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There's a "flurry" of NC housing bills. What's in them, and what might pass?

Going up in Chicago: Row houses under construction.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Going up in Chicago: Row houses under construction.

An influx of housing bills have come to the North Carolina Legislature, ranging from tenant protections to funding for affordable housing to creating a new department.

Legislators have filed more than a dozen housing-related bills in the legislature this session, some pulling in dramatically different directions. It’s a response to rising housing costs, a growing population, and local jurisdictions struggling with growth.

Samuel Gunter is the chair of the NC Housing Coalition, an organization focused on helping low- and moderate-income residents achieve their housing goals. He says he and his staff have seen, "a whole flurry of housing bills in general, that have been filed this legislative session. And my guess is that at the moment, there is going to be some movement on land use policy.”

But these bills cover a wide range of things. Several of the bills would override local zoning regulations — one would automatically allow multifamily housing, like apartments, in commercial areas. Others would automatically allow accessory dwelling units, like carriage houses, or single-family developments that include affordable housing. SB 317 is another that addresses zoning — it mandates local governments allow single-family workforce housing to be built in any type of zoning. That one is particularly controversial, as it limits local control, and the income requirements only apply for a year.

"That doesn't even get into, there's landlord-tenant bills that have been filed," Gunter said. "You have legislators that are trying to come at this problem from a number of different angles.”

Housing makes for strange bedfellows — while issues like abortion and the minimum wage have clear left and right perspectives in the general assembly. And since the housing market is impacting nearly everyone in North Carolina, most legislators want to play a role in finding a solution.

Shifting Statewide Demographics

Major demographic shifts in the state have lent a sense of urgency to the housing crisis. Jim Johnson is the director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at UNC’s Kenan Institute. He’s written several papers on shifting demographics in North Carolina, and the rapid shifts that have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Johnson says an average of 253 people moved to North Carolina every day of the first 15 months of the pandemic- and the newcomers have an economic advantage.

"The people moving in, on average have a per capita income of about $15,000, more than the person who lives here have a comparable age. That was for the 55-plus population," Johnson told WHQR.

A lot of retirees also moved to the state, bringing with them enormous equity after selling their homes in other states.

"It's a very diverse group of people coming in. But in general, they have more juice than the people who live here and they have more juice than the people who are leaving the state. That's why we say as a migration dividend," he said.

Those migrants from other states and countries bring economic prosperity, but they increase the demand for housing. That prices out native North Carolinians. It’s a crisis hitting all the major population centers of the state, which explains this session’s focus on housing.

Expecting an Omnibus Bill

Gunter says there are other important bills coming to the fore: One would create a $50 million housing trust fund, and another would create a Department for Housing and Community Development for the state. It would consolidate housing-related programming that’s currently run by numerous different state organizations.

"How do I marshal all of the resources that are out there to address this big complex problem that isn't limited to one local government, it's a regional problem, it's a statewide problem," Gunter said.

While it's not a "sexy" issue, he says this bill would be an incredibly important step forward in managing an unwieldy bureaucracy, especially when it comes to managing impacts on housing in the years after a major disaster.

Other bills hit on housing from the demand side of the supply and demand curve. They include tenant protections that would seal eviction records if the tenant is able to resolve the problem with their landlord. Others lower the tax burden for low-income homeowners.

Really, Gunter expects to see an omnibus bill that tacks several of these ideas together. If he could put together a Frankenstein bill, there are a number of components he’d want to pass.

“I think there's a version of Vernetta Alston's bill that would create an incentive program for density," he said, citing HB 294. "Something that's a carrot for communities that are seeing the highest levels of growth to try and add density into their missing middle and so on into their codes.”

On top of that bill, Gunter would also like to add ADUs by right, multifamily apartments by right in commercial areas, funding for housing, and some tenant protections.

"There's also a bill out there that would protect source-of-income discrimination, which is another one that we're excited about. I don't think that one's going anywhere, in this political climate, but we're going to keep talking about it. Because we have folks with housing vouchers out there who spend years on a waiting list, finally get it, they've got it in hand for six months, and no landlord will take it and they lose their housing voucher. Because folks can refuse it," Gunter said.

While Gunter doesn’t expect to get everything on his shopping list into the omnibus bill, he’s hopeful that meaningful change can come out of this legislative session. "I think that there's a long road ahead of us in terms of what gets filed and how things come together.”

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.