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NHC/ILM housing study is out; 64% of residents worry about housing costs

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Stephen Sills, UNCG
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  Wilmington and New Hanover County have finally released their comprehensive housing study for our area. Some of the main findings: The region’s population growth is driving the housing shortage -- and that a majority in our community worry about the cost of housing.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and Bowen National Research presented their housing studies to both county commissioners and city council members this week. 

Stephen Sills, professor and director of UNCG’s Center for Housing and Community Studies, is one of the authors. He finds disparities between income levels when it comes to satisfaction with housing availability.

“Folks at the lower-end of the income spectrum are most dissatisfied with housing conditions. You see that satisfaction is between 20 to 25% at half area median income. When you get above the area median income, folks are quite satisfied.”  

Another one of the co-authors, Patrick Bowen of Bowen National Research, says that about 60% of renters in our area make $40,000 or less a year -- and that homeowners typically make over $60,000. And the need for rental units is great:

“Just in the next five years you’lll need over 4,100 units in the city, almost 4,000 in the rest of the county, so you’re going to have a lot of growth, a lot of need, it’s going to keep coming this way.” 

And even if this rental stock was built, Sills says the community could see resistance about where to place it: 

“Some of the comments were quite strong in resistance to any affordable housing in their own neighborhood. 78% of survey respondents say that affordable housing in their neighborhood would increase traffic. 46% of respondents feel that affordable housing in their area would decrease property values.”

And about a third of the respondents say this type of housing could increase crime. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield has a theory why:

“For me, I think I know the answer, typically when we say affordable housing, the first thing people think about is Black people and public housing.” 

But Barfield says affordable housing is defined as spending 30% of one’s income on housing. And he still sees firsthand reluctance in the community when it comes to building these units: 

“We’ve had folks who come here and we have affordable housing items on our agenda like tonight that will come and say, we don’t want this here. And for me the underlying message is we don’t want ‘them’ here. But the reality is they don’t even know who ‘them’ are. ‘Them’ are your children. ‘Them’ are the folks who work in your county government, those people who are teaching your children. That’s who ‘them’ are.”

The agenda item Barfield referred to was Estrella Landing. It’s 84-units of affordable housing proposed for Gordon Road.

The developer, Stephanie Norris, was opposed by attorney Steve Coggins, who represented a neighboring apartment complex. His complaints illustrate Sills’s finding that residents often fear affordable housing will increase traffic congestion. 

“The Board nonetheless has the power under the NCDOT policy to order a traffic study on this matter. It should deny this proposal, but in the event that it did [sic], it should require a traffic impact study given the increased loads on this already stressed interchange.“

Norris’s response: “But again, this is your opportunity to bring affordable housing to your community on a larger scale than you normally have the chance to do, and I think this is a better benefit to the county than to worry about whether there’s somebody parked in an access easement, potentially.”

After the public hearing for Estrella Landing, county commissioners unanimously passed the rezoning for the property. 

The authors of the study advise the Cape Fear Region to develop a housing education program to combat reluctance over placing affordable units in the community. They also say the city and county should look at establishing an affordable housing bond. About 78% of the housing survey respondents approve of that idea. 

Below are the housing studies released by UNG and Bowen National Research 

CoW - NHC Affordable Housing and Workforce Study by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

Click here to view the Commissioner housing presentation.

Click here to view the Council housing presentation.