Proposed ordinance could increase affordable workforce housing

City Council members James Taylor and Denise Adams proposed an ordinance that would increase the percentage of workforce housing units in city funded dwellings.

Proposed ordinance could increase affordable workforce housing
May 14
03:15 2020

City Council members James Taylor and Denise Adams have proposed an ordinance that will increase the percentage of workforce housing units in city funded dwellings, and prohibit property managers from denying housing based on an applicant’s criminal record. 

The Housing Justice Act, which was discussed during the Public Safety Committee meeting earlier this week, is a proposed “anti-poverty” initiative that is designed to reduce homelessness and push towards providing equitable housing for residents of Winston-Salem. The ordinance consists of three components that will be required by all housing and residential properties that receive its funding from the city. 

The first component, as mentioned earlier, will prohibit denying housing to tenants based on their criminal records, with exceptions for convictions involving violent crimes. The second component will prohibit property owners from denying housing based on a tenant’s “source of income.” This includes income provided by federal housing vouchers, housing subsidy programs, rental assistance programs, Social Security, retirement benefits and other sources of funding. 

The third component of the Housing Justice Act will increase the city’s affordable housing requirement for city-funded projects from 10% to 20%.

City officials initially voted to adopt guidelines for affordable workforce housing in 2015. Included in those guidelines was a clause that allowed the city to determine the number of units that will be used for workforce housing. At that time, it was decided that 5% of the units must be leased to households whose incomes were 50-80% of area median income, and an additional 5% would be leased to households whose incomes are 80%-120% of area median income. 

If the Housing Justice Act is passed, the number of units leased to households whose incomes are between 80% and 120% would increase to 15%. 

After city attorney Angela Carmon gave a brief overview of the ordinance and opened the floor for questions, Councilmember Annette Scippio raised concerns about the time period that the income limit will be enforced. Scippio said the proposed 10 year time period wasn’t long enough. 

She said, “Seems like there should be more of a commitment than 10.”

In response to Scippio’s concerns, Carmon said the current term is 15 years, but since they proposed changing the percentage from 10% to 20%, city officials felt that 10 years would be more reasonable, but there is room for flexibility. 

Councilmember Adams requested a list of affordable housing statistics from cities similar in size to Winston-Salem. She said average affordability is on the rise in cities across the country and she would like to take a closer look. 

“What’s happening is the affordability is expiring and the developers and landlords see an opportunity … they’re renting to the people that can pay the highest dollar and that’s when you get the gentrification and poor people not being able to stay in their neighborhoods,” Adams said. “I think it’s a great document, well written, but I definitely would like to look at it again with the average affordability throughout the country, because that seems to be the one that’s rising to the top in the housing industry right now.”

Councilmembers Jeff MacIntosh and John Larson requested more information from city staff as well. 

Councilmember James Taylor, who is publisher of The Chronicle, said when working on the proposed legislation, he worked with the local and regional Association of Realtors, and those with ties to the Affordable Housing Coalition and they all agree that it’s a good idea.

“As you are aware, unemployment in this country has reached Great Depression levels and local governments all across the country, particularly in the state of North Carolina, are going to have to continue to figure out how we can be creative as to how we provide quality affordable housing going forward,” Taylor said. “Everybody understands that this is something that we should be looking at. Affordable housing will be a huge issue post COVID-19.  We’ve got to get out in front and make sure we’re doing what’s right.”

Because the proposed Housing Justice Act was listed as an informational item on the agenda, there was no vote required and no timetable has been set for a vote.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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