The issue of “affordable housing” is a difficult one, to say the least. For starters, it’s entirely subjective. What is affordable to you might not be affordable to me, or vice versa. Affordable housing has a working definition that typically says that if you earn less than 60% of Raleigh’s Area Median Income (AMI), you qualify for assistance. Raleigh’s AMI for a family of four is $67,450, so you would have to earn at or below $40,470 to qualify. While those at that level are most often highlighted, we cannot ignore those who are closer to 30%, or even below that. There are far too many people in Raleigh who fall into that category.
Raleigh is facing a crisis when it comes to affordable housing, but this isn’t anything new. This issue has been staring us in the face for years, without nearly enough focus being paid on it by our city council. Thousands of families are searching for housing that they can afford, and the current affordable housing vacancy rate rate remains steady at 1.6%, with no sign of growing. In 2015 the Raleigh Housing & Neighborhoods department was tasked with the goal of producing 5,700 affordable units in ten years. Council contributed to this goal a one-cent property tax increase, some of which was allocated in 2018. Even when we consider that, we still are not doing enough to address the problem. Greater investment in affordable housing is only part of the solution.
We need to be willing to consider everything. Money will not solve all of our problems. We need to be willing to consider:
- Making it easier for developers willing to invest in affordable housing to get the needed rezoning approvals. In rezoning cases, it is the petitioner who carries the burden of proof. Considering the crisis we find ourselves in, we should consider, within reason, shifting some of that burden to neighborhoods. Why shouldn’t affordable housing be built?
- Ensuring that accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are available via a by-right option, without an overly burdensome overlay process
- Advocating for affordable mixed-use developments in and around transit corridors
- A willingness to embrace density in a gradual, deliberate manner
- Radical new (to Raleigh) ideas like single room occupancy developments
Some of these ideas can work, and can be done now. Ideas like inclusionary zoning would absolutely give us a greater ability to address the issue of affordable housing in certain areas of our city, but we are limited in what we can do based on North Carolina law. Similarly, North Carolina must be willing to implement comprehensive source of income discrimination laws, protecting holders of Section 8 vouchers from being denied acceptance. While we continue to advocate on Jones Street for every arrow in our quiver, let’s do the things we CAN do.