By Meg Moss
This past Monday, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Public Policy meeting. The topic at hand: affordable housing in Lee County. Many thanks go to Karen Kennedy from the City of Sanford for setting up this presentation. Karen Kennedy is the Community Development Manager for the Sanford/Lee County Community Development Department. She has been with the City since the mid 1980’s. Her areas of work have included neighborhood revitalization, housing rehabilitation, affordable housing, downtown revitalization, youth projects, S3 Housing Connect homelessness initiative, Sanford’s Annual Block Party, grant writing and grants administration.
Kerry Bashaw was one of the presenters, and he is the Executive Director at Brick Capital Community Development Corporation and has been serving in this role for a little over a year now. Brick Capital focused on housing services by providing the community housing counseling, affordable housing development, and supportive housing rental units. Bashaw indicated that addressing affordable housing now is so important because of all the jobs that are coming to our area. The US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of affordable housing is spending no more than thirty percent of your income on housing, which includes not just your mortgage or rent, but also your utilities and other housing costs. A person or family is considered “cost-burdened” if they are spending more than thirty percent. “Housing should be affordable to everyone, regardless of your income.” stated Bashaw. “We’re experiencing so much growth, and real estate is hot right now in Lee County.” Several realtors I’ve spoken with have indicated it is hard to find homes in Lee County under the $200,000 mark.
Affordable rent is important too. Bashaw shared that “forty-five percent of renters are cost-burdened”. This is an important community initiative because there is less homelessness when housing is affordable. Healthy communities include housing stability and there is a correlation between housing stability and stress. For example, if someone is cost-burdened, they may not be able to pay for healthcare.
“This is not just a Lee County issue” stated Angie Hedgepeth, Government Affairs Director for the Longleaf Pines Association of Realtors. “It’s a pandemic across the region and the state.”
“It’s tough for developers. Affordable housing costs as much to build as any other housing” commented Jennifer Lampman, Vice President of Wallick Communities Development. In her role, she identifies new construction and acquisition opportunities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. She’s currently working with Chatham County on an affordable housing project.
In May of 2019, the Triangle J Council of Governments conducted a Lee County Housing Study, and identified several goals for our community regarding housing. First, incentivize development of new construction of a variety of housing types and price points, particularly within priority locations. Second, provide education, resources and incentives for private owners to rehabilitate and repair their properties in exchange for making or keeping units affordable to lower-income households. And improve housing conditions through efficient code enforcement and community outreach.
I believe it will take a public-private approach to reach those goals. As Bashaw indicated in his presentation, “housing is a refuge from the world,” and I believe we can all work together towards the goals of affordable housing for everyone.