Affordable Housing Downtown?

Oct 7, 2019

In the run-up to the 2019 municipal elections, we find most candidates have the terms, “affordable housing” and “workforce housing” in their vernacular and high on their list of priorities. There is growing demand. But is there growing supply? 

There is a lot of construction going on in downtown Wilmington.

River Place, Flats on Front, Pier 33 Apartments. And there are more projects still in the planning stages.

“There are total of four parcels at the Northern Gateway to downtown, which lie between Third Street and Front Street.”

That’s Wilmington Spokesperson Dylan Lee. He’s describing the Gateway Project.

East West Partners of Chapel Hill proposes to build a $90 million mixed-use project at the City’s northern gateway. East West is the developer of the 13-story River Place along the downtown waterfront, and they submitted the only development proposal for these city-owned acres.

“We anticipated that it was going to be a mixed use proposal, and that is what came in. So staff is currently evaluating that, and they will be making a recommendation to City Council sometime in October, that Council can then take action on and that would likely be a decision to proceed with next steps of negotiation with the developer. Or it could be a decision to go back out and solicit more bids.”

The proposed development along Third and Front would be a mixture of retail, residential housing, office space, hotel, grocery store, and visitor center. The new project would consist of some affordable units, unlike the rising River Place a few blocks away. A one-bedroom unit at River Place starts at $300,000.

Suzanne Rogers is the Community Development and Housing Planner for the City of Wilmington. She says private developers are under no pressure to include affordable housing.

“So cities or governments that are, that require private developers to include affordable housing, that's often referred to as ‘inclusionary zoning’ and that is not allowed in North Carolina. So no, there is no requirement that a private developer has to include affordable housing or, housing that a lot of people who work here, you know, could live in and still have enough money left over for other things that they need.”

Despite being a public-private partnership with the City, River Place has no requirement for affordable housing.

The proposed Gateway Project, however, does. Rogers explains that an Ad Hoc Committee formed a few years ago started pushing a requirement for affordable housing in new projects.

“One of their recommendations to the City and the County was that any public - private partnerships that go out for request for proposal should ask the developer, in the submittal, to include some sort of affordable housing. It doesn't specify the amount, the percentage. So that's not specified. So that was requested in the request for proposals. I believe that the submittal the developer offered is 5%.”

That’s also the case with the old WAVE site proposal on Castle Street currently being considered. The developer says it will offer affordable housing, but the percentage of these units is yet to be determined.

However, those new projects downtown, along the river, like Pier 33 and Flats on Front and River Place, will carry high rents and mortgage payments.

As more apartments, condominiums, and offices are rising up in Wilmington, something else is also rising.

The water.

Vince Winkel, WHQR News.

Next week, on Oct. 17, we look at what rising sea levels and climate change could mean for Wilmington in the coming years.