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We Need More Housing!

Raleigh has a housing supply problem. Data shows that the housing inventory for sale has gone from a peak of 13 months of supply in 2011 to about 2 months of supply for the last couple of years. As a result, the average price per square foot of houses sold has increased by 45% since 2013. Meanwhile, in the rental market, apartment occupancy rates are over 95%, the highest since 2001 and our rental rates are growing at the sixth-highest rate amongst all large cities in the US. Given these market and conditions, and a net increase of over 40 people per day moving to Raleigh, who can argue that Raleigh needs less housing? The lack of existing supply is exactly why we are seeing dramatic increases in housing costs in Raleigh today.

We can’t control how many people move to Raleigh, but the City Council can enact policies that increase supply and lower costs. While I support high-rise buildings downtown, there are other ways to increase density across the city that don’t mean bigger buildings and don’t cost the city a penny.

Here are four good places to start:

1 – Zoning issues. There are plenty of issues related to zoning that the City Council could address such as the rules around Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), or Granny Flats. ADUs are small housing units, usually found in a backyard, where a relative or renter may live. Currently, an arduous process exists which essentially requires a 10-acre re-zoning process and input from what could be 60 homeowners in the surrounding area. What is framed as a compromise is in truth a clever ploy to practically prevent ADUs without banning them. Additionally, single-family only zoning hinders opportunities for denser neighborhoods and more homes. Duplexes and triplexes could be legalized citywide to maximize the number of homes which can be built without much impact on existing neighborhoods. These homes fit right into existing neighborhoods with little notice beyond an extra door! Finally, building multiple, smaller units on the same plot of land is another way to bring down the cost of new housing and better utilize the land we have available.

2 – Speed up the development review process. The development review process in Raleigh is so long and onerous that many smaller developers can’t afford to work here, and some larger developers are looking elsewhere. It is not uncommon for development projects to be held up for months in the permitting process, and every unproductive day is lost revenue. That cost is passed down to the buyer or renter. City councilors have also been known to micro-manage city staff and complain to their superiors if they don’t agree with the actions of staff members, further dragging out the review process.

3 – Eliminate parking minimums and reduce minimum lot sizes. Parking is expensive and forces developers to buy extra land and/or build large, expensive parking decks. We are moving towards non-car centric transportation in our urban areas; let the market decide how much parking is necessary. If developers know people will not rent or buy what they are building without parking, they will build parking. It’s a similar story with minimum lot sizes which can drive up the cost of new housing, especially as land cost rises.

4 – Adopt robust transit overlay districts. This option would result in some buildings taller than is currently allowed, but with all the money we are investing in better bus transit infrastructure in Raleigh, we need to fully capitalize on that investment by increasing population density. The most obvious place to implement these districts with increased density allowances are along the four planned bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors: New Bern Ave, Western Blvd, Capital Blvd, and US401. Council is discussing this now, but they have dragged their feet as they have with anything that may increase density. We need to act now because any development that happens along these corridors will remain for at least 50 years. All new development needs to be built with transit in mind. The more people that live near fast and reliable transit, the more people we can keep out of cars and limit congestion. Creating an environment where people can live car-free isn’t just good for traffic; it also lowers the cost of living significantly for residents.

All of these options could be implemented fairly quickly by a motivated City Council. We have an opportunity to choose every member of Raleigh City Council by voting on October 8th. Go vote!

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