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Committee Pushes For Funding, Policy Change Amid Affordable Housing Gap

By Emma Dill, posted Jan 23, 2024
Wilmington and New Hanover County’s joint Workforce Housing Advisory Committee provided local leaders with its annual update this week. (Image courtesy of WHAC)

Even with ongoing affordable housing investments from local government leaders, more work needs to be done, according to Wilmington and New Hanover County’s joint Workforce Housing Advisory Committee.

Established in 2019, the 13-member committee is tasked with recommending procedures and policies to promote workforce housing. Board Chair Shamonique Brantley provided New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners with the committee’s annual update on Monday and is set to give the same update to Wilmington City Council leaders on Tuesday.

Last year, the Wilmington area faced a housing gap of about 2,900 rental and for-sale units and more than half of local renters are housing cost-burdened, Brantley told the board on Monday. To address these issues, the committee recommends local leaders establish a dedicated housing fund, host a roundtable discussion with developers and planning leaders and continue to pursue policies that support affordable housing and other mixed-type and mixed-income projects.

Brantley kicked off Monday’s presentation by thanking New Hanover leaders for their ongoing investments in affordable housing. Last fall, for example, New Hanover leaders approved $3 million to fund workforce housing. The funding is part of the board’s commitment to invest at least $15 million in workforce housing over five years.

Wilmington and New Hanover leaders have provided gap financing support for affordable housing projects like Starway Village and offer resources and support for both renters and prospective buyers.

Last year, New Hanover County’s rental assistance and housing programs served just over 150 households, according to Brantley, and developers committed to building 124 affordable housing units through county-level rezonings. Wilmington’s housing programs served more than 9,300 households last year and developers committed to bringing 79 affordable housing units via city-level rezonings. 
“Collectively, the various programs have impacted more than 9,500 households and have more than 200 committed units,” Brantley told the board. “Even with these accomplishments, there’s still more work to be done.”

Although more than 2,700 new construction units were added to the market between October 2022 and October 2023, a 2,900 annual gap remains. Approximately 52% of local renters are housing cost-burdened while 22% of homeowners are housing cost-burdened, according to Brantley.

Fair market rental rates in the area are also on the rise. The average fair market rent of a two-bedroom unit rose more than $250 between 2023 and 2024, climbing from $1,269 to $1,515. The average cost of a three-bedroom unit rose more than $330 from $1,669 in 2023 to $2,002 in 2024, according to Brantley’s presentation.

“Though we’ve made great strides in recent years, unfortunately, there are too many of our residents who are still finding themselves in housing crisis,” she said.

To address these issues, Brantley presented recommendations from the committee in five key areas. 

The committee’s first recommendation is the formation of a housing fund that would leverage local, federal and private money to support “diverse initiatives,” ranging from land acquisitions to providing gap financing and covering pre-development costs.

“This type of initiative will allow for investment in a variety of projects not currently supported by existing funding sources,” Brantley said.

A second recommendation encourages city and county leaders to continue to pursue policy changes at state and local levels to support housing affordability. That includes reducing the costs for development review processes, encouraging mixed-income projects  and including the North Carolina Housing Coalition’s 2024 legislative agenda as part of local legislative efforts.

The committee’s third area of focus is supporting a diverse housing supply. That includes preserving existing housing and encouraging new mixed-type and mixed-income developments. The committee also recommended local leaders host a roundtable discussion with planning leaders and developers to coordinate strategies to remove barriers to housing diversity and affordability and encourage the construction of accessory dwelling units.

The committee also recommended that local leaders invest in programs that support residents in navigating the search for affordable housing and identify and implement “innovative measures” to make existing housing more affordable.

Finally, the committee advocated for a focus on education. That includes the improved collection of housing data, bolstering tracking efforts and improving communication of existing housing resources and programs. Committee members also recommended developing a housing data platform that could serve as a public resource and improving communication between the committee and elected officials.

In response, board members asked questions about details of the committee’s recommendations and emphasized a commitment to addressing affordability issues. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said the board faces the challenge of balancing the need for housing with local pushback.

“You have many in our community that are anti-growth. They don’t want any more development to take place, but at the same time we have folks that have no place to live,” Barfield said. “Trying to balance those two things is really a challenge for any elected body.”

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