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Wilmington City Council avoids tax increase, helps fund affordable senior housing

Wilmington City Council looked over the budget plan for the upcoming year and voted to help fund an affordable senior housing project during the meeting.
Grace Vitaglione
Wilmington City Council looked over the budget plan for the upcoming year and voted to help fund an affordable senior housing project during the meeting.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Wilmington City Council looked at the coming year’s budget–including how to pay for the Thermo Fisher building downtown–and voted to help fund a senior affordable housing project.

According to a budget presentation given by Budget Director Laura Mortell, the city will not increase taxes to fund the purchase of the Thermo Fisher building–a move the city has been planning aroundfor months.

Staff previouslyrecommended a 1.5 cent tax rate increase. Now, the city plans to shift more of their yearly tax revenue towards paying off the debt.

For every $100 of property tax value, the city gets 39.5 cents. They're shifting 1.12 cents of that revenue from the general fund to the debt fund.

That translates to over $2.5 million yearly towards paying off the debt from the purchase.

Mortell said the city hopes to see a lot of growth in downtown, spurred on by the purchase.

“The opportunity is extraordinary in that it has the potential to shift the downtown economic center and attract further businesses to the city,” she said.

City staff and officials also presented the financing plan for the purchase to the Local Government Commission (LGC) yesterday. That's the state agency that reviews major financial transactions of towns, cities, and counties.

During the presentation, city staff said they hope to make $19 million towards offsetting the cost of the purchase by selling existing property — but that will depend on the market.

The LGC will likely vote on the project at their next meeting on June 6, according to city staff. If approved by the state, the city hopes to close on the deal in July.

City council also voted unanimously in favor of helping fund an affordable housing project on Carolina Beach Road during yesterday’s meeting.

In order to stay affordable, the Sterling Reserve project will need to fill a gap in financing. The city will provide up to 1 million dollars to close that gap with funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That money comes from annual funding from HUD’s Home Investment Partnership Program.

Members of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition attended the meeting to show support for the project. Chair Clayton Hammerski said it addresses a serious need for senior housing.

“There’s a large gap in our community of all types of housing stock, but that is a vulnerable population that we need to look after,” he said.

The proposed project will be located at 5029 Carolina Beach Road, with 56 units of affordable senior housing in a four-story building.

The one- and two-bedroom apartments will range from $405 to $1,000 in rent. The occupants, primarily ages 55 and up, will range in income from 30 to 80% AMI, or area median income.

As part of the project, Wilmington will annex the parcel of land where the project is located into city limits.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.