Wake County exceeds national average in need for affordable housing

This story is part of our news special Eyewitness News Investigates: The Housing Crisis
If you ask anyone searching for a house in the Triangle they will likely tell you the same thing as Zachary Horowitz.

"The market has been pretty crazy," Horowitz said. "There's not a lot of homes on the market."

Even with a mom, Stacey Horowitz, who has been a real estate agent for twenty years, Zachary still searched for six months to find his first home.

"One of the houses I put an offer in on, I was was one of twelve," he said. "I was having looking around for the past six months, and put in two offers on two different houses, one with a strong offer but lost to all-cash offers. So it was really a challenge to lose to all cash."
"It doesn't matter if they're first time home buyers or people moving up," Stacey Horowitz said. "The market is really competitive."

According to the Triangle MLS, inventory is significantly down.

In July 2019, there were 9,108 homes listed on the market. In July 2020, the number dropped 44.4% to 5,740.

"There are a lot of people looking a lot of people wanting to relocate to this area due to COVID," Stacey Horowitz said. "There's a lot of people that are trying to move up, even though some people have lost jobs, there are people working from home kids are in school at home, and they need more space."

And, it's not just the pandemic leading to the competitive market. The Triangle area has been one of the fastest-growing in the nation in the last decade leading to the housing shortage that is exacerbated by the pandemic.

"There are new construction opportunities," explained real estate agent Tiffany McLaurin who specialized in first-time homebuyers.

"But, a lot of first-time homebuyers are also priced out of the new construction opportunities because the price of lumber is going up, due to COVID," McLaurin said. "Which makes the price of the house go up so it's almost like a catch 22, you try to build more but you can't build at an affordable price for a first time homebuyer. It's more buyers out now than it was in February. So, if you're in the $300,000 or below range looking for a house right now. You're always going to be in a bidding war for the most part."

Lack of affordable housing is a big issue across the nation.

Affordable housing is defined as spending less than 30% of your disposable income on your housing whether renting or owning including utilities.

"Nationally, the vacancy rate hovers around 7%," explained Lorena McDowell, Housing Director for Wake County.

"In Wake County, we hover somewhere around maybe 5.5%, so we have a lower vacancy rate than the nation and the nation has a housing crisis. You just see it probably more here than some other communities because we're growing so fast. We're the second or third fastest-growing county in the nation depending on the month," McDowell said.

In Wake County, there is a need for 60,775 affordable housing units as of December 2019.

"We don't have enough units for people at all income levels," McDowell said. "And, so Wake County needs to build that just needs to happen."

Wake County is tackling the issue with tax credits for developers who dedicate a portion of units to affordable housing.

"When we put dollars into those tax credit programs they're required to remain affordable for 30 years and its legally binding," McDowell said.

Along with the tax credits, Wake County also works with developers to fill gaps for financing in exchange for providing affordable housing units with voucher programs.

"The truth is we all need to have housing we can afford," McDowell said. "It spans all different demographics, you know race, even income levels.

"It is elderly, it is Veterans, it is people who are struggling with behavioral health or mental health issues and it's not just folks who just you know aren't motivated to get out of that situation. There are a number of things that affect housing, COVID is a great example of that. How many folks were doing fine before COVID and now because of the setback are really struggling?" McDowell said.

McDowell says while the pandemic has counties across the nation rethinking how to tackle the issue of affordable housing but the one thing that is certain is it is the key to creating stable, healthy communities. For people like Zachary Horowitz searching for housing, it helps to know the process can be a long one, especially in Central Carolina.

"It's all about patience is a virtue," Horowitz said.
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