Raleigh’s Low-Income Housing Faces an Uphill Battle

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Editor’s Note: In the original post, the name of the 18-unit apartment complex was incorrectly listed as Passage Homes. The Coleman Street Apartments will be built by the nonprofit group Passage Home.

The approval of the Coleman Street Apartments, an apartment complex that will create 18 new apartment units on Coleman Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, is the city’s latest effort to meet the growing demand for affordable housing.

But the gap is widening between the number of low-income residents and the availability of affordable housing in the city.

According to Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan, “Assisted affordable housing units totals nearly 11,150 units in the city, less than 5 percent of Raleigh’s total housing supply.”

The 2010 Census revealed that, of the city’s 404,000 residents, 56,000 are living in poverty. And housing is a key element in combating poverty.

As the Comprehensive Plan states, “Affordable housing provides stability for families, improves opportunities for education and career advancement and reduces the risk of homelessness … (it) is a key factor for community vitality and continued economic growth.”

Since Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2009, the disparity between the number of low-income residents and low-income housing has only grown, said Raleigh’s Deputy Planning Director Ken Bowers.

“Since we last looked at this, the recession has hit,” he said. “It’s a challenge to keep up with this demand.”

The growing need for affordable housing in Raleigh is compounded in the face of government budget cuts, said Raleigh Housing Authority Spokeswoman Allison Hapgood.

“We’re seeing people stay in public housing longer now. Expenses haven’t dropped, but available jobs and pay rates have gone down,” she said. “So, it’s harder for people to get a leg up. Rather than staying three to five years, people are staying as long as seven years.”

The City of Raleigh secures loans and housing bonds to continue building up its inventory of low-income housing. Likewise, RHA has largely depended on federal dollars to supply the city’s growing housing demand. The RHA has a 98 percent occupancy rate for its public housing and the section 8 program is 100 percent utilized. According to the website, there is a wait list for both programs.

With little public funding to create new housing, many people in search of low-income housing are left in limbo until someone else vacates, she said.

“With the federal budget what it is now, you can’t get help new people with these programs until someone leaves,” Hapgood said.

Raleigh’s affordable housing programs are staying busy, she added, “and, something the city should be proud of is that Raleigh is using 100 percent of the resources it has to provide what it can.”

Raleigh leaders know there is more ground to cover. Aside from adding more affordable housing options, city planners are pushing to more evenly disperse it throughout the city.

The city offers few affordable housing developments around North Raleigh, particularly Northwest Raleigh, said Shawn McNamara, program manager for Raleigh’s Community Development Department.

Most of Raleigh’s 11,000 affordable and low-income housing units are in the southeastern portion of the city – something city planners are trying to amend. Click on a dot to learn more about the housing.

Many affordable housing units are in South and East Raleigh, leaving those residents clustered in one section of the city. While Raleigh planners are working to change that, the issue is a matter of cost, McNamara said.

“Northwest Raleigh has the greatest need for these kinds of projects. But, the land is more expensive there … that’s the kind of tug of war we deal with when we’re trying to establish more low-income projects,” he said. “We tell developers to give us your best shot when seeking new affordable housing projects and, when looking at overall costs, properties in these areas are a better deal. But we’re trying to nudge it in other directions.”

That nudge comes in the form of Raleigh’s scattered housing policy, which gives preference to approving proposed projects where there aren’t any.

In the end, construction is up to developers. On that front, Hapgood said the down economy may be providing one upside.

“Because the private [real estate] market has cooled, more developers are taking another look at affordable housing projects,” she said.

And, that’s what she’s counting on in the hopes that the city’s list of people waiting to find an affordable home will be met with new opportunities.

“The private sector has to step up and be the net for the folks that are falling behind,” she said.

Raleigh also provides information and counseling to people interested in buying or renting homes through the city’s Fair Housing program.

To help educate people on fair housing practices, Raleigh’s Fair Housing Board will host a fair housing conference April 27 at the Double Tree by Hilton hotel in Raleigh.

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