We Can Address the Housing Crisis

Photo by Gary Knight

Over the past month I have attended two Community Conversations regarding evictions in general and at properties on Garner Rd and Poole Rd specifically. These meetings have been well attended by County and City of Raleigh elected officials and staff as well as elected officials from surrounding communities. For example, at last night’s meeting we learned about a trailer park in Wake Forest where residents – many who own their “mobile” homes – are facing eviction because the owner of the land wants to redevelop the property.

The problems that many are facing are intractable under current state law. Five years ago and even a year ago, people were living in relative security. Now many are facing eviction with nowhere to go – particularly in Wake County.

Moving to another county is problematic. Many people do have jobs locally. However, those jobs don’t pay well enough to pay a mortgage or substantially higher rents in Raleigh or Wake. And leaving a job to relocate to rural North Carolina is difficult if not impossible.

Some will argue that we need to build more faster. However, construction is already happening at an unprecedented pace. In Raleigh alone, we have rezoned enough property in the last five years to allow 65,000 new units. However, only a fraction are in the pipeline to be built despite all the construction activity. Moreover, what is in the pipeline is not affordable.

What will happen to people? The Raleigh Housing Authority says there are thousands on their waiting list for affordable housing. Some non-profits that provide emergency housing have waitlists in the hundreds.

At our last Council meeting we changed zoning to allow construction of so-called missing middle housing. I voted against the change because I am concerned that it will worsen the current situation by encouraging more evictions to make way for more market rate property that those being evicted will not be able to afford. The change in zoning for missing middle provided no safeguards to protect existing affordable housing or to encourage new affordable housing. As Ken Bowers from the City’s Planning Department acknowledged, the intent of the zoning change was to allow more types of housing in desirable neighborhoods and does not address our affordable housing crisis.

Changes to state law are needed. One change would be to require the inclusion of affordable housing with the construction of large rental properties. We need to have a discussion about this. Every project that will bring 50 or more units should be required to provide at least 5 units that are affordable (in other words, 10%). This seems like a prudent and reasonable approach.

There are other changes that could also happen. For example, find alternatives like insurance to offset or replace deposits on apartments. Insist that tenants can use vouchers for rent payments. Ensure that background checks are reasonable in the kinds of information that can be obtained and for how far back in time they can be conducted. We should try to remove barriers to housing.

We should have a conversation about these and other ideas and look to State leaders for changes. Without changes at the State level we maintain a status quo that will lead to more evictions and hardship for many in obtaining a place to live in Raleigh and in Wake County.