Wake County wants more affordable housing. Will that mean a tax increase?

Wake County residents could be asked to pay higher sales taxes or property taxes to come up with money to help increase the amount of affordable housing.

The Wake County commissioners on Monday approved a 20-year plan for increasing the amount of affordable housing through strategies such as changing zoning rules and spending more taxpayer money on programs. But a major unresolved question is how to come up with the money to fund some of the plan’s recommendations.

“This is a plan that has to be funded,” said Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the commissioners. “Even though we’ve got a great blueprint, the next step for this commission is to determine where are the dollars going to come from to help put this plan into action.”

Voters could be asked next year to approve higher taxes to pay for more affordable housing. It could be included with a school construction referendum on the ballot.

Last year, Raleigh approved a 2 cent property tax increase, with half the revenue set aside to expand affordable housing. The Raleigh City Council adopted a goal of adding 5,700 affordable apartments and homes over the next 10 years.

The new county money could help groups buy land to build affordable housing, help people pay their rents and mortgages, help owners rehabilitate their property and help find housing for people who frequently use social services.

Commissioners said the need for a dedicated source of county money for affordable housing is even more pressing at a time when the federal government may eliminate Community Development Block Grants.

The action on affordable housing comes after a report found that more than 91,000 Wake County families – about one-fourth of households – are spending more than they can afford for housing. This group includes people such as teachers and firefighters who are relied upon to provide community services.

The number without affordable housing is expected to grow in the coming years as rent and home prices continue to climb in the Triangle and many older neighborhoods are redeveloped.

“We, I think as a community, want to be the kind of place where people who work in Wake County can live in Wake County,” said Matt Calabria, vice chairman of the board.

Several strategies deal with land-use issues, such as asking the county and municipalities to change their zoning rules to encourage developers to build more affordable housing.

For example, a developer could be allowed to build 10 units per acre instead of four, as long as one unit is designated as affordable housing. In exchange, developers could get an expedited permitting process, rebates on fees or reduced parking requirements.

“The situation is we have 67 new people a day, either being born or showing up in this county, and they need to live somewhere,” said Tom Anhut, chairman of the Triangle Community Coalition. “Unless you do something about this, unless the various municipalities do something about it, those people are going to be in Chatham (County), they’re going to be in Youngsville or wherever they can find a place to live.”

Homeowners could be allowed to build “granny flats” on their property. These small units could be rented out, providing affordable options for families while offering a new source of income for property owners.

Some other recommendations also don’t include public money, such as making county land available for people to build affordable housing.

Before the vote, various public speakers praised the affordable housing plan.

“We believe that implementing this plan will help Wake County make significant progress in addressing the need for more affordable housing,” said Rachel Zeitler, advocacy manager for Habitat for Humanity.

As the county decides how to turn the plan into reality, Holmes urged commissioners to make sure the money goes to the people most in need such as families of students in the Wake County school system who are living in hotels.

“There are a lot of people who work hard and need this assistance,” she said.

BY T. KEUNG HUI, News&Observer

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