Our Community needs a Transformational Response to the Housing Affordability Crisis…
Our community needs to develop consensus around a transformational response to the housing affordability crisis, including: 1. Significant public investment in the form of a housing affordability bond referendum approved by voters; 2. reform of our zoning laws to allow more opportunities for people to move to Raleigh, and 3. a process for facilitating agreements with private developers to incorporate support for housing affordability into their projects.
WHY IT ALL MATTERS:
Before we delve into the policy, lets pause to recognize that behind the policy decisions are the lives of real people. The housing affordability crisis is tearing at the fabric of our community by displacing seniors from the neighborhoods they helped build and forcing families into sub-par housing. Housing affordability has a disparate racial impact, and it will hold Raleigh back from being a healthy community with a place for everyone. Raleigh’s citizens want the city government to be active in providing solutions to this crisis.
HOUSING BOND REFERENDUM:
The current city budget has $13.6 million for affordable housing, which is only enough for about 645 rental units. Meanwhile, Wake County estimated in 2015 that Wake County has an unmet need of 56,000 affordable units.
We need a housing affordability bond referendum for voter approval of bigger housing investments to provide a safety net against the displacement caused by rising prices.
We should use these voter-approved funds to invest in developments like the Capital Towers Apartments located on Six Forks Rd. in Midtown, the largest affordable senior housing project in Raleigh.
Unlike Capital Towers, we could incorporate public transit into these developments. For example, locating the parking lot behind the building, moving the building closer to the road, and incorporating public transit into the building site makes it easier for residents to access transit options. (note: I support transit-oriented development in appropriate places to support more mobility options, as discussed more in our transportation piece.
Looking more broadly across the city, we can focus these investments along our key transit corridors like New Bern Ave., S. Wilmington, and Western Blvd., will support implementation of the bus rapid transit (BRT) under the Wake Transit Plan. Of course, housing and transit costs are very much related.
However, with a gap of 56,000 affordable units in Wake County government-funded housing alone cannot solve this problem. For that reason, public investments should be made as a part of a package of zoning law reforms and establishing a framework for developer agreements.
ZONING LAW REFORMS:
We will also need changes to our zoning laws to provide more opportunities for people to move here. We should allow for more walkable urban development in our downtown core and along our busiest transit routes.
We also need to promote equity by making our zoning laws more flexible for all of our citizens. For example, reducing the minimum lot size for senior housing developments, as recommended in the Wake Housing Plan, would help to provide more housing options for seniors to stay in their neighborhoods.
We should also promote more flexibility for people who are looking for townhouse, duplex, or quadplex living, and for the appropriate use of accessory dwelling units. These “missing middle” housing options will help provide opportunities for people to move here, and benefit the community through more efficient growth that supports public transit. We can add these new options gently over time focusing on downtown and our transit corridors, while protecting the character of our neighborhoods.
We should continue to work on establishing the right framework for agreements with private developers to support housing affordability in their future developments. We should insist on significant public benefit from new development projects in our community.
In addition, there are questions about the legality of this process. I believe there is an opportunity for us to revisit this and establish a framework for these agreements that attracts participation, provides substantial community benefits, captures the advantages of tax incentives, and complies with the state law.
The housing affordability crisis is the most urgent and complex problem facing our community. We should begin approaching this challenge with a public planning process to build consensus around potential solutions. The ideas I have discussed are some that I think would make a positive difference. I look forward to engaging this kind of public planning process and talking about them in more detail.