The affordable housing crisis may be Western North Carolina’s most pressing problem. One Haywood County town is taking concrete steps towards a solution.
Since the Great Recession, Western North Carolina’s booming real estate market has proven to be something of a double edged sword – high demand helps drive a flourishing economy but scarcity drives up prices, which can make it hard for locals to find housing they can afford. “The thing about Haywood County is that local people, who we absolutely love to work with as well, are in competition with the second home market that wants to retire with a second home here in Haywood County,” said Brian K. Noland is a realtor at Beverly-Hanks’ Waynesville office. “They’re wanting in the same price bracket that our local people can afford, that hurts the local people a lot, to be in competition.”
Census bureau stats say Haywood’s per capita income is exactly $27,166, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says you should spend less than 30 percent of your income on housing, which translates to rent or mortgage of $681 a month. That’s a 30-year, $144,000 mortgage at 3.92 percent.
But of the 1,079 single-family homes sold in Haywood County in 2017, just 272 were sold for less than $140,000. In 2018, 1,044 single-family homes were sold, with 194 of those under $140,000. The fastest moving price point in Haywood County for single-family homes was around $225,000, and listings closed on average in less than 100 days. Almost 40 percent of single-family home sales in Haywood County in 2017 occurred less than 30 days after the property was first listed; in 2018, it was slightly above 40 percent.
“It’s tough right now,” said Catherine Proben, also a Beverly-Hanks realtor and Haywood County native who like Noland works in Waynesville. “I have probably 10 or 11 buyers sitting by the wayside – locals – waiting for the right property, because if they’re in the low $200s, it’s gone. You’ll have multiple offers,” Proben said.
The situation in Buncombe County is even worse, with homes closing 30 percent faster, sale prices 30 percent higher, and a per capita income barely more than Haywood’s. It’s clear the market is leaving some buyers on the sidelines, but two weeks ago, the Town of Waynesville became the first Haywood County government to address the problem by designating itself a redevelopment authority and then designating a redevelopment area.
“The impetus was trying to achieve the redevelopment of the old hospital site,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown. “It was built as the first county hospital in North Carolina in 1927. We are just trying to repurpose it by turning it from an old hospital into affordable housing for veterans, the disabled and low-income people.”
The redevelopment designation is expected to boost the chances the hospital project qualifies for tax credits from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. “It allows them to get two bites at the apple,” Brown said. “There’s two different pots of money available, and they can apply for both simultaneously. Hopefully, the redevelopment and repurposing pot is what we get.”
The town will also take a hard look at the area within a half-mile of the old hospital, on Waynesville’s north side. “What a study area like this does, it gives you a broad area where you can do multiple projects,” said Waynesville Town Manager Rob Hites. “The redevelopment law does not just discuss housing, but it also talks about commercial development as well. I think it provides an opportunity to completely redevelop the area.”
To make that a reality, they’re taking it one step further – the proposed adoption of an affordable housing policy that lays out the procedure by which private developers or non-profits that redevelop blighted properties can qualify for incentives like tap fees, sewer, water or electric work, and sometimes even cash.
“If we get that back in property tax value in the next five years, really what we’re doing is we’re spacing it out so that we’re getting a return just like you do if you make any other kind of investment,” said Brown. The town of Waynesville has scheduled a public hearing to gather input on the proposed affordable housing policy for this Tuesday evening.