Dare Board turns back to UNC on essential housing

By on June 2, 2021

The Elizabethan Inn could become part of the new essential housing project. (Elizabethan Inn)

At their June 1 special meeting, the Dare County Commissioners agreed to ask the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI) to develop a conceptual plan for affordable housing at the county-owned Bowsertown property on Roanoke Island and possibly, the Elizabethan Inn as well. That work would also entail soliciting developers to invest in the combined project at both sites.

Back in February 2020, the commissioners hired DFI to identify potential sites in the community for such housing. At the direction of the board, the UNC group paused its work twice since then – once due to COVID-19 and a second time, according to DFI project manager Sara Odio, because the county was pursuing other affordable housing avenues.

At the June 1 special board meeting, Dare Commissioners Chair Bob Woodard seemed to express some frustration at the slow pace of progress on the housing front.

“Our board has been working on essential housing workforce housing for longer than I choose to admit,” he asserted. “I called this special meeting because, I don’t know of any other way to politely say, it’s time for us to move. It’s time for us to have a plan. It’s time for us to leave today with a consensus that we’re going to move in one direction or the other.”

“This board is going to have to have skin in the game,” Woodard added. “If we want to see this project done…it can’t be done without us spending some money.”

As part of its June 1 consensus, the board asked DFI to develop a plan that features a mix of affordable and workforce housing at the sites for renters of varying income levels. Woodard also said the board was informed that the Elizabethan Inn owners would consider selling the property for the cause.

Commissioners also asked DFI’s Odio to explore other possible sites that have recently been brought to the county’s attention – including acreage in Kitty Hawk and on Colington Island.

The June 1 meeting comes as the Outer Banks experiences a critical shortage of affordable housing, one that is significantly impacting the crucial summer workforce. And the debate on how to tackle the problem continues. During initial studies on affordable housing in Dare County, DFI found that an estimated 1,200 units were needed to meet current demand for low-income residents here.

Most recently, on May 19, the Manteo Board of Commissioners denied a zoning text amendment request by SAGA Construction and the Taft Mills Group that would have paved the way for a 72-unit complex, with a few dozen units priced under market rent, on Russell Twiford Road. The consensus of the Manteo Board in that decision was that the project was too dense for the neighborhood.

Shortly after, the two entities made an informal, but similar offer to the county at the Bowsertown site. However, the June 1 move by the board to enlist DFI essentially ends the immediate possibility of the SAGA-Taft Mills proposal moving forward.

Of her group’s mission, DFI’s Odio said, “Our primary goal is to really bridge that gap between the private sector and the public sector, so that you can get to a project that meets the public need…We’re asking you all to trust us and let’s go, let’s do this.”

DFI advises communities on attracting private investments for projects such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program, which provides a tax incentive to developers to construct affordable rental housing.

“Our goal…is to really understand what’s happening on these sites that could impact costs,” said Odio, adding that DFI would also support the county during development agreement negotiations. The next steps of DFI’s work in Dare County would be to examine the physical and regulatory constraints, as well as the financial feasibility, for both the investors and the county.

County Manager Bobby Outten told the Voice following the meeting that DFI will present the county with a plan that offers the biggest bang for the buck, and commissioners will determine from there whether to proceed.

At the board’s direction, DFI will also explore other possible sites in the county. Pam Anderson, owner of Ocean Sands Canine Resort on Williams Drive, addressed the need for more affordable housing in the county during the meeting. She told the board she had four acres of land on that road that could be used for such a purpose.

Anderson told the board that she rents three units out on her property for $800 each, including utilities. “The last opening we had – we had one hundred inquiries within a matter of two hours. The people are crying, begging for these affordable places,” Anderson asserted, emphasizing that it’s important to her and her family to keep rents low.

“It’s not a matter of getting rich,” she said. “It’s a matter of investing in our community.”





  • surf123

    The county (and towns) should not be in the business of funding housing for workers. It is a bad precedent that will end up being a lose-lose proposition for the taxpayers. Do a little research on Waves Landing to see how that debacle turned out (hint: Real has some houses they would like to rent you across the street from their compound).

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 8:05 am
  • anthony dimatteo

    Regarding the potential sale of 4 acres of land on Williams Drive on Colington Island to Dare County for affordable housing, please realize almost all of those 4 acres are a swamp, a much needed retainer when flooding from Kitty Hawk Bay at the beginning of Williams Drive occurs. If those acres are developed, then Colington Road along with Williams Drive will flood.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 9:44 am
  • lippy

    Your employer owes you nothing but a paycheck and to be treated fairly. Your employer is not responsible for providing “affordable housing” for you. If you have to commute for a 1/2hr or more to get to your job then so be it! Millions of Americans do it everyday. Stop your whining about building projects for lower income workers. Look at all the big cities and see what a horrible idea it is to put projects in any neighborhood and fill them will low income workers.

    I challenge anyone to provide 1 good example of “affordable housing” for low income workers.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 10:44 am
  • Travis

    You can’t swing a cat by the tail and not hit 15 developers right here on the Outer Banks. Yet Woodard & Co. burn money on some outside entity for answers for a very local problem. It’s the age old answer to any problem you don’t really want to deal with as a politician: study it and then study it some more. Throw in a blue ribbon commission every so often if you are really feeling fancy.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 10:47 am
  • Travis

    Challenge accepted.
    Habitat for Humanity has been been building affordable housing for over 30 years with great success, I might add.
    And most employers are quite happy with the capitalist system until the law of supply and demand tilts against them as it is doing now with a demand for workers which are in short supply. The cry for affordable housing is being led by the business community because they want a subsidised workforce so they can keep paying them non-living wages.
    If the system really worked like it should, you’d see wages rising to attract workers who could then afford to live here.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 4:03 pm
  • Charlie Brown

    One would hope after last years debacle with denial of constitutional property rights and associated costs to taxpayers, the Commissioners would be finished with dumb ideas. Politicians need to stay away from the economics of supply and demand. Let the businesses deal with this employment situation. People have always had to commute to work and bear the associated travel expense. Let the employers and employees figure it out.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 4:06 pm
  • Lora O'Flahrity

    It’s hard to imagine any community without financially assisted housing. Of course this is the first time I’ve actually been a permanent resident in a tourist community, and I’m certain that the average temporary employee, is being paid a living wage and able to afford considering becoming a permanent resident.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 5:06 pm
  • M.J.

    God bless people like Pam Anderson!! The population of Dare County is aging and can’t afford these exhorbitant rents that some are trying to charge. My 85 year old mother was recently evicted from the apt. where she paid $800/mo, bc the greedy owner wants to get double that amount!! Sickening… also ppl making low wages in restaurants & retail need affordable housing. Thanks to all who are looking out for “the least of these” in our community…

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 5:35 pm
  • Grandyguy

    Travis & M.J. are correct

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 7:16 pm
  • 50 miles into the Main

    Encourage regional market driven solutions from the mainland in areas that can really benefit from additional population growth and tax base. Coinjock is 30 minutes from Kitty Hawk, Columbia is 40ish minutes from Nags Head. Some of the groceries are bussing folks in from even further out.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 10:38 pm
  • 50 miles into the Main

    One additional note per previous comment….out of 100 counties in NC, Dare is the 4th richest county in NC in per capita income…while two adjacent counties within commute distance, Tyrell, ranks 98th and Hyde, ranks 100th (last). Real estate values in those 3 areas mirror those respective results. There is a regional approach here that is a win/win.

    Wednesday, Jun 2 @ 10:48 pm
  • surf123

    I sound like a broken record but there is no such thing as affordable housing other than mainland Dare. At the beaches it is a best use case and that is weekly rentals to tourists. In and out in a week and none of the hassles of long-term tenants. The only feasible solution is to move into adjacent counties. Just like other places across the nation the desirable areas are expensive. Try moving to Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons, Hilton Head, Vail, etc and you will find the same problem with the correct solution of living away from those areas.

    The major cause of wages that do not afford one the possibility of a desirable rental or the purchase of a home:
    1. The importation of seasonal workers from other areas of the world such as Eastern Europe. Those coming have their wages locked in before they get here and are basically slave laborers with no other options than what they signed up for. They work until August to break even and save some money beyond that for travel before returning home. As long as this type of employment exists there is not incentive for a business to pay livable wages. Why page $15 or $20 when you can an employee at close to 1/2 that and get rid of them whenever you want.

    2. The seasonal nature of summer/winter resort areas. You need people in the summer and +/- a few months, but that is it.

    Friday, Jun 4 @ 12:35 pm
  • Mike Honcho

    All of these comments have some truth to them. Being a vacation destination, the highest and best use of the majority of the homes here is to rent them out plain and simple. I do not fault property owners for using their homes as short term rentals because it is their right to do so and as we all know is very lucrative. However, because of this seasonal workers and essential infrastructure employees cannot afford/cannot find places to rent or buy. It is true that many workers commute to the Outer Banks daily to work but they are not commuting to a six-figure job as is often the case in places like Raleigh or Charlotte, they are commuting to a job where they are likely not paid very well and most certainly are not paid any more to offset the fact that they have to commute daily. While some people may be open to the idea of a 30-40 minute commute one way, once gas, added vehicle wear and tear, and drive time are taken into account, realized income would greatly decrease. At the end of the day there is too large a discrepancy between the median income and the cost of living here on the Outer Banks. There are many people here that have lived here their entire lives and will never leave, however if this issue is not addressed, many long time residents will leave and this issue will certainly deter new college graduates and young families from moving here. It is neither the government nor business owners place to subsidize housing, and frankly I do not think many of these affected citizens would find that type of thing attractive as a long term solution anyway. The most viable option would be to incrementally increase prices across the board until an equilibrium is reached that allows for both the optimal volume of tourism activity and optimal pay for those infrastructure and service industry employees.

    Friday, Jun 4 @ 4:47 pm
  • Tri-Village

    Stop building rental houses. Problem solved. There are enough weekly rentals here already. Jesus tap dancing Christ

    Friday, Jun 4 @ 9:04 pm
  • Spoonyrae

    Problem- Lack of “affordable housing”.
    Reason- Zoning in each town and County won’t allow it.
    Solution- Change zoning to allow it in each town and the County. The problem will then be solved by the private sector without any tax dollars or ” government solution”.

    Saturday, Jun 5 @ 7:44 am
  • Hatteras Island

    Houses houses everywhere and NO place to live!
    If we can do this:
    DFI advises communities on attracting private investments for projects such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program, which provides a tax incentive to developers to construct affordable rental housing.

    Why can’t we provide a tax incentive to existing property owners to turn some of these already existing homes into “affordable” housing? We do not need more developers – developing! Also cuts out on years of studies and people waiting and waiting and waiting while they camp…

    Tuesday, Jun 8 @ 2:45 pm
  • Stan Clough

    Our beach has become a more desirable place for people to move to buying houses to live in. The problem with housing is not actually a problem with housing. A supply and demand economy has raised property values , the last year has changed ways we live, our beach has become a bit more unique.
    Not sure what can be done politically except to study and learn from reality.

    Wednesday, Jun 9 @ 12:33 pm
  • Disappointed long term resident

    I am always saddened by the stigma and prejudice that the term “low income housing” brings.
    Truthfully, most people are not looking for low income housing, but just affordable housing so they can work and have a place to call home.
    As was mentioned before, ignoring this issue is causing businesses to close for one, two, or even three days a week because the locals that are able to live in Dare, and even Currituck are exhausted from working 60 + hours a week (mostly in hot kitchens, or extremely stressful environments).
    Let’s face folks, as it is great that our tourism is definitely up, seems like we have shot ourselves in the foot by not realizing that we just don’t have staff to accommodate this giant influx of people.
    As a person who works in the service industry, it has felt like 4th of July week since April. On a Wednesday, we served 550 people inside and that doesn’t include to go business. Some will say GOOD PROBLEM TO HAVE, I just wonder when these tourists get home will they say that place is terrible, long waits at restaurants and grocery stores, etc. that they will choose another place next time?
    There has to be a balance of catering to both our citizens and our tourists. Both are important.

    Thursday, Jun 10 @ 3:14 am
Join the discussion