Finding Home: How Do NC Cities Tackle Affordable Housing Challenges?
WFAE has been looking at the Charlotte region’s challenges with affordable housing as part of our series Finding Home. But this week, we’re going to zoom out in an effort to see how what’s happening here compares to the rest of the state.
One thing that is similar: About 30% of people across the state spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
The North Carolina Housing Coalition works with several groups to help advocate for resources to build and preserve affordable housing. Pamela Atwood is the group’s director of housing policy, and she joins WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf to talk about affordable housing challenges across the state.
Lisa Worf: Is there an approach you see working well in another part of the state that might be worth replicating?
Pamela Atwood: Across the state, some of the things that people are doing to kind of address the housing affordability issue, you know, Asheville they approved in 2018 their land use incentive grants. It's a program that's trying to incentivize residential developers to include affordable units. They're providing them with reduced fees, fee waivers, reduced taxes in certain situations, expedited...
Worf: Can they do that according to state law?
Atwood: That is a question, North Carolina being a Dillon Rule state where the state dictates specifically what local governments can or cannot do, and so what was commonly known as inclusionary zoning -- it is something that is not explicitly defined as something that cities can do. So, it is a live, legal question.
Worf: And Asheville is trying it out, then?
Atwood: Yes, they're trying it out and it's voluntary. So, they're just trying to encourage people to voluntarily do it. So, that's one way that some localities are getting around that question with the state.
Worf: What difference do you think it would make if communities really felt comfortable that they had that authority to do that?
Atwood: Well, I think that if communities felt like they had the authority, I think we could see some really broad changes because I think if communities felt empowered to do that, I think that would be a sign that we've got this kind of broader shift in how we think about housing. So many of our land uses are made based on what's going to make the most profit, what's going to bring in the most revenue, and regardless of what the community actually needs.
If we have people looking at housing in this broader context you start thinking about what housing can do for us and how it fits into our broader community and is the foundation of a stable, thriving population that would really be a good shift towards increasing affordable housing.
Worf: As far as comparisons between cities in North Carolina, how have cities responded differently to affordable housing shortages?
Atwood: In Greensboro, for example, they are looking at what is sometimes called naturally occurring affordable housing, or, you know, more modest housing stock rented out at lower rates, and they're cracking down on essentially on slumlords who ignore code enforcement fines and demands for action and they just persist in providing substandard, dangerous housing and at the same time increasing rents on low-income people.
Worf: And that's one of the challenges we've had in Charlotte as far as this tension between preserving affordable housing. But sometimes that affordable housing is really substandard and has problems. So, how do you how do you make it work?
Atwood: Well, that's something we're trying to figure out. I think Greensboro, the city is taking this step of suing some of the larger holders of some of these substandard housing units to force them into compliance and to improving the quality of their housing units. So, in that they're looking at how they can collect the money from those sources, looking at how they can drive that into more housing development and more programs to help homeowners maintain their home.
Worf: What lessons do you think Charlotte should take from other places in the state?
Atwood: Some lessons that I think Charlotte can take, these are something a little bit broader, but one way would be to evaluate zoning. You know, you've got some places, like Durham is toying with the idea of allowing more accessory dwelling units where someone can put in what they would typically call a granny flat onto their property, onto a single family home, as a way to increase the amount of housing that's available.
On the state level, this is recent, House Bill 675 just recently went into effect. That actually prohibits cities and counties from establishing ordinances that dictate minimum square footage. So, having minimum size requirements for building residential structures, and, so, I think re-evaluating what types of housing are we allowing, what types of housing are we encouraging to be built.