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Real Estate - Residential

Born To Create Affordable Housing

By Lynda Van Kuren, posted Mar 1, 2024
Stephanie Norris, an affordable housing developer, is shown at a construction site for a project she’s currently building in Wilmington. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
The competition is stiff, and the work is hard, but Stephanie Norris wouldn’t give up her job for anything. Norris, who owns Terroir Development LLC, specializes in developing affordable housing, and it’s her mission to help provide homes for the area’s many residents who find it difficult, if not impossible, to afford a house or apartment. 

“You meet all the people who need this housing,” said Norris. “There’s that person who never lived independently, or in a safe situation, or is out of an abusive situation, or a senior who needs a clean place to live independently. This is my county. These are people we live and work with every day, so how can you not keep going?”

Like many other areas of the state, New Hanover County is in dire need of affordable housing. According to the N.C. Housing Coalition, 35% of New Hanover County’s households are cost-burdened, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The report also states that 53% of the county’s renters and 23% of its homeowners have difficulty affording their homes.

Norris’ interest in affordable housing came early: Her parents developed and managed affordable housing projects, and she grew up in the communities they created.  

As an adult, Norris followed in her parents’ footsteps. After serving as the assistant resident engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation, Norris founded two companies in Raleigh, Norris Design Consultants and Spaulding & Norris, which designed subdivisions and commercial sites.

In 2004, Norris also developed affordable housing projects with her parents. When Norris’ father died in 2015, she returned to Wilmington and, with her mother as her business partner, devoted her career to constructing affordable housing.

As an affordable housing developer, Norris has a multi-faceted job, a major part of which is obtaining funding. She usually uses a combination of tax credits (awarded through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program), investors and local governments. Norris also works with contractors, architects and engineers, and she places tenants.

Those eligible to live in Norris’ apartments earn 30%-60% of the area’s median income. A single person can earn $18,960-$37,920 annually, while a three-person household, such as a mother and two children or two parents and a child, can earn $24,360-$48,720 annually. Tenants must also meet credit and criminal background check requirements. 

Norris has completed several affordable housing projects in Wilmington and its surrounding communities, including Bennett Village near Monkey Junction, Highlands Village in New Bern and Artesa Village in Sunset Beach. 

She is currently working on two Wilmington projects. Estrella Landing, off Gordon Road, should be completed in April, and construction on senior living community Sterling Reserve in Carolina Beach is set to start in April. 

Norris’ strong work ethic, ability to find resources and dogged commitment to her cause are essential to her success. One of her superpowers is obtaining funding from sources other than tax credit equity. In addition to finding investors and leveraging the tax credit program to get better terms on bank loans, she seeks funds from local governments. 

In recent years, local government funds for affordable housing have become more available. 

Norris said these local income sources are essential because Wilmington’s shortage of available land drives up prices. 

“I spend more money for land in New Hanover County than for the other 24 properties we own and manage in Raleigh, Fayetteville and rural counties,” Norris said. “We can’t develop property in New Hanover County without that source of gap funding.”

When she needs support from council members, Norris puts herself on the front lines. 

“I go before the board and give a presentation,” Norris said. “I want them to have the information they need to make a good decision.” 

Norris’ willingness to share information with the competition is another example of her willingness to go out of her way to bring affordable housing to the area.

“I have no problem taking a call from a competitor,” Norris said. “When you bring more affordable housing to the community, everyone benefits from it.”

Not surprisingly, Norris has some ideas to overcome these obstacles, such as using part of the New Hanover Community Endowment, a more than $1 billion endowment created by the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health, to pay for affordable housing operational expenses.

While she might need to look inland to balance her portfolio, Norris said she will continue to seek property in Wilmington and New Hanover County for her low-income apartments.

And she aims to continue bringing in well-built projects on time and within budget.

Norris said, “We are not a huge management company, but we’re good at what we do.”
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