Hard to believe, but an $80 million Affordable Housing Bond Issue is on the City Council agenda today for a go-ahead vote. And it’s going to pass. In a virtual session, public excluded, in the midst of pandemic and chaos …
But wait —
- How can they do that when there’s been no public process whatsoever to discuss what the money should be used for — or NOT used for — and no effort at all to engage low-income residents, who ought to be the first ones asked.
- How can they do that when the bond proposal has no details about who will benefit, at what income levels (affordable to whom?), and in what kinds of housing, located where?
- How can they do that when, after inviting Durham Mayor Steve Schewel to tell them in great detail how Durham crafted a successful $95M housing bond last year with specific goals, numerical targets focused on the neediest residents, and broad buy-in from community groups, Raleigh has taken none of Schewel’s advice.
- How can they do that when their “plan” does nothing to address, let alone prevent, the gentrification of Raleigh’s historic African-American communities? In fact, this bond may spur gentrification.
- In the 8 months since being elected, and 6 months since hearing Schewel’s presentation, the Raleigh Council has done exactly nothing to state its intentions for the bond or build public confidence that it will serve those in the greatest need, and not simply be a trough for the development industry.
- Bottom Line: The bond “plan” is full of holes where the details should be.
About Those “Buckets” —
Literally, the “plan” consists of 5 “buckets” of money (the Council’s term) defined only by a name (e.g., Public-Private Partnerships) and an amount, but with no definition of how each “bucket” will be used or the amount of housing it will produce.
The buckets total $80 million that a future City Council can spend as they like.
[If voters approve the bond in November, 2020 — a big if — we’re informed the money won’t be available to spend until after the 2021 city election.]
And Yet —
And yet, there’s no doubt at all that Raleigh has a massive, and worsening, shortage of affordable housing for families with low incomes. Thus, we should pass a robust Affordable Housing Bond this year if at all possible.
In other words, we don’t like what’s on the table at all. But we haven’t given up hope that Council can be persuaded to establish the right goals, adopt them as policy commitments and present to voters — instead of swiss cheese — a strong package that merits support.
To that end, Livable Raleigh is working in coalition with a group of partner organizations and advocates called the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition.
WCHJC has called on Council, in public statements over the past several months and an 11-page submission yesterday, to commit to the following:
- That bond funds will be focused on housing for very-low and low-income people and families. “Very-low” means incomes of 30% or less of the Area Median Income; “Low” is 50% or less of AMI. [For a family of four in Raleigh, the AMI is $92,700 a year.] The current bond package does not define who should be helped.
- That bond funds will be used to alleviate, and not exacerbate, the market forces of gentrification driving low-income families out of historically African-American communities in Southeast and Southwest Raleigh. Helping low-income families to renovate their homes, or purchase homes with down payment assistance, are two examples of what we want to see. What we don’t want: Teardowns of existing affordable houses in low-income neighborhoods, to be replaced by apartment buildings for tenants with incomes up to $70,000-plus (80% of AMI).
- That bond funds and other City funds will address emergency housing needs caused by job losses from the pandemic.
- That the City will engage with the African-American community, now and on a continuing basis, to determine the most effective ways to help people with the greatest needs, drawing on the lived experiences of people who know the needs first-hand.
- That the City will re-focus its spending for affordable housing, from this bond and other sources, to put the needs of “the least of us” ahead of the financial goals of developers in the low-income housing industry.
This Report Says It All —
Shockingly, a lot of the basic facts presented to Council by the Coalition were taken from the City’s own Draft Consolidated Plan 2021-2025, which Raleigh is required to submit to Washington in order to receive federal housing and community development funding.
Heres what the Consolidated Plan had to say —
“The primary housing need for Raleigh’s low- and moderate-income residents remains finding rental housing that is affordable. Raleigh’s rapid growth has resulted in rising land values and housing costs, while incomes for lower-wage earners have failed to keep pace. Very-low (50% AMI) and extremely-low (30% AMI) income households are most affected, with 16,685 extremely low-income households experiencing severe cost-burdens, spending more than 50% of their income on housing and utility costs. An influx of high-paying jobs and demand for housing near the city center has resulted in many once affordable areas being redeveloped into higher income neighborhoods.
“The need for affordable housing is further exacerbated by the loss of naturally occurring affordable housing developments being acquired by developers and either demolished or redeveloped into above market rate or luxury apartments. Additionally, the City’s lack of authority to require a set aside for affordable housing in new developments also impedes the supply of affordable rental units.”
The City’s Housing and Neighborhoods Department generated the Consolidated Plan. And yet the same Department is responsible for bringing to Council the 5 “Buckets” that avoid the very needs the Plan is supposed to address.
The saddest thing is, Council knows all this, because we’ve told them. And yet it has done nothing to explain the buckets, define the buckets, or augment the buckets with strong, progressive policy commitments.
Last week, the WCHJC met via Zoom with Councilor Corey Branch, the lone African-American Council member whose district includes Southeast Raleigh. Branch heard our critique and did not dispute it. In fact, Branch pledged to work toward a commitment that bond funds would focus on families with incomes of 30% AMI and below.
We were delighted to hear him say that. But he’s one vote, and on an 8-member Council, it takes 5 votes to get things done.
There’s still time.
The bond package will pass today just as it is, which is a shame. But policy commitments can be appended prior to the required public hearing on July 7; and even afterward, such commitments can be adopted in time for voters to study them before they go to the polls.
But to have any teeth, these commitments must be specific, and they must be adopted officially by Council. Vague, or even strong promises by individual members won’t be enough. Raleigh’s affordable housing needs are critical, so it’s critical that this bond, when spent, hits them head-on.
Nothing less will do. And nothing less will get our support.