As Wilmington’s housing market heats up, real estate professionals said last week that affordable housing is becoming harder to find for working-class home buyers, a problem only made worse in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
During the Cape Fear Realtors Affordable Housing Summit last week, officials discussed the problem, but some said getting actions on solutions have been harder to come by.
“We have some ideas on how to address the problem, but we haven’t had the cooperation yet from local governments to support these recommendations,” said Jody Wainio, a realtor with Keller Williams and vice president of the Wilmington Realtor Foundation, a group that is seeking to push solutions to the problem. “We’re working to get people to pay attention to the problem by making it more of an economic development issue. Housing affects everything.”
More than half of all homes sold in the Cape Fear region are under $250,000, the definition of affordable housing. However, the high demand for these homes has forced monthly inventory to fall under a two-month supply, the lowest in more than 14 years, according to Cape Fear Realtors.
“It’s still very much a sellers market, especially for anything under $300,000,” said Waino, vice chair of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition. “We’re starting to see homes in the higher price ranges get a little softer.”
Waino said a balanced market would have in all categories a five to six months of inventory, also known as the absorption rate. While the absorption rate for Wrightsville Beach is five months, houses in the lower price range is less than two months, Waino said.
At the summit, real estate professionals from around the state were on hand to discuss solutions being pursued in other cities.
Paul D’Angelo, former chairman of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition, is now a housing development specialist for the city of Asheville, where he said the city is working with developers to set aside 20 percent of new construction to be affordable housing.
The city is using a variety of grants to push this goal. It’s also buying land, which could be given to developers at lower rates or for free if they agree to build affordable housing on the property, D’Angelo said.
However, D’Angelo said that solution could be a problem for Wilmington, as Asheville owns a greater percentage of the city’s land than does Wilmington.
Despite the efforts, D’Angelo said Asheville’s growth and rising popularity puts it at risk of becoming similar to other popular destinations where high housing costs forces the working class to live far outside the city limits.
“The struggle is to keep us from turning into Aspen,” D’Angelo said.
It’s a problem for Wilmington, too, Waino said, noting that Hurricane Florence exposed the city’s housing problems. With several apartment buildings and lower-priced homes rendered unlivable after the storm, many had nowhere to go.
“It was the disaster after the disaster. People had nowhere to go,” she said. “I know of people sleeping in cars, pitching tents. In Hampstead, people camped out a soccer fields. All they had were their cars and the clothing on their back.”
And while local real estate professionals have been studying the problem for years, city and county governments haven’t moved quickly on recommendations, including those forwarded by a joint Wilmington/New Hanover County ad hoc committee on the workforce and affordable housing in the spring of 2017.
Those recommendations included establishing a permanent committee to address the issues, require more affordable housing options in city and county owner redevelopment projects, establish a housing trust fund and utilize bonds and grants to create more housing opportunities.
Waino said the lack of affordable housing in the region also impacts economic development.
“Teachers that work in a New Hanover County school but are forced to live in Rocky Point will end up spending most of their money in Pender County,” she said. “When companies look to move here, if we don’t have a stock of affordable homes, they’re going to go somewhere else.”