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Real Estate - Residential

Shedding Light On The Region's Affordable Housing Gap

By Cece Nunn, posted Jan 9, 2019
Jessica Lautz of the National Association of Realtors speaks during the Cape Fear Realtors Affordable Housing Summit on Wednesday in Wilmington. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
With home prices on the rise in the Cape Fear region and wages not keeping up, the affordable housing issue in the Wilmington area is expected to remain a challenge, experts said during a session on the topic Wednesday.

Average home prices have risen 22 to 30 percent in the tri-county area in the past six years, according to a report produced for Cape Fear Realtors and distributed Wednesday morning during the organization’s Housing Affordability Summit at The Terraces on Sir Tyler in Wilmington.

In New Hanover County, the figures showed a rise of 25 percent from 2012 to 2018 in the average price of a new home (about $285,000 in 2012 to $355,000 last year) and 28 percent for an existing home (about $234,000 to $301,000), according to the report.

Pender County showed the greatest average price gains: 27 percent for new homes (an increase of $64,000 to a little over $300,000) and 30 percent for existing homes (a jump from $210,000 to $273,000). 

More than half of all homes sold in the Cape Fear Region cost under $250,000, but demand is high at that price, resulting in the lowest supply in over 14 years, the report stated.

Citing one example that's contributing to the problem, student loan debt is a massive barrier to homeownership, said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral research for the National Association of Realtors.

Lautz was one of the speakers during Wednesday’s summit in Wilmington.

“There’s absolutely individuals who’ve been left out of the housing market today, even though they want to enter the housing market,” Lautz said. “We see that eight in 10 non-owners today want to own a home in the future. Nine in 10 believe that home ownership as a concept is part of their American dream but they’re having a hard time getting there today.”

The city of Asheville has a number of programs aimed at addressing that area’s affordable housing issue, something a former Wilmington official is helping to achieve. Paul D’Angelo, now housing development specialist for Asheville, previously was the chairman of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition, worked with the Wilmington Housing Authority and was director of affordable housing at Wilmington-based Tribute Properties.

D’Angelo shared details about what Asheville has been doing to address the city’s need to add nearly 3,000 affordable housing units to its inventory over the next few years.

Measures include a $25 million housing bond passed by Asheville voters two years ago with $15 million set aside for three high-impact sites that can hold a lot of housing units and $5 million going into an existing housing trust fund.

Among numerous other measures, D’Angelo embarked on a regional tour to meet with developers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“We went everywhere to tell people Asheville is open for business and we’re open for the business of affordable housing,” D’Angelo said. “We need more developers to come in and be part of the solution.”

He said Asheville has two committees working on the issue of affordable housing and recommended that the Wilmington area develop a new municipal committee in some kind of partnership with New Hanover County.

Another potential source of help for the Wilmington area’s housing gap could lie in the development of a Unified Development Ordinances (UDO), said Cameron Moore, executive officer of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association. Both the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County are in the midst of the UDO process.

“Density and height are two terms that are going to have to be a part of both UDOs, the city’s and the county’s,” Moore said Wednesday. “They have to interplay together to meet the affordable housing challenge head-on.”

Correction: In this version, the percentage increase for the average price of existing homes in New Hanover County has been corrected to the accurate figure.
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