Durham Moves Forward on Affordable Housing Issues While Raleigh Stands Still

By Brent Woodcox

Facing a shortage of affordable housing and the pressure of in-migration that will only exacerbate the current crisis, Raleigh has recently seemed to lose the vision or the political will to do anything about it. 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. Raleigh's affordable housing math problem has been covered on this site before.

This crisis will not be solved solely through public subsidies nor through private development. It can only be solved by leveraging both the private and the public sectors and by creating a partnership that involves government, businesses and non-profits all working together to address the gap between the housing we need and the housing that is being built right now.

Just down the road in Durham, Mayor Steve Schewel has a plan that Raleigh might be able to learn from.

From Indy Week...

Last Monday, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel delivered his first State of the City address. The hour-long speech was wide-ranging: Schewel called on Durham residents to plant trees and help correct decades-old disparities in the city’s tree canopy. He sang the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and welcomed, in Spanish, the families of two men taking sanctuary from deportation in Durham churches. And he announced “some important, quiet work” being done to address the city’s critical lack of affordable housing.

Under the leadership of Phail Wynn, vice president for Durham and regional affairs at Duke University, the city is working to set up an affordable housing trust fund. Housing trust funds aren’t uncommon, but it appears Durham’s will be unique in that it will rely on private contributions, rather than primarily on governmental resources.

In an interview, Schewel stresses that plans for the fund are in the very early stages. As the Durham Housing Authority begins a massive redevelopment effort and the city gears up to deliver on its commitment to locating affordable housing around light-rail stations, Durham will need more resources to throw at the problem of affordability.

According to the Housing Trust Fund Project, an initiative of the Center for Community Change, there are ninety-eight city housing trust funds across the country, including two in North Carolina—in Asheville and Charlotte. In addition, hundreds of jurisdictions in New Jersey and Massachusetts participate in broader funds in those states. There are also state housing trust funds, including one operated by the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. All told, these funds dedicate more than $1.2 billion annually to housing efforts.

Schewel says a trust fund would provide a more flexible addition to the city’s existing Dedicated Housing Fund, a repository for the proceeds of portion of the property tax rate earmarked for housing and doled out through the annual budget.

He envisions a $15 million fund, with about 10 percent of that coming from the city and the rest from private sources, such as Duke University or financial institutions. The money would be loaned mostly to nonprofit developers.

Wynn is meeting with financial institutions, nonprofit housing developers, and city staff to bring the idea to fruition. ...
— Sarah Willets - Indy Week

It's time for Raleigh to take some inspiration from our sister city on affordable housing. We need a conversation about what this city--and potential partners in the business and non-profit communities--can do on affordable housing sooner rather than later.

Brent Woodcox