Volume 16, Number 2
This week the Gazette question to the five commissioner candidates is: Do you believe or have evidence that we do or do not have a lack of affordable housing in Wake Forest? If there is a lack, what do you propose as strategies to provide more affordable housing? Keep in mind that Wake Forest has one of the largest concentrations of low-income housing – the three Wake County Housing Authority-operated units on North Allen Road, North White Street and West Oak Avenue – in the county. Does the town need homes, apartments and townhouses that the teachers, etc., can afford to either buy or rent?
Also, town residents should mark their calendars for the candidates’ forum sponsored by the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Nov. 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Renaissance Centre. All the candidates plan to attend. If you have a question for the candidates to answer that night, send it to Chamber President Ann Welton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Bridget Wall-Lennon: As far as I can determine, the town of Wake Forest does not have hard numbers regarding the need or the lack of affordable housing for our town. Wake County and the City of Raleigh have more specific information or have task forces or committees looking at affordable housing. It is a platform issue that you hear candidates in just about all political campaigns talking about. As a town commissioner for Wake Forest, I would support commissioning a study to look more in-depth at this matter. If we did a study, it should include current needs, projected future needs, demographics and other factors, as well as look at models of towns similar to our town’s population to determine where we are regarding affordable housing for our town residents. This may be done by issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for professional services to conduct a study or we may even want to look at partnering with one of universities that has an Urban Planning program. Graduate study program are a more cost effective way to have a study conducted and oftentimes graduate students look for projects such as this to work on. As a matter of fact, US News ranks one of our very own state universities, University of North Carolina (UNC) as 5th for the Top 10 best graduate programs in the country for City Management and Urban Policy programs, which covers urban planning and community development.
With affordable housing being an issue in Raleigh, many people are locating to communities like Wake Forest. As a matter of fact, we moved to Wake Forest because we “got more house for our money” by purchasing a home in Wake Forest rather than in Raleigh. I believe a lot of people are realizing this; thus the influx of people moving to our beautiful town. Wake Forest has several low-income housing developments operated by the Wake County Housing Authority. We also have several townhome and apartment developments that are more affordable than some of our surrounding towns and cities. From my own experience, I know that renting an apartment can be just as expensive as actually paying a mortgage. So for me, when I talk about affording housing, I am also taking about providing homes that people can “afford” to purchase and own; and not only necessarily rent. I believe we should work towards moving individuals from “renters to buyers”. The town already partners with Habitat for Humanity to build low-income, affordable homes in our community. However, if the town has not already done so, I think it would be a great opportunity for the town to also partner with organizations like the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. NACA is a community advocacy and homeownership organization whose primary goal is to build strong and healthy neighborhoods in urban and rural areas nationwide through affordable homeownership. The success of these types of programs can only be realized when potential homeowners complete the program and find a surplus of affordable homes in safe and thriving communities like ours in Wake Forest.
For more information on my platform, please stop by my Meet & Greet on tomorrow Thursday, October 12th from 6pm to 8pm at the Stonegate at St. Andrew Clubhouse located off Forestville Road. I also invite you to visit my website at www.BridgetForWakeForest.com.
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Ned Jones: First, I disagree with the premise of your question teachers, firemen, school janitors and bus drivers are good middle-class jobs. Individuals in these jobs are proud of the critical services they provide to the community. And I am proud of them also.
- Frequently individuals that are just starting out in these jobs share a property with someone else, which demonstrates just how smart they are.
- There appear to be adequate opportunities to rent places in the Wake Forest area. My reference is a Google search of ‘Wake Forest rentals’ where I found properties ranging from just under $800 to $1100 per month.
- I also did a search for properties for sale in the Wake Forest area and found 68 for $250,000 or less and 47 properties in another search.
- If individuals who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have an honorable discharge, qualify for the GI Bill which opens many doors for home ownership. I am a veteran and took advantage of the GI Bill to buy our first house.
- It appears that the free market is working very well in Wake Forest to provide for the residents in the area.
- As far as providing additional properties in Wake Forest, the Wake Forest Planning Board and Board of Commissioners will make decisions based on advice from the Wake Forest Planning Department and response from citizens and citizen groups on a case by case basis.
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John Van Ness: I am by no means an affordable housing expert but I do believe that thriving communities should be diverse- with different age groups, different socio-economic levels and different races and cultures living and working together. Wake Forest was chosen as the site for the first Habitat for Humanity project in Wake County, so we have a history of being on the forefront of creating affordable housing.
This past Saturday I volunteered at a Wake Forest Northeast Community Coalition/ Habitat for Humanity event and had a chance to talk with housing experts and community leaders. It’s estimated that approximately 100,000 Wake County residents spend more than 30% of take-home pay on housing. When you go past that threshold you are at greater risk of homelessness and not being able to provide for basic living expenses like transportation and food. I also had the chance to speak with a local teacher who expressed her concern over prices of single family homes in Wake Forest and how our housing market is pricing out young families.
In September 2016, the Wake County Board of Commissioners created an Affordable Housing Steering Committee to assess the housing situation and offer solutions to this county wide issue. If we want to enact change we need to work with this committee. I will work to have representation with this group and tackle the problem collaboratively.
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Liz Simpers: Affordable housing is a challenge in fast-growing metro areas throughout the U.S., and our town is not immune to it! A great place to start is to look at the strategic plan on the town’s web site. This plan includes conducting a formal housing demand analysis so we have the data that can prove the need, rather than the anecdotal feelings we might have around town. Once we have that data, I think we should find a reasonable balance between the need for affordable housing and knee-jerk mandates that would likely drive up the cost of housing for everyone. How do we offer the right public policy solutions that enable market forces to help with this challenge?
As land diminishes, the decisions we make in the next four years will affect our next forty years. Affordable housing that our residents can choose to rent or buy is an issue in our community and throughout the Triangle region. I see it being an opportunity we will navigate for years to come. Especially as we desire to create a town where we can work, play, and live. The great news is, we have many experts in our town to help us chart the course! You can count on me to listen, learn, and help develop reasonable policy solutions for our community. I would be honored to have one of your two votes for town commissioner!
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Thad Juszczak: The first step in answering any question about affordable housing is to define what it is. A common definition is that housing is affordable if it costs less than 30 percent of a household’s income. So, the actual number of people who need affordable housing varies with their income. Wake County estimates that over 100,000 families in the county need affordable housing.
The median household income in the town is about $77K. Considering the cost of housing in the Town, this is probably “evidence” that some households in the Town must spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a town problem. In our federal system, the federal government, the states, the counties, and municipalities each have responsibilities. Some consider it optimum urban planning that people can live where they work, but this is no rule. Many people who live in Wake Forest work in Raleigh; they choose to live here. Similarly, not everyone who works here wants to live here. To address affordable housing issues, you must take a larger view than just one town.
Whether the town wants to do something about affordable housing is a public policy question. Many of our residents might agree that town and county employees (such as those in public safety, schools, etc.) should be able to afford to live in the town. (Note: There are many problems associated with how we could limit affordable housing to just these people.) However, I wonder if the same residents would agree with having that affordable housing in their neighborhood. This might be a NIMBY issue, but people certainly have the right to protect their single largest investment – their homes. Would residents support a bond issue to raise money for the town to address the issue?
The town is already doing some small part to address affordable housing by working with Habitat for Humanity to build some affordable housing within the town. This seems reasonable.
Some (myself included) would argue that housing is a county responsibility, like social services. Wake County has an Affordable Housing Steering Committee tasked to develop a 20-year comprehensive plan for affordable housing in the county, including Wake Forest. Perhaps the town’s best approach would be to work with that committee to address the issue.