The Need for Affordable Housing in Wake County

By Pat Butler - LWV-Wake Affordable Housing Committee Chair

Wake County’s population increases by more than 60 people per day; however, available land for housing those people does not increase. Reacting to the law of supply and demand, the cost of land increases. Therefore to provide affordable housing, densities must increase. This can be accomplished in several ways: smaller lot sizes, more units per acre, and high-rise buildings, if they are affordable. These actions require zoning changes which must be approved by town councils or the County Commissioners, reacting to citizens’ concerns. Therefore, it comes down to us encouraging our representatives to make the necessary changes to accommodate increased density – even in our own neighborhoods.

Households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing (includes rent/mortgage and utilities) are considered housing cost-burdened. In Wake County 24% of households are cost-burdened. There is not enough remaining income to provide adequate food, health care, transportation, child care, etc. Median rent for a two bedroom unit is $1026. To afford this two-bedroom apartment a family would need to earn $41,040 a year. Many service workers earn less than that amount.

To compound the problem, Wake County is losing its existing affordable housing inventory faster than it can produce or preserve it. When existing homes are demolished, they are replaced with more expensive units. The process can result in gentrification when the rebuilding is “accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.” Long time neighborhoods are disrupted, and former residents who can no longer afford the increased taxes and are forced to move farther out.

We all need to support the League’s adopted policy to “Support policies to provide decent home and living environment for every American family” by encouraging our elected representatives to adopt zoning and other policies that will enable the provision of more affordable housing for all our citizens.

The graph below illustrates the growth in housing cost relative to income. People spending more than 30% of their income for housing and utilities and housing cost burdened.

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Sources: HUD 2014 CHAS data; HR&A Advisors. Note: Total cost-burdened households include the total number of households spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Low-income households are defined as 50% of AMI or $39,400 for a four-person household based on HUD’s 2015 income limits for Wake County.