Raleigh's Affordable Housing Math Problem

By Brent Woodcox

The News & Observer reported on new affordable housing development coming to Washington Terrace...

Construction has begun at Washington Terrace, an affordable-housing complex in Southeast Raleigh that is getting a complete makeover as some other complexes near downtown are being sold to developers who want to build pricey apartments.

DHIC, a Raleigh-based housing nonprofit that bought Washington Terrace in 2014, hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday at the 23-acre site north of Booker Drive, near St. Augustine’s University. In the next two years, the group will build 234 townhomes and apartments for low-income families on the site to replace the old “tired and worn-out units” that were built more than 60 years ago.

“We saw (23) acres in this neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying as somewhere we could make a transformational impact,” said DHIC president Gregg Warren. “Otherwise, if it had not been for us or another affordable housing developer, the play would be to do much higher-end stuff.”

The redevelopment, which is the largest yet for DHIC, is the first project to get city funding after the Raleigh City Council increased the property tax rate last year by 1 cent to generate roughly $5.7 million annually for affordable housing. Raleigh is providing $8.6 million toward the $45.1 million project.
— Henry Gargan, N&O

Obviously, this is a positive development and something that is desperately needed, particularly in the area of Southeast Raleigh that is proximate to downtown.

But is it enough?

Looking into the math you see that this project is for 234 affordable units and will be built over the course of two years. That new, controversial 1 cent property tax hike passed by the council will generate just $5.7 million a year for affordable housing construction. This project will drain that fund of $4.3 million per year of the next two years. It will produce on 234 additional units and these units are really just being maintained as affordable housing units more than they are representing an addition to the overall affordable housing stock in the city.

The city has said it has a goal of adding 5700 units over the next decade. How is 234 units at that price going to get them to their goal?

Moreover, Wake County has a need for 56,000 additional affordable housing units today. And that need will grow to 150,000 units over the next two decades.

The effort, the vision and the focus of the current city establishment is inadequate to meet the needs of a growing community with quickly rising rents and home prices and expanding needs.

There are solutions available to this problem but it will require political will from city leaders who are willing to focus on the problem rather than offer half measures and warmed over excuses.

UPDATE: I've had some folks ask what some possible policy solutions that could be utilized in Raleigh. I've added a partial list below.

Brent Woodcox