Affordable Housing: Ways to meet the need

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With Raleigh and Wake County’s rapid growth has come rising property values and rents.  Combined with a poverty rate of 11% in Wake County, 31,000 people in Raleigh alone pay more than 30% of their income on housing which means they are paying beyond their means. Community dialogue around expanding transit has elevated awareness for the need for more affordable housing, especially if we don’t wish to force folks on lower incomes to move from their neighborhoods.  Rising housing costs is also a tough reality for the work force we depend upon – teachers, firefighters, service industry and more.

Constructing affordable housing is not cheap, however, and usually requires municipal support and tax credits.  That’s why the Raleigh City Council is dedicating new property tax revenue to creating more housing and is considering setting a new goal to create more affordable housing over the next decade. They are also looking at ways to incentive private development of affordable or work force housing, especially around new transit lines, which makes great sense.

To keep housing projects within tight budgets, projects in urban areas often must be relatively dense. Despite our good intentions, when new housing projects are proposed, concerned residents often raise concern about additional housing density because they assume housing density equates to more cars and traffic.  Many demand housing include on-site parking because neighbors don’t want extra cars parking on the street (actually, on-street parking increases safety of roads and sidewalks, but that’s another topic).

Let’s think about who lives in affordable housing – people on lower incomes and often seniors.  These folks don’t likely have two cars per household, and maybe none at all if they can’t afford them or can’t drive. A growing number of our residents are transit dependent. What’s more, millennials and seniors increasingly want to use transit and prefer to Uber around. Fortunately, transit service is due to improve significantly in the next few years.

If we want to see more affordable housing built, we should re-think providing parking for every housing unit.  Raleigh’s parking requirements for affordable housing at one car per unit is the right direction, but even that is probably not necessary in all cases.  If we want developers to build housing for all income levels, allowing greater density to make a project viable to build affordable units may be something our community needs to accept.

Creating affordable housing requires a multitude of strategies, and incentivizing developers will need new approaches. Wake County’s Commission has launched a special steering committee to develop an affordable housing plan, and assess current housing needs. We must consider a variety of options to achieve this growing need, and try to understand where the community may have to be flexible to achieve this vital goal.