RALEIGH – The Wake County Board of Commissioners approved $4.3 million in funding at this week’s meeting for construction of 288 housing units in Raleigh that are marked to be affordable housing. But the challenge to meet demand is daunting.

In the statement this week, Wake County noted that some 25% of the population is struggling to find a place to live that they can afford.

“It’s a crisis,” said Sig Hutchison, the newly elected chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “Government cannot solve this problem, we have to count on the private sector to help with housing affordability crisis,” he said. “We have to make it easier for the housing sector to build more units.”

In fact, the entire region needs much more available affordable housing, said Hutchison in an interview with WRAL TechWire.

“As we are all aware, affordable housing is a huge issue in Wake County,” said Hutchison. “As much as we are trying to do, we have a need of 50,000 affordable housing units, and we’re losing 1,000 units every year,” he said. “And that number is several years old.”

The estimated need was 56,000 units, in 2015, according to the Wake County Affordable Housing Plan. In that plan, adopted in 2017, Wake County set a target for 2,500 new affordable units by 2023.

Since 2019, the total number of affordable housing units created is 2,507, a statement from the Wake County Communications Office noted, and includes a mix of rental housing, single family homes for ownership, and permanent supportive housing, and the units are in nearly every municipality in the county.

To reach that target, Wake County has invested $37.8 million in affordable housing since 2019, the statement noted, and that funding has leveraged more than $405 million from other sources, meaning that for every $1 invested by the county, there was nearly $11 returned.

“This $37.8 million investment averages to about $15,000 per unit, which must remain affordable for 30 years,” the statement reads. “That’s an annual cost of only $503 a year to provide a family or senior with a safe, affordable home.”

According to Wake County, housing is considered affordable when housing expenses are less than 30% of someone’s monthly income.

Though the need was estimated to be about 56,000 households, the Wake County Affordable Housing Plan notes that the gap could widen in the next two decades to as many as 150,000 units, “due in large part to the fact that low-income households are largely unable to find affordable housing within the county.

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As rents soar, Wake County has lost 59% of its stock of rental units priced below $750 per month and lost 40% of its units priced below $1,000 per month.

According to the latest rental report from Apartment List, median rents in Raleigh are now $1,335 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,528 for a two-bedroom, a slight decrease from record high marks for both earlier this year. With the latest numbers, Raleigh’s year-over-year rent growth is 22%.

“One of my goals as chair of Wake County Commission” said Hutchison, “is to help build more housing units, faster.”

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“We have a rental assistance program in Wake County, and currently we have 8,000 applications,” said Hutchison, who noted that of these requests, 57% have been addressed thus far, but the program had begun to run out of funding.

The Board of Commissioners approved the allocation of an additional $15 million into the House Wake! program at this week’s commissioners meeting, which the county noted will expand the amount of funding to ensure applicants who apply and meet program requirements by the end of 2021 will receive assistance.  Without it, the statement noted, the program would have been forced to stop accepting applications in early December 2021.

A statement from Wake County indicates some 700 new applications are being submitted each week.

“We are one of a few communities who is running out of the federal money that is specifically allocated to this,” said Hutchison.

According to county, the City of Raleigh is considering adding additional funds to the program, as well.

“We see the challenges facing our community as COVID-19 continues to impact our most vulnerable residents, and we are here to support them in their time of need,” said Wake County Board of Commissioner Vickie Adamson in the statement.  “That’s why we’re allocating an additional $15 million in federal funds to keep this important program operational into January.”

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The North Carolina General Assembly also recently passed House Bill 110, also known as the “Landlord Submission of HOPE Application” that “makes modifications to the state’s chunk of emergency rental assistance,” according to Samuel Gunter, the executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition, who provided an update on a conference call on Tuesday.

“Require the state to accept applications from landlords on behalf of their tenants,” Gunter summarized. “There will still need to be tenant involvement in the application.”

The legislation will also open applications to hotel and motel residents, extend the program to 15 months from 12 months, and will now allow the inclusion of covering late fees as well as utility-only payments, Gunter noted.