Raleigh residents have identified affordable housing as the top issue facing the city. An $80 million bond on the ballot this year seeks to offer modest help in the form of new developments in partnership with the private sector, amassing land for future affordable developments along transit corridors, and providing financial assistance to homeowners.

It’s the last relic of Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s “moonshot” bond package, which initially dreamed of funding the first phase of Dix Park’s redevelopment. But the pandemic forced the council to reprioritize and ultimately downsize their ask of taxpayers. 

Raleigh has not passed a housing bond since 2011. In the last two decades, the city has issued just $50 million in affordable housing bonds. 

In that time, a national migration to midsize cities has hit Raleigh, with dozens of new residents each day. The problem boils down to an issue of supply and demand: There are simply not enough affordable units in the city for those who need them. The result has been gentrification, pricing out many and displacing longtime residents as developers erect gaudy modern McMansions on once-modest city plots. 

A housing bond won’t magically solve the problem. But it will help people. It will create new affordable homes. It will purchase land in key areas to facilitate affordable development along transit lines. It will help longtime residents stay in place by providing them financial assistance. 

This, we think, is better than doing nothing at all.

Unfortunately, a small political faction is hell-bent on stopping the bond. Their line is this: The bond is just enriching developers and doesn’t build enough units for the very poor, so it’s bad. Let’s break that down:

1. Things don’t get built for free. Things don’t get built at a loss for the architects, engineers, and contractors. Businesses need to be profitable in order to participate in these projects. The city council can’t lay the bricks themselves—partnering with the private sector is the only option. 

2. These developers will still build things without the city’s help, and they won’t be affordable. Not supporting the bond won’t stop developers.

3.  Partnering with the private sector on low-income tax credit projects stretches the city’s dollars as far as they can go and greatly reduces the cost per unit, meaning the city can build more while spending less.

4.  Doing nothing also doesn’t solve the city’s burgeoning affordability crisis. Grandstanding doesn’t solve the problem either.

One of the more visible figures behind this so-called anti-housing movement is former council member Stef Mendell, who lost her 2019 election in a landslide. She’s joined by council member David Cox, the lone vote against the bond. This is politics at its worst.

This same group, during its tenure controlling the council, did little to improve the lives of low-income residents in Raleigh. In fact, they opposed development at every turn and were more fixated on protecting their neighborhood fiefdoms than addressing the city’s growth.

Development is not inherently evil. In fact, it is the only way out of the housing crisis. We are not paving paradise here; we are making space for our neighbors to live. A significant investment in affordable housing is long overdue. Durham passed a $95 million bond last year. Don’t buy into the spin of a few sour grapes—we urge you to vote yes on the housing bond.

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Follow Raleigh News Editor Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com

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