Our number one priority is workforce housing

By on January 25, 2023

In wide-ranging State of the County, Woodard criticizes “naysayers” battling local housing projects

Chairman Woodard walks among the audience during his State of The County presentation. (Credit: Mark Jurkowitz/OBV)

In a roughly one-hour State of the County presentation, Dare County Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard alternated between exhortations and congratulations. But he seemed at his most passionate when talking about the county’s frustrating quest to generate several hundred units of essential and workforce housing.

“The number one priority for us is essential and workforce housing,” he declared, adding that that effort has been “difficult.” And in an apparent reference to the local opposition that stopped proposed housing developments in Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, Woodard asserted that “This is critical…Don’t let the naysayers shoot us down. We’ve missed opportunities.”

The State of the County presentation, delivered at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25 before a packed house at Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, featured Woodard, as is his style, walking throughout the audience during his remarks, stopping by various officials and attendees to address them directly when the subject at hand involved them.

Titled “Caring for Our Community—A Nurturing Place Where All Can Live and Grow,” the address was divided into five priorities. First was essential housing followed by beach nourishment, maintaining Dare waterways, education and combatting substance use and the opioid crisis.

In an additional touch that was greeted warmly by the audience, for each of the five topics, Woodard handed the mic over to a Dare County resident to discuss how he or she was affected by the issue, and their remarks elicited several standing ovations.

Those speakers included First Flight Middle School teacher Trasa Rossi (for housing); Bill Laricos, captain with the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad (beach nourishment); Kait Daniels, wife of a commercial fisherman (waterways); Zoe Heath Morris, recipient of a College of the Albemarle (COA) scholarship (education); and Autumn Price, a successful graduate of the Dare County Recovery Court (substance use and opioids).

During the workforce housing discussion, Rossi, who moved to the Outer Banks from Ohio, said she currently lived in teacher housing but would soon have to find a new place to live because of rules governing how long teachers can stay in those units. “I have tried to do a lot of side jobs,” in the hopes of being able to afford to buy a home, she said. But “a lot of the mortgages are more than I make in a month.”

“If she doesn’t get housing, she’s gotta get out of here,” Woodard declared. “She’s teaching your kids, for God’s sake.”

Woodard explained that while the county’s near-term goal is to build 400-500 new units, in reality, about 2,000-3,000 units are actually needed. And in another reference to some of the community opposition to recent proposals, the chairman took aim at what he considered some misperceptions floating around.

“It is not subsidized housing or Section 8 [housing],” he said, his voice rising. Instead, he said, the units are designed to be affordable for those earning between 40%, 60% and 80% of the AMI, or area median income, which is about $69,400 for a family of four in Dare County. The estimated costs of the rental units, including all related housing expenses, would range from about $900 to $1,800 a month, he noted.

Pointing to the $35 million in state funds earmarked for the county workforce housing initiative, he added that “We cannot afford not to take advantage of that.”

Discussing the work done on Dare County beaches, Woodard called 2022 the “year of beach nourishment,” as projects were completed in Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Buxton and Avon.

“That’s our economic engine, folks,” Woodard said, noting that in the past decade, more than $225 million overall has been spent on beach nourishment in Dare County.

On the topic of maintaining waterways, the chairman lauded the $15 million “public-private partnership,” that brought the Miss Katie Dredge to Dare County in August 2022 and placed its operation in the hands of the Oregon Inlet Task Force—facilitating local control over dredging decisions.

“We had to find ways to make this happen,” Woodard asserted.

Discussing the county’s commitment to education, he cited the $22.8 million the county contributed to the Dare County Schools for FY 2022-2023, noting that those funds represented about 38% of the district’s school budget.

Among the other 2022 educational initiatives cited was the opening of the new $18 million COA academic building in Manteo as well as the $250,000 per year in Dare Guarantee Scholarships the county hands out to allow students to attend COA full-time with no out-of-pocket costs for tuitions and fees.

Thus far, more than 170 of those scholarships have been awarded, Woodard said, while making the case to expand participation in the program.

The final priority discussed by the chairman was the county’s fight against substance use and the opioid crisis.

The chairman  reviewed the creation of the Saving Lives Task Force in 2014 and pointed out that the county will receive $3.4 million dollars over the next 18 years to combat the opioid crisis as part of the national $26 billion dollar opioid litigation settlement. In FY 2023, that amounts to about $420,000 to be used on everything from a new local overdose response coordinator to a major public awareness campaign.

In addition, Woodard pointed out that the county contributed $200,000 toward the $6 million expansion of Dare Challenge, a residential substance abuse rehabilitation center located in Wanchese. He also discussed the creation of the Dare County Recovery Court in 2019, a program designed to rehabilitate, rather than incarcerate, people facing drug-related criminal charges.

There are currently 40 people in the program, and Recovery Court graduate Autumn Price, whose substance use problems led to homelessness and her children being placed in foster care, told the audience how the court had turned her life around, producing one of the morning’s standing ovations.

In concluding his remarks, Woodard acknowledged that “We’ve got a lot of issues facing us.” But he added that “I could not be more proud to live in a county such as ours.”

 

 

 




Comments

  • Micky

    We will be moving soon. The costs to live here outweigh the benefits. I don’t see any of the issues being solved in the foreseeable future. The main focus of the local government is to build more rental mansions and big box stores; they generate the most tax revenue. The county can talk all they want knowing that no one can force them address the real issues facing the people that live here all year. Most coastal areas in the US are within a 10 minute to 45 minute drive to a decent sized city with all of the medical, shopping and other services people need (plus workforce for the coastal areas), OBX does not have that. The only place that has those services is 1 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours away (Chesapeake/Norfolk). This area is very isolated and has not been planned accordingly. It can never sustain the development that the county wants. There is also a complete disregard for nature and the environment here. Why are developers and home builders allowed to cut down every single tree on lots? There should be a minimum number of native trees and shrubs you must leave when developing land. I’ve never lived somewhere where people have such a strong hatred of pine trees and nature. The neighbors around us cut down hundreds of gorgeous pines….now their yards flood and the wind is unbearable. Then there’s all the destruction caused by the golf courses. Bye bye OBX, you could have been better.

    Sunday, Jan 29 @ 12:52 pm
  • Joe

    Mr W

    Where and who has domain of the 35 Million and how much of it is still left.? An accounting of that money should be made public ASAP.

    If the county is serious about building homes that are affordable, then there needs to be concessions made by these local municipalities so that builders are not tied up in months and months of council members seeing how they can get their piece of the pie before they will approve a plan. There is also the sunshine laws that have been violated but why should we have waste our time and money litigating to force these towns to the right thing. It is the local governments and county government who are the biggest obstacle. Do the right thing and keep the local politicians hands out of the cooking Jar.

    Sunday, Jan 29 @ 6:41 pm
  • Rosie

    Affordable housing has been a problem for over 25 years and has yet to be resolved. It only seems to get worse. Capitalism and greed win every time.

    Sunday, Jan 29 @ 7:14 pm
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