Can newcomers afford to live in the Triangle?

by Mark Cantrell

In our last issue, we discussed some of the causes behind the affordable housing crisis in Raleigh and Wake County, and learned that the problem is a complex one with no easy answers. It’s an issue for nearly everyone who enters the housing market, but disproportionately affects younger and older buyers and renters. Here are some of their stories.

The Seniors

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After an extreme winter that dumped some nine feet of snow on the state, John and Judy Horwitz knew it was time to get out of Indiana. The couple had visited Raleigh several times and thought it would be a perfect place to retire. But as Judy began researching apartments, the bottom fell out of the stock market. “The money we’d planned to retire on just went away,” John remembers ruefully.

Judy’s research into low-cost housing had been disappointing; most of the properties she found had waiting lists two to three years long. Fortunately, Judy found an apartment complex within their budget, and the couple made the trek south and moved into the Hunting Ridge community. They loved it, as did the other residents. The facility was an older one, of mid-70s vintage, and often had a few empty apartments, which made getting in much easier.

“At the time, the rent was very reasonable,” says Judy, “but then they decided to renovate, and it went up by $50. We nearly had a stroke. I told John we had to start looking for something else, but there was nothing—nothing at all.” The couple approached their apartment manager and were able to negotiate the increase down by half, but the following year the price went up again, this time by $70. That broke their budget.

That’s when Resources for Seniors and DHIC saved the day. The latter organization, which is Wake County’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developer, offers several properties to seniors and others with limited incomes. One of them is Wakefield Manor near Wake Forest, with apartments limited to seniors with incomes of less than 60 percent of the median area income for Wake County. Four months after Judy found the facility online, the couple was safely ensconced in their apartment. “If it hadn’t been for us getting into this place so fortuitously, we would have been screwed,” she says.


The Young Couple

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When Ben Adler met Anna Richardson at a Dr. Dog concert while both were attending Appalachian State University in Boone, something clicked. Ben convinced her to go out with him a few weeks later, the two became an item, and they’ve been together ever since. After college, they moved in with their parents in Raleigh for a while, got engaged, and began looking for a rental. “Luckily, having some savings put away, we had an emergency fund and down payment built up and we were ready to move out of the house into our own place,” Ben remembers.

After a couple of years, they decided a change was needed. “We chose to buy a home because it was actually cheaper to pay for a mortgage than to pay for rent,” Ben says. That’s when the housing squeeze became apparent, despite the fact that Ben’s stepmother is a real estate agent. “We started with websites like Realtor.com and Redfin, but the homes were either stagnant (due to poor pricing or quality), or they moved like hot cakes garnished in winning lottery tickets,” he says. “One person brought a home inspector to an open house that we went to. Another snatched a house out from under us by offering 5 percent more for the home, on the day we attempted to close on it.”

After five long months, the couple finally found a house in their price range. But, “the only reason we got the home we have is because we discovered it an hour after it was put up for sale, requested a viewing the same day, and offered the asking price,” Ben says. He advises other young people to think twice before jumping into the housing market too quickly: “Don’t be afraid to live at home for a few months or years; you’ll enjoy the time with your family and you can bolster your savings, which will help a lot when riding the roller coaster that [comes with] buying a home.”

In our next and final installment, we’ll talk to local first responders and those who provide other vital community services to find out how the housing crisis has affected them. We’ll also examine some proposed solutions to the problem.


Lifting Up the Disadvantaged

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Although finding affordable housing in the area can be a struggle for most of us, those on the lower end of the income spectrum often find it nearly impossible. When disabled Vietnam veteran Michael White found himself homeless in 2014, he nearly lost hope. Then a Raleigh police officer directed him to the Wake County Human Services Cornerstone homeless center, which introduced White to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. HUD-VASH teams HUD with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide housing and healthcare services to homeless veterans, and through the agency, White was able to obtain a voucher. But his journey was just beginning.

Voucher in hand, White set to work looking for an apartment. “I spent four months trying to find a place that would accept the voucher, but nobody would take it,” he remembers. Then he heard of CASA, a Raleigh nonprofit that provides affordable housing to people facing poverty and disability. Today White lives in CASA’s Hull’s Landing community, among other formerly homeless veterans. “CASA saved my life, basically,” White says. His message to other homeless vets: “Don’t lose hope. It can be a fight to get into a facility, but there are resources out there to help you.”

Homelessness can affect anyone. A few years ago, most of Sharon Jones’ time was spent just trying to find shelter for herself and her young daughter. A mobile home she found to rent in Johnston County turned out to be contaminated with black mold, which triggered her daughter’s asthma. When her landlord refused to correct the mold, Jones found herself bouncing between her family’s home and the Wake Interfaith shelter—and when those weren’t available, back to the trailer.

“I felt like less than a mother,” she says, “like I couldn’t take care of my child.”

When she heard about a program for homeless families with children, Jones enrolled, and applied for an apartment at CASA. When she was accepted, “it changed everything for us,” she says. “I was able to get my associate’s degree from Wake Tech, and now I’m attending Gwinnett College to become a paralegal. I appreciate CASA, but I don’t plan on being there forever.

I want to show my daughter what setting goals and having determination and motivation can do.”


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