affordable home in the years to come.”
The cost of extending water and sewer service to the 27 new homes is $272,463. The city of Wilmington is contributing $60,000, and the county has agreed to fund the remaining $212,463, the release said.
Although efforts have been ongoing in recent years to address the area’s affordable housing issue, it remains a complicated concept. With land and home prices continuing to rise in New Hanover County, some of the more affordable homes are in Brunswick and Pender counties. Regulations also add to the cost of building, homebuilders said at a Builder Panel Breakfast in December, sponsored by the Cape Fear New Home Sales & Marketing Council of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association.
Ralph Huff of H&H Homes said that what can be considered an entry-level home these days has a starting price of about $220,000.
“It’s funny how all of the municipalities say one of the things we really need is affordable housing and then they pass the laws that makes the development of the lot so expensive you can’t build an affordable house, and that’s tragic,” he said.
Shawn Horton of Trusst Builder Group said when builders are asked what they’re doing about affordable housing, he thinks it would make more sense to ask, “Where are the jobs?”
“We need job growth. We need pay growth, and we need to be able to retain jobs around here,” he said.
New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple said he thinks private-public efforts like the one the county entered into with Habitat on Gordon Road should be a template for the future to address housing needs. “Certainly from my point view,” he said, “affordable housing is one of the key issues of our upcoming year.”