By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on November 3, 2022
A representative of housing developer Woda Cooper made the case for building a 54-unit affordable housing complex called “Commons of Nags Head” during a presentation at the Nags Head Commissioners’ Nov. 2 meeting. The complex, proposed for the corner of Hollowell Street and U.S. 158 across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park, has run into community opposition and been subject to a building moratorium approved by the town commissioners.
Woda Cooper is partnering with Dare County to build a total of 100 workforce housing units, both in Nags Head and at the county-owned site on Bowsertown Road on Roanoke Island.
The presentation by Woda Cooper Senior Vice President Denis Blackburne marks the first time the company has formally come before the Nags Head Commissioners regarding the project.
However, community pushback, along with complaints this summer from residents near a new pizza restaurant, led the commissioners last month to enact a 150-day development moratorium in the town’s historic character area that includes the 4.7-acre Hollowell Street parcel. The moratorium, staff has indicated, will allow the municipality to review its zoning ordinances.
Blackburne told commissioners at the meeting that his company has a solid reputation. “When we come into a community, we like to stay in that community,” he said, adding that the proposal includes three buildings that will be spread out throughout the site and have just over 100 parking spaces.
Woda Cooper, he said, has built and now manages its more than 400 properties in 16 different states, representing a management of about 16,000 units. Blackburne told commissioners that Woda Cooper developments — which are reserved for those who earn between 40, 60 and 80 percent of the Area Mean Income (AMI) — are often used by teachers, school support staff, hospital staff, starting police officers and firefighters, local government employees and “of course in this particular community, the hospitality industry.”
He also pointed out that there are no age restrictions and that a lot of seniors also move into Woda Cooper properties.
Blackburne’s presentation, however, came about a week after Nags Head Town Staff issued an Oct. 25 report to the commissioners outlining the project and noting that most town employees’ salaries, including starting police officers and firefighters, are too high to meet the earning limitations to live in the complex. Additionally, the report indicated, many teachers as well as a good segment of healthcare workers wouldn’t qualify under the current AMI calculations, either. The report noted that “…many employees in the identified sectors earn wages higher than the income limits established for the proposed project.”
“A primary source of funding for the project would be utilizing low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC),” the report stated, noting that the project is a private development that would use a variety of government subsidies. “Many LIHTC projects are occupied by or targeted to senior populations who have left the workforce.”
The report went on to point out that LIHTC is designed to incentivize projects that address lower income segments of the community. “This project may offer housing to certain sectors of the workforce; however, because it relies on LIHTC as a major source of funding…it may fall short of addressing many of the ‘essential’ sectors identified by the county, including government, healthcare, and education.”
When asked about his response to the report, Blackburne said he hasn’t had a chance to review it and would like to do so before responding.
For his part, Nags Head Mayor Pro Tem Mike Siers said, “I would like you to have the opportunity to read [the report] and tell me if you feel this is sustainable…I want a better understanding, and I’m sure there are people in the community that want an understanding of how this is going to work and how it’s going to help our restaurants, our first responders and our workers.”
Commissioner Kevin Brinkley said that along with starting police officers in Nags Head, starting police officers in Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores and Duck all make more than the 80 percent AMI threshold.
“Two schoolteachers with a starting salary of $41,000 with a bachelor’s degree…couldn’t live there,” he said. “Be transparent about it. The transparency is not there. Our citizens think we are turning our back on affordable housing, and that is not the case.”
He concluded by stating that “You said it at the last meeting, and you said it at this meeting, that quite a few seniors [reside in Woda Cooper units]. Seniors need a good place to stay, too. But how is that going to help our workforce? It’s not.”
In addition to the Woda Cooper projects, to which the county has committed a maximum of $9 million, it has also partnered with Coastal Affordable Housing, a North Carolina-based consortium that plans to construct 350 to 400 affordable housing units in the county. The state has committed $35 million to that venture. But so far, no sites have been secured for those units.