Discussion about affordable housing in Wake Forest

Posted By Brad Walker

Tanya Eastwood, Greystone Affordable Development (ZOOM)

The term “affordable housing” can be misleading.  While some people may envision housing projects with subsidized rents, perhaps in dense urban developments, what it really means is housing that working people can afford based on their income. People such as teachers, first responders, hospital staff, retail employees, restaurant workers,  construction crews, and more fit within this category, according to Tanya Eastwood of Greystone Affordable Development, a nationally recognized development, finance, and construction management company headquartered in Manhattan and with local offices in Raleigh. 

She provided some surprising statistics about this misunderstood but increasing worrisome issue, even in Wake Forest.  Three technical definitions for housing costs help bring the affordability problem into focus:

  • Affordable: 30 percent or less of gross income goes to housing costs (housing costs include rent, mortgage, and ancillaries)
  • Overburdened: more than 30 percent of gross income for housing
  • Severe overburdened: 50 percent or more of gross income for housing

As Tanya noted, overspending on housing creates other hardships, both short and long term.  Families have less to spend on food, transportation, clothing, savings, emergencies, and other unexpected events, such as a pandemic.  

In Wake Forest, 25 percent of available housing is renter-occupied, while 75 percent is owner-occupied.  According to Tanya, the current average monthly rent for a one-bedroom rental here is $1,191, up to six percent since last year. The area’s average median income (AMI) is $33,124 for a single person; thus, 30 percent of the AMI amounts to $828 monthly rent allowance, clearly not enough for the average one-bedroom rental in Wake Forest.

In big cities where average rents have increased by 70 percent in the past 10 years, the problem is even worse.  “There’s a big demographic seeking a home, but the community can’t meet that need,” Tanya said.  Seen another way, take the full-time worker making the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25. Her maximum affordable rent would be only $377.  In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment, however, this worker would have to make $23.63 per hour, Tanya said.

Tanya provided additional, and troubling, housing statistics nationwide:

  • 46 million people live in poverty in the US, up 38 percent in the past 13 years
  • More than 12 million Americans (one in four) fall into the “severe overburdened” housing category
  • Not one state has an adequate supply of affordable housing: there are only 36 units available for every 100 people who need them
  • 15 million children (1 in 5) live with families below the poverty level
  • 50,000 veterans are homeless and 1.4 million more are at risk of homelessness

Needless to say, Covid-19 has also impacted the situation by project slow-downs, travel, and social distancing challenges for staff, delays in funding, and a shorter supply of typical funding sources.  On the positive side, however, the City of Raleigh just approved an $80 million affordable housing bond.  As Wake Forest keeps growing (population 12,588 in 2000; 30,117 in 2010; and 48,048 in 2020), it needs to find solutions too.  Tanya encouraged Rotarians and all citizens to do what they could to help. 

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