Local Government Aims to Work with Developers to Lower Cost of Housing in Cape Fear Region

Nov 20, 2015

To tackle the divide between high home prices and low wages, regional business leaders suggest increasing incomes through targeted economic development.  But at a recent roundtable discussion, local government representatives came at it from a different angle: lowering housing costs.

The heads of Wilmington City Council and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners agree that partnerships between local government and developers are part of the solution to the region’s lack of affordable housing.  Here’s Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo:

"You’re going to need incentives of some sort. Low interest financing tools, as Jonathan alluded to.  Possibly cash subsidies or even grants, density bonuses, tax abatement programs—I think that’s something that our state legislature would probably embrace as opposed to inclusive zoning issues.  Reduced or waived fees, I agree with that.  If you’re going to be putting in some affordable housing into your development, you should have a reduction in your fees."

Saffo also suggests garage apartments as a way of increasing the amount of low-cost rentals.  And instead of tearing down homes that don’t meet code requirements, Saffo says rehabilitation assistance could help fix those structures and preserve affordable housing.

Chairman Jonathan Barfield says the county should add infrastructure in undeveloped areas to decrease costs for developers, which would hopefully lower the overall home cost once completed: 

"The County’s going to play a major role in this.  Right now, we’re updating our comprehensive land use plan.  That’s something we haven’t done in quite a few years, in determining how we’re going to use land in the unincorporated parts of the county.  In the unincorporated parts of the county, especially the Caste Hayne / Wrightsboro area, where there’s limited water and sewer, we’re going to need to provide that type of infrastructure so that builders can go in and build."

When updating zoning, Mayor Saffo says some large parcels of land could be split into smaller lots to create more housing density.

Once affordable housing is created, Chris Stevens, President of Landmark Organization, says the difficulty is keeping it reasonably priced:

“You’ve got to somehow preserve the affordable housing because a lot of times it sells as affordable the first go around and then there’s appreciation and it’s no longer affordable.  You’re back to square one on, ‘What are we going to do for the next generation to provide affordable housing?’  So, some of these trusts have mechanisms within that to control where the owner or the user of that product really is not going to get any appreciation of value but at least it preserves the affordability.” 

But these are all ideas for solutions, not concrete steps.  What action will come from this Affordable Housing Roundtable?  Here’s Wilmington Councilmember Earl Sheridan:

“One thing that I hope will come out of this is perhaps a housing task force that is composed of city and county and folks from the development community, the business community, and the nonprofit community, and perhaps others that might address some of these possible solutions and make some recommendations to our decision makers on some concrete policies that can be done.”