Affordable Housing Options Heard At Joint City-county Meeting

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Apr 27, 2021
City and county leaders will mull over ways to bring more affordable housing to the Port City following a presentation and recommendations on the topic at a special joint meeting Tuesday.

Members of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and Wilmington City Council heard a presentation from Dave Spetrino, president and CEO of PBC Design + Build and the leader and one of many members of a workforce housing advisory committee formed to bring solutions to the table to address the area’s affordable housing crisis.

Recommendations in a housing work plan on the area's needs include increasing density for development, working to increase wages as a community and funding options from the city and the county.

Spetrino said many households in the area are having to pay more than 30% of their income for housing. This is driving people to seek housing outside the city, in neighboring counties, and commuting to work, adding to traffic.

He also noted that there are 400 vacant lots, south of Wooster Street.

"We have the capacity here. But it's land use. It's being more efficient in that land use. It's being comfortable with density and height where it's appropriate," Spetrino said. "But also to it is funding, because some of the things are going to take dollars."

Land use is a big hurdle to overcome, said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo at the meeting Tuesday.

Other specifics that would need to be addressed come in the form of land use policy, and paving the way for more neighborhoods with a mixed price range for mixed incomes.

Spetrino said land use is an area to start, including looking at rezoning areas of the city and county to support the development of affordable housing.

The group agreed that addressing the needs of the entire community of all incomes, including those with disabilities and seniors, would need to be reached in an overall plan or solution.

Funding affordable housing opportunities could come in the form of a housing trust fund, forgivable loans, grants, dedicated property taxes, sales tax, general obligation bonds and the area's hospitality tax. Members at the meeting Tuesday also discussed options of bringing a housing bond to the table.

“You’ve come with some specifics. You’ve talked about land use policy and what we need to do in regards to possibly mixed-income, or mixed price points – we’ve got some specifics we need to talk about. And I think that it gives us the meat of what we need to look at to start determining what we want to do. Folks in the county and county commission may want to look at it or take parts of this thing and do things with it. And we want to do things with it," Saffo said.

The next workforce housing advisory committee meeting is slated to take place on May 5 and another joint city-county meeting is being planned for early June.

“Hopefully, we can come together with some issues that we can all work together on. And that might be challenging but I think that from our perspective we’re sticking between $2 million to $4 million for housing assistance through the hop programs, rental assistance programs and other programs, CDBG funding or general fund money that we’re putting into the pie, which has helped over 400 homeowners establish homes or get homes in the community. We have a lot more to do.

"But I think we have some meat here that we can start chewing on to determine where we want to go with this thing," Saffo said. "I think Dave and them have laid out a pretty good program and I think we just have to now as policymakers determine how we’re going to do funding, where we’re going to put it, and how we’re going to do it.”
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