County to create affordable housing task force

By on October 3, 2023

Move comes during contentious, impassioned commissioners’ meeting

Manteo resident Sybil Ross said the county had not consulted with the community over housing. Board Chairman Bob Woodard called some criticism of the county’s role “inappropriate and wrong.”

During an Oct. 2 board meeting that was largely contentious and occasionally conciliatory, the Dare County Commissioners agreed to create a task force featuring representatives of the six county municipalities to make another effort at mitigating what has proved to be an intractable workforce housing problem.

At the meeting, County Manager Bobby Outten indicated the task force would be made up of an elected official from each town, the town manager in each town, and potentially, a planner from each town. Outten and Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard indicated that there was receptivity to the idea on the part of both mayors and town managers.

The meeting itself took place against the backdrop of anger and confusion about a special provision dropped into the state budget that would restrict municipalities’ ability to regulate affordable housing projects in their communities that were funded with $35 million the state has awarded the county for that purpose.

All six Dare County towns have officially protested that measure as an encroachment on their local zoning and development jurisdiction. The county has denied any knowledge of, or role in the insertion of that provision into the budget. And thus far, no one has come forward to acknowledge any involvement in creating it—sparking a great deal of speculation about who is responsible. The $35 million in state money is earmarked for projects built by Coastal Affordable Housing LLC, one of the county’s two development partners. The other one, Woda Cooper, is working with a pot of $12 million in county money.

During public comment on Oct. 2, a total of 11 speakers took the podium, almost all of voicing anger about the special budget provision and the process that created it.

Amy Phillips, of Manteo, declared that “it is disingenuous to think that no one knew that this [budget provision] is happening with the state until recently.” Another resident of Manteo, Sybil Ross, told the board that the lack of progress on housing is “not about NIMBYs [Not in My Backyard]. It’s the way you are going about it. You have not gone to the people in this community.”

Shelly Blackstone, of Nags Head, directed the board of commissioners to “correct the erroneous language in the state budget that dishonors the towns’ planning and zoning rights…I thought we lived in a democracy.”

Several speakers reported doing their own research to find out the author or authors of the special budget provision. Asserting that there was no “transparency in the process,” Amy Stone suggested it was “leftover language” from former State Senator Bill Cook’s original effort to bring the $35 million for housing to Dare County—noting that Cook’s legislative aide was Jordan Hennessy, a principal in the Coastal Affordable Housing LLC.

Another speaker, Debbie Carrera of Nags Head, said she spoke to multiple state legislators and concluded that “the directive came most definitely and directly from within Dare County.” Chris Carey from Wanchese said, “all I’ve heard is denials” of responsibility, and indicated he did some sleuthing of his own into Coastal Affordable Housing. At one point he asked: “Is Jordan Hennessy here?”

The one speaker to strike a more conciliatory tone was Malcolm Fearing, who noted that “emotions are high. This is a difficult issue.” He stated that the housing problem in Dare County did not “start with this board of commissioners,” while also making a call for “unity.”

With emotions indeed running high, Commissioner Chairman Woodard responded with a defense of the county right after public comment. He asserted that county officials had been responsive to community sentiment in working on both the doomed Bowsertown project in Manteo and the controversial cluster home project in Wanchese.

“To continue to come up here and criticize us, and to say that we’re not transparent is just inappropriate and wrong,” he said, to some audible protests from the audience.

Following Woodard, Outten offered his presentation, stating that “I can say unequivocally that we did not request that [special budget provision]. Our lobbyist…he didn’t lobby for it. We didn’t have anything to do with having that.”

The county manager also ran through the history of the housing issue in Dare County, explaining that “affordable housing has been on the table for a while…probably close to thirty years now…For over thirty years, the market really hasn’t been able to address affordable housing. That is not unique to Dare County.”

He then discussed some of the recently failed efforts to build such housing. Addressing the situation in Nags Head, where Woda Cooper wanted to a construct 54-unit project, Outten noted that the site was selected because it “was zoned for multi-family housing. The plan was going to meet their ordinances. They changed their ordinances and said, ‘you can’t do this.’”

Outten also said that in conversations with town managers after the insertion of the budget housing provision, “I told them that the county, in my view, had no intention of going into any town and bulldozing them and building a fifty-story high rise in a town…We’re not trying to steamroll anybody.”

In making his recommendation to create a housing task force that includes several representatives from each town, Outten added pointedly that, “The first step is everybody’s gotta recognize there’s a problem.”

During brief comments by the county commissioners, a sense of frustration seemed to mingle with some hope that task force efforts could bear fruit.

“Everybody agrees on the ‘what,’” asserted Danny Couch. “It’s the ‘how’” that’s causing the problem.

“We’ve got a heck of a [housing] problem here…frankly, we are simply stymied,” Rob Ross said. He added “that everything needs to be considered,” and voiced his support for the idea of forming the task force.

So did Wally Overman, who stated that, “I think the establishment of the task force is the only way forward.”

For his part, Ervin Bateman wondered if there could be an effort made to turn some of the 10,000 short-term rentals into the county into long-term rentals.


SEE ALSO: Dare housing provision in state budget triggers search for its author



Comments

  • surf123

    Please don’t cry about doctors not being able to afford housing. They are some of the best paid people in the county so if they wanted housing they could find it. There are plenty of people who cannot find housing of any type because they cannot afford it. Task force guarantees nothing will get done other than possibly hiring a consultant to blow more money to tell them we need more housing. It is all a waste of time because the best use case for all land on the beaches is rental homes. I’ll that everyone is for it until their neighborhood is targeted for an affordable housing complex and if there was any money to be made on this someone would have already built in without tax handouts.

    Wednesday, Oct 4 @ 10:09 am
  • ClearAsMud

    I am disappointed in the BOC, but this seems to be an ongoing theme. The fine citizens of Dare County came to an open meeting to ask legitimate questions and voice concerns about transparency. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? We/they were met with hostile, rude, and threatening remarks from board members. Miss Ruth and Miss Micah asked questions and voiced their concerns about an overreach of government. Both were respectful with Legit concerns. The Chairman threatened Miss Ruth. He told her if she continued questioning him, he would order her to leave. Shame on you Commissioner Bateman. The comments you made to the voice; ” Ervin Bateman wondered if there could be an effort made to turn some of the 10,000 short-term rentals into the county into long-term rentals….was Miss Micah’s comment to you. You had no input.
    Transparency in this county has always been spotty, but this board has taken it to Basnight levels.

    Wednesday, Oct 4 @ 10:23 am
  • WasteOfTime

    Wally Overman, who stated that, “I think the establishment of the task force is the only way forward.” Why? Why another committee? It’s all about smoke and mirrors, optics. What a freaking waste! Just go ahead and shove this project down the throats of the citizens of Dare. That’s the plan.
    #NoTransparency
    #GovernmentOverreach

    Wednesday, Oct 4 @ 11:32 am
  • Nancy Pelosi Woodard

    When discussing the cluster homes in Wanchese, Woodard admitted once again to the general level of incompetence of himself and his fellow crony capitalist county board members. In 2018 they changed the zoning ordinance with minimal public notice to allow high density cluster housing in single family residential areas throughout much of Dare County. This had a negative impact on Wanchese, Mann’s Harbor, and Hatteras Island. Now he pleads innocence due to incompetence and crony capitalist corruption.

    This is what Woodard said at the meeting, word for word; “We had no idea density would be what it became to be.” Only after there was a public uproar did they decide they should involve the citizens of Dare County.

    He is basically saying — The Chamber of Commerce and the Home Builders Association told us that this is what we needed to do. We didn’t think we needed to actually read this zoning ordinance before we voted on it. We were shocked when we discovered that a zoning change that allows for high density cluster housing in single family residential areas would result in high density cluster housing in single family residential areas.

    The citizens of Dare County need to vote them all out of office. Regardless of political party. These incompetent crony capitalists all need to go.

    Wednesday, Oct 4 @ 12:19 pm
  • Jay

    Watch out for this doublespeak from a politician like Outten. No intention of building a 50 story high-rise. When you see that 5 to 10 story high-rise coming out of the ground the politician will say “see it is not 50 stories”.

    “Outten also said that in conversations with town managers after the insertion of the budget housing provision, “I told them that the county, in my view, had no intention of going into any town and bulldozing them and building a fifty-story high rise in a town…We’re not trying to steamroll anybody.”

    Wednesday, Oct 4 @ 3:19 pm
  • Just wondering

    Lots of comments regarding how most workers will not qualify and that they make too much money. Which will in turn open the door to non-resident retires. After a quick research, on Dare County website, I found that the qualifying wage factor was 30% to 120% of the Dare County area median income (AMI) which is $69,400. So that would mean the range of income would be $34,700 – $83,280. Are you telling me that some of these teachers and essential workers are making more than $83K ??? Doubt it.

    Wednesday, Oct 4 @ 5:12 pm
  • Surf123

    Long-term rentals cannot compete financially or legally with short-term rentals. More money in a significantly shorter time and full legal protections for the owner, not the renter. You can kick out a short-term renter that day (or suffer for a few days) whereas a long-term renter has legal protections to keep them in your rental and that means s after they quit paying rent. There is no choice as to the way to go.

    Thursday, Oct 5 @ 9:58 am
  • Freenusa

    For long term rentals, the lease has its advantages but no lease requires no legal crap. Surf, just so you know there are good long term renters you can make a hand shake deal “lease” with. Short term definitely makes more $$$ but I guess it depends on how hungry you are.

    Thursday, Oct 5 @ 7:39 pm
  • Niccolo Donzella

    Just Wondering has addressed what I see as a critical issue. The goal of the housing policy is to house local workers. The value of having police, teachers, municipal and county employees, commercial and retail employees living in the community they serve is obvious. Just as obvious is the requirement that the housing be geared to their financial resources. That is why I have been disturbed by comments alleging that this target group makes too much money to qualify and that non-resident retirees will end up populating any new housing. Inspired by Just Wondering’s comment, I did a Google search on Dare County salaries, including law enforcement, and, to the extent that these 2021 numbers are accurate and no substantial increases have occurred, they bear out what Just Wondering is saying: their salaries are far less than $83K. Whether overtime and benefits figure into this could change things. It is also fair to consider whether housing in a multi-family housing unit will be attractive to qualifying families. But it does seem to me that Just Wondering has brought some helpful clarity to the discussion.

    Thursday, Oct 5 @ 7:56 pm
  • Sean Mulligan

    There are areas of the country that have banned weekly rentals.Certain parts of Oceanside CA as well as the North Shore of Oahu.I am sure there are others on that list.So it is something that should be considered since the Towns,County and State have so successfully promoted the area. Building affordable housing so teachers can afford to live in the area is an embarrassment.As far as school teacher pay goes I would rather see the teachers get a raise than spending on beach nourishment just to watch the sand and money spent wash away.

    Friday, Oct 6 @ 7:02 am
  • AMI Details - CA$H Apartments

    “Just Wondering” and “Niccolo Donzella” were wondering about the Average Median Income (AMI) formulas. The Woda Cooper projects on Nags Head and Manteo were based on the LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) program with an extra $12 million of local taxpayer’s money added by the county commissioners. These LIHTC projects would be limited to renters in the 40%-60%-80% AMI income levels. At these income levels local essential workers would not qualify to rent these apartments. These are the housing projects that are especially well suited to lower income retired senior citizens on modest fixed incomes. Including lower income non-local folks.

    The 30%-120% AMI income levels mentioned by “Just Wondering” relate to the Coastal Affordable Housing (CAH) projects with the $35 million of state money. Given the political corruption associated with the CAH boondoggle maybe we should call them CA$H apartments.

    “Just Wondering” is correct that the higher 120% AMI levels would allow for more middle income people to rent the CAH apartment. But again, this includes middle income non-locals. These CAH housing projects would have an even bigger negative side effect because they would be open to a much larger pool of potential renters, including millions of people who vacation at the beach and would love to move to the Outer Banks.

    By law the non-locals must be treated the same as locals. Non-locals and locals get on the same waiting list. Both of these types of government subsidized housing projects would attract non-local people to move to Dare County which would created even more demand for our limited services. Rather than help fix our local worker housing problems any of these subsidized housing projects would just make are local worker housing problems even worse.

    Friday, Oct 6 @ 8:33 am
  • DS

    It’s very sad that all Government is good for is wasting money, creating more bureaucracy, raising taxes and restricting our Civil and Constitutional Rights.

    Friday, Oct 6 @ 10:46 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Other than that, how do you feel about it?

    Friday, Oct 6 @ 11:11 am
  • Halmac

    Watch out Wanchese, Stumpy Point, Manns Harbor- Hatteras Island, for surely the powers that be with the deep pockets will come to your village, looking to destroy your of life. This isn’t about “affordable housing” it’s all about greed.

    Saturday, Oct 7 @ 9:05 am