It is getting harder and harder for state lawmakers to ignore the push for a major public investment in affordable housing this summer.
Monday afternoon, leaders from North Carolina’ banking, nonprofit and advocacy communities spoke out in favor of a $50 million annual appropriation to the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund beginning with the budget that will be debated in the short session that begins May 9.
First Citizens Bank Executive Vice President Hope Connell told a lunch crowd that the state’s banking community supports expanding the Housing Trust Fund because it stimulates the economy and provides affordable housing for thousands of working families.
Connell, who is the chair of the North Carolina Bankers Association, said that “dollar for dollar, the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund is the best investment the General Assembly can make.”
Fifty million dollars in the Trust Fund would build 6,000 housing units and create 3,000 jobs while generating as much as $30 million in state and local tax revenue.
That is the solution, but the crowd also heard in stark terms about the problem: 600,000 families that face an affordable housing crisis, with rental housing out of reach of many in the state.
Statewide, a worker must earn more than $12 an hour to afford the fair market rent of a two-bedroom apartment. In the Raleigh-Cary area, the wage needed is almost $16 an hour, almost three times the minimum wage.
More than 40,000 people in the state are on a waiting list for housing vouchers from the federal government and as Housing Carolina Director Chris Estes pointed out, the housing crisis affects many other issues before the General Assembly.
The state’s mental health system is in shambles as reform efforts to transfer care of the mentally ill from state hospitals to community programs is floundering because communities don’t have the resources to provide the services.
Even when they do, there is frequently no affordable housing available to the patients, raising the possibility that they will be served while living in homeless shelters across the state. Patients are already being discharged into shelters from hospitals because there is nowhere else for them to go.
Ron Penny, the incoming chair of United Way of North Carolina, made the connection between the lack of affordable housing and children struggling in school or dropping out, and police officers and firefighters unable to live in the communities they protect and serve.
The Housing Trust Fund is supported by Democrats and Republicans and a wide range of interest groups from the North Carolina Homebuilders to the North Carolina Coalition on Aging. Affordable housing is one of the rare issues where there is widespread agreement on the problem and the solution.
Yet the lack of funding for the Trust Fund continues as part of the state’s massive investment deficit that must be a priority for the short session of the General Assembly.
Chris Fitzsimon is director of N.C. Policy Watch and author of Fitzsimon File, a daily e-mail column. To sign up, go to www.ncpolicywatch.com.