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Endowment Reveals $19M Affordable Housing Strategy

By Emma Dill, posted May 29, 2024
The New Hanover Community Endowment released its Affordable Housing Investment Strategy on Wednesday – an effort that could allocate up to $19 million to support existing and future housing programs.

According to a news release, the endowment’s housing investment strategy has three key focus areas: stabilization, production and capital. The endowment faced criticism from nonprofit leaders and the public for not funding affordable housing in its $53 million December disbursement.

“This investment approach aims to mitigate the ongoing affordable housing crisis in the area by supporting existing housing and preventing displacement, facilitating the production of new affordable housing units, and exploring the creation of a capital impact program for future housing projects,” the release stated.

According to the endowment’s release, recent studies suggest that 35% of New Hanover County households are cost-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing and related expenses.

To help support existing housing and prevent displacement, the endowment has allocated $8.1 million for “core operating support over three years to nonprofit housing providers identified in the 2023 grant cycle.” 

The endowment has also dedicated a budget of up to $11.5 million in 2024 to “facilitate the production and rehabilitation of affordable housing units.” A rolling grants cycle has been established to identify eligible projects and guide applicants through the application process, “ensuring maximum impact and efficiency," the release stated.

The endowment will also “explore creating a fund to provide low-cost capital for development projects aligned with the goal of increasing and preserving affordable housing.”

“Our investment strategy underscores our unwavering commitment to addressing this challenge head-on, with a focus on tangible solutions and community collaboration,” Terri Burhans, a network officer who oversees the endowment’s community development pillar, stated in the release. 

“We recognize that housing is just one facet of the broader goal of enhancing residents' financial stability, and we’re looking at both innovative and proven strategies to increase income and lower expenses for our residents.”

A specific investment strategy was needed because of the number of requests the endowment received to fund affordable housing, Chris Boney, chair of the endowment’s grants committee, stated in the release.

“With over $50 million in grant requests from the housing community, the 2023 grant cycle solidified the need for us to create this investment strategy,” Boney stated. “Our residents deserve a path to safe, stable, and affordable housing, and we’re eager to be part of the solution.”

Katrina Knight, executive director of Wilmington's Good Shepherd Center and a member of the joint city/county workforce housing advisory committee, wrote in a statement to the Business Journal on Wednesday that the endowment's strategy could help address both short- and long-term housing needs in the area.

"(The endowment's) team has clearly worked with feedback from local subject matter experts to come up with a detailed strategy to really move the needle around our affordable housing crisis in the near term but also to lay the groundwork for addressing it down the road, too," Knight wrote. "It will be exciting to see what outcomes result from this very intentional process, and I can’t think of a more meaningful investment in the quality of life of our New Hanover County neighbors."

Clayton Hamerski, chair of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition, said the group views the endowment's announcement as a positive step. The group has long advocated for a housing trust fund to help developers finance affordable housing, he said, which seems similar to the endowment's plans to provide low-cost capital projects. 

The endowment’s 2024 grant cycle will support nonprofit housing providers along with other groups that align with the endowment's core pillars. Endowment leaders are in communication with nonprofit housing providers identified in the 2023 grant cycle, according to the release.

“The affordable housing crisis is a nationwide issue, and one that impacts so many in our New Hanover County community,” stated Bill Cameron, chairman of the New Hanover Community Endowment board, in the release. “This comprehensive strategy represents a collaborative effort between the Endowment and the community, presenting solutions that help foster a thriving environment for all residents.”

The endowment was formed from the sale of the county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health in 2021, creating a more than $1 billion fund from the bulk of the sale proceeds. The endowment is currently searching for a permanent leader, following the resignation of inaugural president and CEO William Buster in February.

Look for WilmingtonBiz Magazine's summer issue for a more in-depth look at the New Hanover Community Endowment.
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