WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Sound Off: Call To Action On Workforce Housing

By Catherine Grinnan, posted Sep 25, 2023
Catherine Grinnan
High demand from a growing population and limited land availability have led to a supply-demand imbalance of enormous proportions in Wilmington and New Hanover County. 

The urgency is acute for a segment of our community not considered the traditional face of affordable housing: police officers, teachers, firefighters and health care support workers. It is time to prioritize creating workforce housing for those protecting, serving and educating a community they cannot afford to call home.

In 2023, fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit is $1,259 and requires a minimum annual income of $50,360. The average salary of each of these professions is $15,000-$20,000 under the $66,212 median income for New Hanover County.

The outlook for purchasing a home is similarly bleak for our workforce professionals. 

An annual salary of $48,000 qualifies for a home purchase up to $260,000, and these professionals are competing to purchase one of only 35 homes in New Hanover County at this price point in July 2023. 

Each month, prices increase, supply remains constrained and affordable homeownership remains unattainable for our workforce.

Identifying opportunities to increase affordable housing in New Hanover County is a frequent subject of study and the focus of a four-year effort by the joint city and county Workforce Housing Advisory Committee. 

However, no single entity, public or private, can supply the 12,147 rental and 16,875 for-sale units needed to satisfy Wilmington’s projected 2032 housing deficit, as reported in the Bowen Research 2022 Housing Needs Assessment Update, prepared for the joint city and county Workforce Housing Advisory Committee. Instead of falling further behind, we must quicken the pace. Public and private entities must add to our community’s affordable housing stock, one unit at a time.

What does stepping up look like when the issue is so dire? 

Any movement forward results in added housing opportunities for our workforce earning 80%-120% of area median income. Wilmington Realtors Foundation (WRF) is taking a small, but important step to address this need with a project of 48 single-family homes on Carolina Beach Road named Pierson Pointe.

A small charitable organization founded to support fellow Realtors in times of need, WRF leveraged a 3-acre parcel on Carolina Beach Road to make the project possible. Pierson Pointe is not a project an association typically would launch; we are not developers or builders, and associations are known to be risk-averse. However, we asked ourselves, ‘How much longer can we study, discuss and wring our hands at the sheer number of units needed without doing something?’ 

WRF completed an assemblage to meet density and navigated site work, engineering and zoning. 

With each incremental step, the development community’s curiosity became interest, then commitment, as the financing, developer and builder commitments fell into place. 

It’s a bold approach, but it’s the right approach. 

The Wilmington Realtors Foundation is committed to delivering Pierson Pointe to the community. We look to be a beacon for our community and set the bar for colleagues and supporters in the community to follow suit. We feel as if we are pioneers. We plan on getting it right because it’s the right thing to do.

Pierson Pointe shows our commitment to providing housing opportunities for our local workforce. By embarking on such a project, the Wilmington Realtors Foundation is taking a proactive approach to contribute to the availability of affordable housing in the area. 

There are many ways to contribute, and we continually advocate for flexible and creative approaches that include: 
 • Public-Private Partnerships – Streamlined approvals and lower fees, redirect funds to projects;
 • Zoning and Land Use Policies – Reduce fees and stimulate investment in workforce development;
 • Preservation of Existing Housing – Repair, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse; and 
 • Innovative Financing Solution – Bonus incentives for increased project density.

Wilmington’s lack of workforce housing is a pressing issue that demands our immediate attention. Wilmington Realtors Foundation is taking a small step by contributing 48 homes dedicated to workforce housing in perpetuity. 

We invite others to join us in answering the call for our workforce to have access to safe and affordable homes. Let us seize this opportunity to build a more equitable and sustainable future for all our residents.

Catherine Grinnan is the Wilmington Realtors Foundation’s campaign director and works for Cape Fear Realtors.
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