How do we define affordable housing? Who is left out?

Affordable housing is a complex issue, and one to watch as the more progressive incoming Raleigh City Council tackles it as one of the named priorities.

Also important is the conversation among community organizers and advocates around the issue.

One of those conversations happened Saturday at the Southeast Raleigh Community Engagement Strategy session. The group is organized by Aaliyah Blaylock and Carmen Cauthen.

The context: Southeast Raleigh is a historically Black area of Raleigh experiencing gentrification and displacement of longtime residents as property taxes increase. 

Here’s some of the challenges outlined during the affordable housing discussion:

There is not an inclusive definition for affordable housing, and activists worry that those who are making the least are being left out. 

There’s a math to it. 

  • Affordable housing is often defined by not spending more than 30% of your income on rent or mortgage. 
  • Affordable housing units are available to people based on how much they make compared to the Area Median Income. 

Activists like Octavia Rainey are concerned that “affordable housing” is still out of reach for many Raleighites, specifically that those making less than 30% of median income are being left out of affordable housing projects and conversations. 

The News & Observer reported previously that the AMI is $59,100 for one person and $84,300 for a family of four. [read more about affordable housing projects approved by Wake County Commissioners in April]

Who are people who can’t afford the average apartment in Raleigh?

The average apartment in the Raleigh and Durham market is $1,177/month, and teachers are more cost-burdened than the general population in Raleigh, the Charlotte Observer reported.

That means an average person should be making more than $42,000/year to afford an average apartment. Jobs making less than that:

  • 40 hours/week at North Carolina minimum wage job would make approximately $15,080 for 52 weeks. 
  • Firefighters in the city of Raleigh start at $38,058. 
  • A receptionist at a public high school in Wake County will make between around $21,500-$36,500.

Clear guidelines or requirements for developers haven’t been set by the city

Stuart Cullinan, a developer who lives in Southeast Raleigh, is concerned that affordable housing developers will be asked to include aren’t clear during the planning process.

It leads to a “negotiation” on affordable housing during rezoning requests, like a Kane development at Harrington and Peace streets in Downtown Raleigh.

That development will include affordable housing in the project at different percentages of the median income for a certain number of years. [previously from INDY Week]

There’s a need for more affordable housing and landlords willing to work with housing programs. 

Programs such as Passage Homes, which helps break the cycle of poverty, are experiencing increasing difficulty in finding apartments for their clients.

There’s a need for a toolbox of affordable housing, and Durham is a city to watch. 

Tools like flag lots, which allow homeowners to sell off part of their property and add density in single-family neighborhoods, can be a way to add density and allow longtime residents to age in place, the Southeast Raleigh developer shared at the event. 

Flag lots generally don’t face the street, similar to cottage courts

Durham currently has an affordable housing bond on their ballot for Nov. 5. Early voting is going on now. The bond would fund the development of affordable housing and provide jobs for historically disadvantaged businesses. [read more]

What’s next: The Southeast Raleigh Community Engagement Strategies group will meet again in February 2020. 

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