KDH ponders ways to ease housing crunch

By on October 22, 2022

Commissioner BJ McAvoy questioned government’s role in addressing the long-term housing crisis.

The Kill Devil Hills Board of Commissioners and Planning Board met in a two-hour-long joint work session on October 20 to discuss potential regulatory changes and incentives it could initiate to encourage more long-term housing in the municipality.

“This is something that the Board of Commissioners has focused on for some time now, and has taken strides,” Assistant Planning Director Cameron Ray told the group at the start of the meeting, but he said that the board has expressed interest in continuing their efforts with more dynamic changes.

Morgan Deane, a senior at First Flight High School who is interning with the Kill Devil Hills Planning Department, spoke during the work session and brought home the magnitude of the problem for young people on the Outer Banks.

“I could go through my entire contact list now and ask people if they plan on living on the beach after they graduate and ninety nine percent will say no, because we can’t,” she said. “I think it’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed everywhere down here because realistically, you’re going to have a fairly large group of young people who are not going to return to be in the professional workforce and eventually that workforce is going to reach retirement age.

“I can say for sure I’m not going to live here unless it gets fixed…I plan on being financially stable, not relying on four jobs just to make rent.”

The efforts the town has undertaken in recent years include changing the setback requirements for mixed use development in the commercial zone to give existing businesses or new businesses the opportunity to add apartments that can be used for employees.

The commissioners have also approved zoning changes to allow accessory dwelling units in the commercial and light industrial zones and adopted an ordinance allowing cluster homes – independent dwelling units between 500 and 2,500 square feet with a shared driveway – in the low-density residential zone with specific restrictions for long-term occupancy.

Additionally, the commissioners have amended the town ordinance by increasing the floor area ratio for multifamily development in the light industrial zone, which Ray said has been successful in encouraging more multifamily projects in the last few years.

After several hours of discussing possibilities to help ease the housing crunch, Mayor Ben Sproul noted that “there is certainly a lot of energy for trying to figure ways to make life better for folks and not just with parks and beach access, but the mix of housing.”

In the end, the group directed planning staff to investigate several avenues, including revising the existing workforce housing ordinance to remove income requirements to allow for flexibility for year-round housing. At the meeting, there was also support for exploring additional regulatory changes that would lessen regulations for duplex dwellings in residential zones as well as lessening setbacks for mixed use development in the Light Industrial Zone.

Another option on the table was to incentivize mixed-use development with zoning concessions for long-term development, including requiring no additional parking for residential uses. Planning staff was also directed to investigate grant funding possibilities for voluntary conversion from short to long-term housing.

Commissioner Terry Gray said he saw a lot of promise in the possibility of lessening setbacks for mixed use development. “There’s been a lot of discussion and a lot of expression from business owners to help solve this problem and I think that if [businesses] can have apartment units overhead, I think that would free up some other areas.”

For his part, Commissioner BJ McAvoy questioned the level of responsibility the municipality   has in solving the problem, “especially our town, as dense as it is, to solve this beach problem…I have a fundamental disagreement with a lot of people in this room on what the role of government is.”


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  • Patricia Merski

    Pondering housing for the residents of Dare County. But I don’t think KDH did not PONDER when the new Starbucks was built or any other commercial buildings recently. Again, tourists are the main CONCERN for all the town here in Dare County…As it goes, it is getting more difficult to live here on a permanent basis….listen to the residents who need this housing and not worry about what the TOURISTS will think….other towns that have beaches such as ours have housing for their permanent residents and do not see the housing as ‘offensive’ to the entitled and rude tourists that come once a year to mess with our neighborhoods.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 8:57 am
  • Jimmy

    Time to think outside of the box. Why not a new tax/fee on all vacation rental homes. Most of these owners are in it just for the money and provide nothing for the community in the way of supporting our workforce. Use the collected fees to pay incentives to homeowners to offer year round rentals at reasonable prices.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:11 am
  • Nothing for rent

    Until they address the elephant in the room all they are doing is further feeding the beast.
    VBRO and Airbnb have completely crushed the year round rental program. All the beater / older beach box’s used to end up in the year round rental program. Not any more. Rent that pig by the night for a few months and double, triple the rent coming in.

    Add to that the rapidly rising housing costs (supported by way bigger rental incomes from VBRO and Airbnb) on the low end properties and you have the perfect storm.

    Non of the recently permitable alternitive housing units are going into the year round rental programs but rather right into the short term rentals.

    While I am aginst the taking of property rights and there has been a lot of positives from the VBRO and Airbnb business like more jobs, more income for folks that live here etc. etc. it is the killer in the long run.

    As long as you can rent the dog house out back by the night there will never be anything left avalable or affordable for the younger folks and working class to rent.

    Simple math that local government is almost powerless to address without taking a sledge hammer to that industry.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:17 am
  • Jimmy

    And what have these actions accomplished? Very little to nothing as far as helping with housing. What is needed is a new tax/fee on vacation rental homes – to include the monsters on the beach. Most of these owners are in it just for the money and do nothing to help with the community workforce. Use the collected funds to pay incentives for homeowners to provide year round rentals at reasonable rates.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:22 am
  • Hey Patricia

    Patricia Merski, the only ENTITLED AND RUDE people are the ones like you constantly clumping every visitor to our area into some class of garbage… We have plenty of leeches on society here among us full time.

    The Starbucks property isn’t a residential lot… stop spewing nonsense and offer up some real solutions for once.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:37 am
  • Bob W

    Jimmy, the taxes on rentals are already pretty high. Maybe those in charge should reallocate where some of those existing funds go. It’s the same as when the Federal Government says corporations don’t pay their fair share… so they raise those taxes and the little guy just gets charged more for the product and the corporations don’t see any change.

    The ones being charged more should be the developers getting the green light to build pseudo hotels on the beach disguised as houses. That’s what other areas do… extra fees to developers when they build neighborhoods etc. for affordable housing or requirements for those same developers to build a certain percentage of affordable housing as a condition of approval for their projects.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 9:43 am
  • Just the facts

    @ Patricia and anyone else who is confused about the land use permitting process….the town of KDH (and the towns of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, etc.) cannot just out of hand reject development plans that meet zoning standards simply because locals are sick of that particular kind of development. Developers would sue and win.

    This goes for the Starbucks, the WAWA, the hotel that everyone is so upset about down in Nags Head, etc. etc. etc.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 10:08 am
  • Kathy

    Though I agree with BJ McAvoy, could landlords of full time tenants rent to the business concerns who could appeal to landlords for a modest special dispensation? When I was young housing was a problem and I found a wonderful old house which was shared with 5 others in my situation. We all wanted to be on our own and we had congenial relationships with occasional meetings to smooth over opinions. I realize this might sound ideal, but what is perfection among us?
    Neighbor is not a geographic location, it is a moral concept. Here, my neighbor, who is a tenant, has had housemates that haven’t worked out and unfortunately I am not sure his recent penitent attempts at conversation are possible. The Town hasn’t exactly enforced some codes on junk, etc., but there is hope.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 10:14 am
  • Greg

    Gentrification is a problem everywhere that people want to be and lots of people want to be here. We are not alone. This is happening in all resort towns. There is no stopping it without infringing on someone’s property rights which is fundamentally wrong and no one is willing to give up their rights for the common good. In time, us regular folk will have to commute to work here just like most of the country already does. I wish we could go back to the way it was but those days are long gone.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 12:03 pm
  • Look Around

    All over this country and the world individuals are forced to COMMUTE to get to work. We have two short rides accross two separate bridges to ge to work. It is done everywhere, why not here! Just look at Moyock, NC as an example most of the new residents even have to pay a toll to come from Virginia to find affordable housing, in a different state! This is called growth and is happening everywhere! Why not combine forces between Currituck and Dare Counties to combine forces and build outlying communities and solve each others problem (affordable housing) including necessary services! Reasonable food shopping, etc., etc!
    This may also help solve our “brain drain”by allowing our youth to remain in the area while inviting small industry to be established off the beach!

    Also consider allowing a one or two bedroom area in a strip mall for tenant use!

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 12:21 pm
  • KDH back seat reviewer

    Think outside the box. This would mean that the commissioners and the planning board have to make a commitment(enact bylaws, policy, etc.) to the housing issue and not have the dog and pony show for a representation of something being done.

    Allowing a tax break/incentive for current homeowners to build/rent out property to year round residents within their own property, i.e expansion of an existing home and easing setbacks, septic, etc., etc.

    It all comes down to money, money, money and location, location, location.

    Heck, I don’t know. The rabbit hole has turned into a worm tunnel.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 3:20 pm
  • Patricia Nash

    why dont they build affordable housing over in East Lake somewhere..they can have a bus run over there and pick them up in fact the county transportation bus is great ..why d they have to have prime property up for grabs I cant think of a stupider place to put affordable housing than on the bypass near Jockies Ridge..why is that even an option?? Did these people just crawl out from under a rock… or what????

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 7:59 pm
  • GT705

    Look Around is correct about the notion of commuting. The premise that the affordable housing problem at the Outer Banks can be fixed is simply false at this time. The capacity for affordable housing simply does not exist, even if there were new construction. As stated by others, rental rates continue to increase, and potential properties being converted to other rental models like AirBnB and VRBO continue to increase also. Therefore any affordable housing continues to decrease. In order to meet current, future, and increasing labor needs, more workers from outside the area need to commute there. In fact, many such workers have done so for a very long time.

    Saturday, Oct 22 @ 8:26 pm
  • Travis

    It’s not just people who want to live and work here that are facing difficulties. There are many, many people who already live here and have lived here for years. As the value of their home has increased (yay), the property taxes and insurance have also gone up (boo). Without any say in the matter, they are being priced out of the area because that cute little 3BR, 2 Bath that was $199,000 ten or fifteen years ago is now being appraised at $499,000.

    All the strategies mentioned by KDH have resulted in very little affordable house and a lot of expansion of private (AirB&B, etc.) rental expansion. North Carolina has no rent control laws on the books like New York, Maryland or the handful of other states. It seems one of the few avenues is to enter into a legally binding contract with a builder ahead of time that A,B,C properties are going to be owned by Entity X, not sold, and rented for Y dollars. But then you are likely creeping into the realm of “government housing” and those are the scary words for most homeowners adjacent to the proposed project.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 12:21 am
  • The Captain

    You could talk Zoning, you could talk Subsidies and other concerns, but has anyone approached this from a Financial standpoint. What I mean is what can a family with two children actually afford making $30,000 a year. Maybe $800 a month for a two Bedroom Apt. What a Laugh. Is it really the lack of Housing or is it the Income of those who need the housing? The solution is a very large “Garden” Apartment complex on big land tracts in Currituck or Dare Mainland. I’m talking big, maybe 100 or more units. Think about it.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 7:54 am
  • Mitch Finch

    North Carolina general statutes prevent rent control. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-14.1. So you can either change the law statewide, to allow rent control, or, you come up with alternatives.

    I think the bottom line at this point is that there are a lot of voices in local government, that either directly or indirectly, are not interested in addressing the problem of affordable housing at the beach. That problem is addressed in the voting booth.

    Mr. McAvoy is entitled to his position – that government ought not be involved. There’s nothing wrong with that position, and vote that if you feel it is in the best interest of the community.

    There’s nothing wrong with the idea of thinking that the government ought to be involved to reign in the broader forces of the market that might injure the community. When the government is literally not involved – people in the market do crazy things sometimes. History is replete with examples. Tulips; websites; stocks; real estate. Most recently, like telling people in mass along the i-95 corridor that 60 year old jalopy salt boxes that sold for $250,000 in 2018 are now worth $500,000 because covid and are great rental investment opportunities. If we do nothing as bodies politic, the unbridled forces of the real estate hype machine will continue to rule over housing in Dare County, and the local population riding below or just above the poverty line will be forced to ride along with the market swings (and, in fact presently, thrown out of the community because of it).

    Local governments around the country, and in fact, around the State of North Carolina, do take active roles in policy making around housing. All you have to do is actually investigate a little bit. Whip open your favorite web browser and google “housing” plus the name of any metro or well functioning municipality in North Carolina and you can find plans for addressing affordable housing challenges in different ways. Dare County, the towns, and all of northeastern North Carolina’s counties and municipalities, have to make a willful decisions to acquire the intellectual capitol necessary to make change in this area, or its never going to happen.

    One challenge for the beach as a region is that it is essentially mostly water and actually tiny in land mass. There are limited options because there is limited land, and the land is carved up 17,000 ways to sunday. Additionally, the most inhabited and desirable parts of the county have seven competing governments with different interests and we are asking them to try regulate essentially the same issue with different ordinances and different philosophies and different interests. The towns and the counties (looking at you Currituck / Corolla) are all prioritizing different matters, and prioritize housing in different ways (and some not at all). For example, the county contracts with affordable housing developers; Nags Head issues a “moratorium” on development.

    I think a responsible position for all of the municipalities to adopt is to be the baseline of a portion of the community that will have a fundamental minimum level of housing for people in poverty that live and work in the community already.

    One solution the municipalities could consider is owning and managing rental properties themselves. And it can come in a variety of styles, that includes or does not include federal housing programs. The cities of Charlotte and Raleigh and Greensboro, and other smaller municipalities in North Carolina, do this. It can be done, and it is being done. The bottom line on this type of situation is that because the municipality owns the property, the municipality is in charge of what the rent is (or perhaps the federal government is if working in concert with the federal agencies), and so is not creating an ordinance or resolution controlling the rent in violation of NCGS 42-14.1.

    Another potential solution is the municipalities could enact an ordinance that provides for a property tax reduction or some other type of benefit to the landlord if the landlord agrees to rent a property that is not the landlord’s primary residence on a long term annual basis. That type of ordinance would not run afoul of the NCGS 42-14.1 prohibition on the amount of rent control either. That leaves the amount of rent to the private sector. More long term rental properties back into the market place means more supply relative to demand.

    The bigger issue at the beach and regionally is getting the counties and the municipalities to respect the interest of the other bodies politic, understand their own strengths and weaknesses in comparison to their neighbors, and finding ways to help themselves by helping one another.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 8:15 am
  • Jay

    The situation we are in is a result of pure greed by our elected and non-elected officials and their lust for ever increasing tax revenue. To them increasing tax revenue is more addictive than heroin. I can only imagine the salivating like a dog over the sight of a raw steak our elected and non-elected officials displayed when the idea of Airbnb and the likes reached the Outer Banks.

    To those who claim “private property owners rights” there is no such thing. Building codes are already in place to restrict what you can do with you private property.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 8:17 am
  • Sean Mulligan

    I rent places in CA every winter to visit my children and there are beach towns that have areas that are only monthly rentals.I understand Hawaii is also banning short term rentals in some areas.These are decisions for government.KDH definitely caters to the real estate investors so a little catering to the local work force would be a good idea.The large rentals on the ocean front should be considered commercial and taxed the same as a hotel.

    Sunday, Oct 23 @ 11:31 am
  • Beach Barb

    The answer is MONEY. Until they incentivize year round long-term rentals nothing will happen. The AirBNB rentals generate occupancy taxes, the year-round rentals don’t. There needs to be an incentive for property owners to rent to locals for housing. The only thing they have done is allow the mother-in-law apartments and they are all airbnb, not long-term housing.

    Monday, Oct 24 @ 10:58 am
  • John

    Seems like government business as usual. One commissioner says it’s not the government’s responsibility…. Another complains about all the commercial properties that are getting zoning permits…. Make changes in existing laws that in reality helps nobody find more affordable housing…. Foreign students continue to come every summer and further exasperate the housing crunch because greedy homeowners can make a fortune cramming four of them in a room with one bathroom… Everybody talks a lot has a lot of great ideas and nothing gets done… And the people that actually have a vote and put them in power realize that whatever these political people say they’re going to do before they get into office they never do. I’m no better I don’t have a solution… The only thing I can come up with is perhaps incentives for larger corporations like Dominion did for the teachers…. Who without mincing any words are extremely underpaid are teachers are extremely underpaid… Incentives for large multi-unit housing residential areas building incentives that also require these large corporations and their owners of the housing to keep the rents out of reasonable level….. For a certain amount of time say 30 years. The only comments I see above that are reasonable seem to come from the man Sean who visited California….for anybody on this board to act like this isn’t a problem and not the responsibility of this board that’s ridiculous. Take the millions that were spending on beach nourishment and build some affordable housing with that. We continue to pay millions to dump sand out of the ocean onto the beach and the sand goes right back into the ocean from where it came. That’s not helping any local people that’s not helping any of the people that live in the outer Banks that’s just preserving all the million dollar homes that are owned by people from out of town.

    Monday, Oct 24 @ 11:19 am