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A tale of two economies: New report shows the Cape Fear region is defined by class divisions


This week, Cape Fear Collective launched a landmark report about inequity in the Cape Fear region. Among its key findings: That the citizens of New Hanover County are divided into two populations, One which is quite well off, and one living near poverty. WHQR’s Kelly Kenoyer brought data scientist Dante Haywood into the studio to discuss the report.

Kelly Kenoyer: So the report that just came out talks about this idea of two economies. What is the tale of two economies in the Cape Fear region?

Dante Haywood: Yeah, that was an interesting finding in the report. The tale of two economies is, put simply, it's a more well-off region on the shore, and that socio-economic advantage sort of dies down as you go further inland into the more rural counties.

KK: So when you say on the coast, do you mean the beach towns specifically? Or does all of New Hanover County fall into that?

DH: Yeah, that's, that's interesting. So we definitely mean that the beach towns, I think, specifically for New Hanover County, what we're seeing is a clear split, right down college road, where, you know, the beach towns, they they have an inward influence, but then there's sort of the suburbs outside of there, and further from Wilmington city limits, where majority of we see the socio-economic advantages.

KK: Interesting. Okay. So the two economies, how does that impact housing affordability?

DH: Yeah, what we're seeing is a scramble for low income housing, sort of within Wilmington, city limits and closer to the Cape Fear River side, versus, you know, we have the beach towns, which, you know, every everybody comes in, buys a beach [house], and that drives up prices. And then we start to see a huge need for two ends of the spectrum. We see a need for low income housing, but we also see a need for more than average income housing, closer to the shore.

Specifically for New Hanover County, what we're seeing is an extreme increase and home prices over the past seven to 10 years. And the challenges is balancing, you know, where do we want to put low income housing, because the county, you know, socioeconomically is split down the middle, you sort of have one end, that may not want affordable housing, for whatever reason. But then you have an extreme need of people who live and work here within our communities that aren't able to find affordable housing, residents who just aren't able to find anything within their income bracket. And so we're working with the city and the county to understand how do we balance these two needs.

KK: that kind of brings me to this idea of area median income. That's the determining statistic for the cost of rent in workforce housing. So how accurate is it to the actual income distribution in this region?

Yeah, the actual income distribution, it's not very accurate, quite frankly. We have such a high need for above average income, I'm talking $300,000 to $500,000 homes. And it gets even higher than that right on the beach towns. And when those when that supply runs out, those people are moving further inland, or they're looking for housing further inland.

And that puts an upward pressure on home prices in communities, which typically had lower income working families, which now they're seeing their tax evaluations increase. They're seeing, you know, new housing developments within their community, which don't necessarily represent the people who have lived there all their lives.

And so when we talk about this, this dual distribution, it's, it's this tell tale of two economies again, and we don't want to necessarily forget about and only review overall metrics, when really like you're saying there's this, there's this multi modal distribution when we're breaking it down by different demographics.

The full Cape Fear Inclusive Economy Report can be read below.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.