Raleigh city council members entered the housing bidding wars this week when they approved $4 million for a Wake County-led program to preserve affordable rents. 

The money—about 5 percent of the $80 million affordable housing bond Raleigh voters approved in 2020—will be used to purchase apartment buildings that are already affordable for people making about $53,000 a year. By buying these apartment buildings, the city can prevent opportunistic investors from snatching them up and raising rents. 

The money is going to Wake County’s Affordable Housing Preservation Fund, which is designed to repair and purchase housing that serves people making below 80 percent of the annual median income. The $4 million Raleigh is contributing is specifically earmarked for housing near transit, which means properties within a half-mile of a bus station or proposed BRT station. 

Loans are administered by the community financier Self-Help Ventures Fund. 

“By participating in this fund structure, we are able to…move at market speed to compete with the many profit-oriented investors who are operating in this space in the market,” said Housing Programs Administrator Mark Perlman. “We see this as a very exciting opportunity.” 

Relief for Restaurants

Also Tuesday, the city council decided to look into creating a permanent parking relief program for restaurant workers. Last year, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the city gave out free parking passes to small business owners so they and their employees could park in downtown garages at no cost. The program helped relieve some of the financial strain on workers as businesses were forced to shut down and foot traffic slowed. 

Today, however, the situation hasn’t changed much, said Joshua Janowiak, an employee of Beasley’s Chicken + Honey.

“People are slowly returning to dining out, but not nearly at the rate they were before the pandemic,” said Janowiak. “My paychecks are a little over half of what they were in 2019. The prospect of paying $15 for parking during a work shift when I make a little over $100 has made me and my coworkers extremely worried.”

Alyssa Tenace, also of Beasley’s, said the parking program has made a big difference for her employees, even as the pandemic subsides. 

With downtown garages mostly empty, with many people still working from home, councilman Jonathan Melton proposed extending the parking relief program through the end of June. The council unanimously approved the proposal.

At that time, city staff will make a recommendation on what percentage of occupancy the garage should reach before the program is discontinued. Staff will also work with local business owners and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance to propose a more long-term solution. 

The outdoor “streeteries” many restaurants created during the pandemic will also be permanent fixtures in the city going forward. After the success of the pop-up outdoor dining spaces, the city decided to relax its regulations for good. A new ordinance approved Tuesday allows restaurants to use public sidewalks and on-street parking spaces to create additional outdoor seating during business hours. 

No More Parking Minimums

Also Tuesday, the city council revoked parking minimums for developers, meaning they no longer have to include a certain number of parking spaces for shopping centers, apartment complexes, or other projects. Reducing the number of massive, and often half-empty parking lots, is a step toward fighting climate change, council members argued. 

Several other cities are also adopting a changing attitude toward parking, arguing that it’s time for a shift in the car-centered paradigm. Removing parking requirements could cut down on carbon emissions and encourage people to walk or bike more.

“For a really long time, we have prioritized spaces for cars over people. And that needs to stop,” said councilman Jonathan Melton. “We’re in a housing crisis. Parking minimums drive up the cost of housing and make it more difficult for small business owners to operate and start small businesses, and (they’re) bad for the environment.”

The council approved the policy change 7-1, with councilman David Cox voting against. Cox said he supported downsizing parking lots in some areas, but the council’s “sledgehammer approach” of revoking minimums citywide “is not nuanced enough.” 

What Else Happened? 

Wake County’s non-discrimination ordinance is now officially in effect within Raleigh city limits. Wake County began enforcing the new LGBTQ civil rights law earlier this year. When a complaint is made, the county starts with mediation—it’s contracted Campbell University law school staff to work on resolving disputes. The Raleigh city council entered into an agreement with Wake County this week through consent. Complaints about discrimination in public spaces and employment can be made here

— The council denied a rezoning request that would have allowed a high-density residential development to be built off Six Forks Road near Strickland Road, within the Falls Lake Watershed. Nearby residents were concerned about the possible environmental effects and increased water runoff. “I think it’s just time for a restart on this one,” said councilman Patrick Buffkin. He added he was open to the applicant restarting the rezoning process with a new, lower-density plan. 

— The council approved a rezoning request allowing a mixed-use development with housing, restaurants, and retail off Edwards Mill Road near Crabtree Valley Mall. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and councilman David Knight said the development will give surrounding office workers and neighborhood residents a good place to walk to, making the area more connected. 

— The council approved a rezoning request allowing townhouses to be built on about one acre of land at the intersection of Rock Drive and Poole Road. “There is definitely housing needs in this area,” said councilman Corey Branch. “It’s good to see a local developer doing work in the city.”

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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to jgallup@indyweek.com.