'We have to get creative': Raleigh, Wake officials discuss social and economic infrastructure

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ByCindy Bae via WTVD logo
Thursday, July 14, 2022
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With great growth in Wake County comes great growing pains, but at the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh on Thursday, officials seemed confident about the future.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- With great growth in Wake County comes great growing pains, but at the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh on Thursday, officials seemed confident about the future.

"Wake County in the Triangle is better positioned to handle a downturn than any place else in the country," chairman Sig Hutchinson said. "We've got jobs, we've got great education, companies moving here, great entrepreneurs and leaders."

Hutchinson's praise comes amid inflation and high interest rates in the U.S., but Wake County is in a better position as the third fastest growing county in the U.S.

"We're growing at 62 people a day," Hutchinson said. "And that's been pretty consistent, even before the pandemic."

But for some Raleigh residents, more people means the need for more affordable housing.

"I think that they can make use of these abandoned buildings in terms of turning them into homes," Delores Boarman said. "So we can have some fair housing for low income people."

The use of land was part of the discussion between city and county officials.

"Land is the big factor right now," City of Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said. "How do we purchase that land, get control of it and have a say on how it's developed?"

Affordability is a huge issue, but we must remain vigilant, according to Hutchinson.

"Inflation, housing prices, it's a real problem," Hutchinson said. "From affordable housing, we've put 40 million dollars, since 2019. But our housing heroes have leveraged that, 12 to 1, so we've been able to generate 400 million dollars and to create over 2500 new houses."

Hutchinson proposed thinking holistically by imagining schools along transit lines, or building affordable houses where public transportation is easier to access, such as near the commuter rail.

"Cost is still a challenge for us right now and requires creativity," Hutchinson said. "Bottom line is, we have to get creative."

Officials also discussed crime.

"The gun violence, the unprecedented use of guns," Baldwin said. "We have confiscated over 500 guns in traffic stops and what not this year alone."

Overall, Baldwin's take on the state of Raleigh is that despite the challenges, the city's in a "good place," adding the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony she went to.

"300 new employees, good jobs," Baldwin said. "There's lots going on in job creation and companies moving here and that's good for our economy, continuing to diversify our economy, so we stay strong especially if recession hits."

For Wake County schools, the year is starting off with a message of resiliency.

"We have seen serious labor shortages and starting salary is minimum of $16," board of education chair Lindsay Mahaffey said. "We are hopeful that this is another step. In order to be the best school district, we have to have the best staff."

Mahaffey said their strategy includes focusing on building renovations, increasing the number of counselors and social workers in schools and making improvements from a security audit.

"Our community is not unique in these challenges, we are the best place to live," Mahaffey said. "What makes us the best is people in the community that care about the success and well-being of our community and students."