Public service

A Public Service Profile for Housing Affordability by Chris Coudriet

New Hanover County is growing. It is an undeniable fact.

And while growth is inevitable, ensuring it provides affordable opportunities for a range of families at different income levels is something the Board of Commissioners is committed to making possible. This year, Commissioners made a significant political commitment in the enacted budget and dedicated $3 million to a Workforce Housing Services program that will directly increase and improve our community’s affordable housing stock as well as as access to affordable housing. This political commitment spans the next five years – for a total of $15 million – and the county will also work to mobilize public funds from the private sector and other community actors to further increase the investment in affordable housing.

To ensure that this funding can be implemented properly and correctly, the commissioners also authorized the creation of a small team of county planning officers who are dedicated to its success. Leading this team is Rachel LaCoe, Senior Long Range Planner in our Land Use and Planning Department. So for this month’s Public Service Profile, I asked Rachel about her role in ensuring affordable housing stays front and center and what that really means for New Hanover County. That conversation is below… (Rachel LaCoe, left, with planning director Rebekah Roth)



What brought you to this role and your passion for affordable housing and planning?

I started my career working for non-profit organizations and was able to meet a network of amazing organizations and individuals serving our community. What I learned is that the root of most of the problems we see is access to safe, decent and affordable housing. Housing provides the stability needed to meet other needs, including better health and education outcomes.

Prior to joining New Hanover County in 2019 as a Workforce Housing Planner, I spent five years in the City of Wilmington’s Community Development Division supporting nonprofits and community organizations that serve weak to moderate households and provide housing opportunities. In this role, I had the opportunity to work on one of the first positively submitted Fair Housing Plans and really got to see the impact that planning can have on housing affordability and sustainability. access to opportunities.



What does affordable housing really mean and why is it important?

That’s a great question – the first thing that comes to mind for most people might be social housing, housing choice vouchers or low income housing tax credit schemes, but it there is so much more than that. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of total gross household income.

Affordable housing is important because if people spend too much on housing, they don’t have the ability to afford the other expenses of life – nutritious food, preventative medical care, prescription drugs or transportation. Housing is an important social determinant of health. Stable, secure and affordable housing can also provide educational benefits to children and promote academic success.



What is the biggest misnomer regarding affordable housing?

There are two big ones. First, people believe that affordable housing will reduce the value of their property and, second, that it will lead to crime. But we know that is not true.

Having a mix of housing types and price points in an area can actually help improve neighborhoods in terms of property values ​​and reduce crime. In fact, studies have shown that developing more affordable housing increases the property value of adjacent homes by up to 6.5%. Research also shows that the presence of affordable developments both reduce property crime and violent crime in low-income neighborhoods and slightly reduce property crime in high-income neighborhoods.



What do you hope the county’s new workforce housing program will accomplish?

The Workforce Housing Services program is an exciting opportunity. New Hanover County is not a community of law, which means it does not receive money directly from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Instead, when we have received federal housing funding, it has a specific purpose, like the recent money for hurricane and COVID recovery funding.

With this Workforce Housing Services program, we can be intentional with our funding and truly assess the needs of the community. We can fund projects and programs that can have an immediate impact for our residents and adapt the program and investments according to changing market conditions.

The criteria and priorities for this first round of funding were developed based on the findings of the joint county/city housing study and survey. We plan to issue a request for proposals in the coming weeks to begin selecting local projects to receive county funding and eligible activities must address community housing needs by increasing the supply of residential units, retaining our existing affordable housing stock and increasing the number of residents. ‘ access to these houses. This first step is really exciting, and I can’t wait to see the proposals we receive and the impact that will be made.



What other county initiatives regarding affordable housing have had an impact?

Even without direct federal funding, New Hanover County has supported workforce and affordable housing for many years. The county provides much-needed funding to local nonprofits through the Non-County Agency Funding Process.

The county has a Land Transfer Policy, which was established in 2018, that allows the county to transfer land to nonprofits to build workforce housing. In addition to passing on 11 sites scattered around the county, a larger 15-acre site was passed on to Cape Fear Habitat to build a new subdivision.

With funds from the US bailout, the county was able to provide top-up funding for Starway Village, a low-income housing tax credit project that will bring 278 affordable homes to our community. We’ve also funded water and sewer infrastructure in three Habitat developments, giving local families the opportunity to buy a home at a price they can afford.

Of course the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Landlord Assistance Program and Gap Rental Assistance Program have also been instrumental during covid and while we are recovering as well of the pandemic.

Making affordable housing a priority is important to our entire community and I am proud to be part of a county team that is committed to it.


I am so thankful to have someone like Rachel dedicated to helping make all of this possible and grateful for her knowledge and expertise in this area. She’s another example of what it means when I say New Hanover County hires the best and the brightest.

I look forward to spotlighting more of these exceptional individuals over the coming months, and I hope you will continue to read about the important work our County team does every day.

 


New Hanover County Executive Chris Coudriet serves as chief administrator of the county government and retains responsibility for the administration of all departments under the overall control of the five-member Board of Commissioners. His work includes developing the county budget, aligning county operations with the adopted strategic plan, and promoting the county’s mission and vision through five key areas: higher education and workforce, superior public health and safety, smart growth and economic development, strong financial performance and effective county management.

Coudriet has served as county executive since July 2012. Prior to his appointment, he served as deputy county executive for New Hanover for four years and county executive in Franklin and Washington counties, North Carolina. He has over 25 years of experience in public administration. , with more than 15 years as a county manager in North Carolina.