The Raleigh City Council Punts on Affordable Housing Decisions and I AM SHOCKED | News
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Raleigh City Council Punts on Affordable Housing Decisions and I AM SHOCKED

Posted by on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 9:02 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here.

The Raleigh City Council is known for taking its sweet time to do just about anything. This is a body, after all, that hasn’t quite figured out Airbnb after, what, three years? And, my god, earlier this month and again this week the council punted on a decision over a boutique hotel in Glenwood South—Glenwood South! The heart of the damn city!—because some condo-dwellers were worried that a rooftop event space might ruin their view. This is also the same city council that punted on a long-in-process development plan in North Hills that would bring much-needed density to the area because the neighbors were scared of midrise buildings. And so it probably comes as little surprise that, at this week’s meeting, the council also punted on a pair of affordable housing decision.
  • From the N&O: “Raleigh leaders have moved forward with several affordable housing efforts, but delayed a decision on two projects in downtown Raleigh and Southeast Raleigh. Decisions on the two projects—keeping the Sir Walter Apartment in downtown Raleigh as affordable housing for the elderly and putting affordable housing at the site of a joint YMCA and elementary school in Southeast Raleigh—were delayed for Raleigh City Council members to ask more questions about the high cost per unit.”
  • The delay is only for two weeks—unless there’s another delay, which I certainly wouldn’t rule out. Still, the YMCA deal left Corey Branch frustrated, and understandably so.
  • “City staff were requesting $3 million in local money for 158 affordable elderly units at the Sir Walter Apartments downtown and $4.6 million for 120 affordable units at the Rock Quarry Road property called Beacon Ridge. The total cost of the projects would be $39.72 million and $22.59 million, respectively. Council member Dickie Thompson, who asked to delay the vote for two weeks, said he wanted more information about why it will cost $188,258 per unit for the Beacon Ridge project and $251,441 per unit for the Sir Walter Apartments, at 400 Fayetteville St. The city would only pay about $18,987 per unit for the Sir Walter Apartments and $38,333 per unit for Beacon Ridge, with the rest of the money coming from other sources.”
  • With the Sir Walter, there’s a New York developer who wants to rehab the building and add eighteen units but is pledging to keep it affordable for thirty years, which probably explains the city’s reduced contribution. After all, that’s prime downtown real estate. At Beacon, it’s a little different story. Because of a flood-plane issue, the project isn’t eligible for federal funds, so without a sizable city contribution, it’s pretty much dead.
  • The council did approve funds for four other affordable housing projects in the districts of Kay Crowder, David Cox, Dickie Thompson, and Corey Branch.

WHAT IT MEANS: Diligence is a good thing, to be sure. The expenditure of public dollars should be scrutinized, as should decisions that affect quality of life. But at some point, Raleigh needs to recognize—and act like—it isn’t a small town but a big and thriving city, full of potential if it embraces the future and understands that growth is inevitable and must be handled smartly, including through affordable housing measures that counteract gentrification, but also through zoning and density decisions that do the same. Not everyone, particularly folks who are aching for the Way Things Used to Be, will like these changes. But if Raleigh wants to be a first-class, twenty-first-century city, these decisions will have to be made.
  • At the risk of broadening the lens too far, this piece, from Jonathan Chait in New York, seems germane. It talks about the housing crisis in California, but many of those lessons could apply here too. Forgive me for quoting at length, but I think this is important, and I think it gets to the heart of some of the real affordability issues Raleigh is going to have to grapple with in the very near future:
  • “Opponents of allowing more dense housing construction associate the solution with gentrification, but this gets the question backwards. Gentrification is the result of artificially constricted housing supply, which pushes the demand for new housing into poorer neighborhoods, where new entrants outbid existing renters. Rampant gentrification is what happens when yuppies win a zero-sum competition for housing. Expanding the supply of housing allows people to move in to cities without displacing existing residents. The simple Econ 101 model of supply and demand does not solve every problem, but it does solve this one.”
  • “Why don’t we do it? One reason is that, for the most part, nobody likes building anything new. Zoning questions tend to be dominated by local NIMBYs. But even where activists have managed to broaden the question—like in California, where they brought a bill to the state level—it turns out that progressives are susceptible to NIMBYist rhetoric. Allowing the construction of more multifamily housing means relaxing—gasp—regulations. And it means working with—gasp—developers.
  • “The controversy in California and other Democratic-dominated areas has been heavily infused with instinctive support for existing regulation, and distrust of business as a malignant force. It doesn’t matter to distrustful residents that the regulations in question are deeply antisocial, and reinforce a status quo that forces people to live in energy-hogging sprawled-out exurbs, and restricts access to cities to people already fortunate enough to reside there.”

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