A 72-unit affordable housing development currently under construction in south Greensboro is exactly the kind of thing that a housing bond recently approved by Greensboro City Council could fund if supported by voters this fall.
Right now, Sumner Ridge looks like a half dozen mounds of dirt on relatively flat land, almost the way a couple clustered anthills would appear under a microscope.
But when it’s done, the 7.5-acre property south of Interstate 85 and off of Interstate 73 in Greensboro will be home to 72 new units of affordable housing. With rents ranging from $237 to $705, the apartments will help meet a crucial need for affordable housing in the city.
Standing on the site on a recent Friday afternoon, Affordable Housing Management Executive Director David Levy pointed out the natural barriers between the property and its neighbors, rattling off a list of planned amenities that will include a picnic area, computer area and fitness center, among other features. His nonprofit, which specializes in projects like this, once managed as many as about 800 units of affordable housing in the city. That figure is down to about half, all in Greensboro, after Affordable Housing Management decided to sell off some properties — while keeping them affordable — in order to focus on larger impact developments such as the forthcoming Sumner Ridge.
But Levy knows full well that these 72 units, which are anticipated to open in July 2017, will only make a small dent in the problem. A whopping 26,000 households pay 50 percent or more of their income towards housing or live in substandard housing, he said. It’s an issue that affects a huge slice of the city’s residents; according to a handout from city staff at a community meeting on the subject in February, more than 25 percent of residents are “cost-burdened” when it comes to housing. The term refers to households paying more than 30 percent of their income towards housing. About 48 percent of Greensboro residents are renters, with a median income of $27,897 and more than 50 percent of those renters falling in the cost-burdened category, according to city staff.
Building additional housing is a slow-moving process; Levy’s Greensboro-based Affordable Housing Management group — which has been operating for 46 years — purchased the land for Sumner Ridge more than seven years ago. Low-income housing tax credits are essential for projects like this to succeed, he said, and it’s a time-consuming process to obtain the credits from the state. The city played a considerable role in Sumner Ridge’s progress, with a $600,000 loan paid back at a flat annual rate, Levy said. Affordable housing construction only moves forward with a complex matrix of public and private partnerships, he said, but to properly address the issue, a bigger step needs to be taken.
That’s why, even while he’s celebrating the moving dirt at Sumner Ridge and eager for the crews to resume work after a day of bad weather, Levy repeatedly switched to talking about the city’s planned bond referendum.
At the beginning of August, Greensboro City Council approved multiple bond items that will appear on the ballot in November when city voters go to the polls. Four multi-million-dollar items addressing housing needs, community & economic development, parks & recreation and transportation will appear separately, allowing residents to approve or vote down each item individually, city spokesperson Amanda Lehmert said.
The $25 million housing bond is the smallest of the four, and covers much more than affordable housing construction. The multi-track approach would allot money for non-profit homebuyer lending, an emergency repair program, handicapped accessibility improvements and homeowner rehabilitation as well. Most of the bigger ticket items are aimed at affordable housing head on; $3 million for multi-family affordable housing development, $4 million for east Greensboro housing development, $3 million for a code-compliance repair initiative and $8 million for a workforce housing initiative, according to the city website.
Levy refers to Sumner Ridge as workforce housing — most of the residents in properties run by Affordable Housing Management work and own cars, he said, which is good because some sites including this one are on the outer reaches of the city. They’d love for the city to extend bus lines further out, and even offered for $10,000 and an easement towards a bus stop in front of Sumner Ridge, Levy said. But out here, on the city’s fringes, is where most land at a reasonable price will be, especially for larger projects aimed at making a real dent in the problem.
Levy pointed out that SCAT transit services and others through groups like the United Way will help residents with transportation, and said that as a mixed income site, it’s likely many residents will have cars here too, though they may not be the most reliable.
It’s possible that some of the $10 million for sidewalks, intersections and transit in the $28 million transportation bond that will also be on the ballot could go towards improving public transit accessibility for developments such as these or new ones that come online if voters support the housing bond. And while Sumner Ridge will move forward regardless, Levy pleaded for support of the housing bond to make more developments like it possible.
Think of the number of families over the years that will move through communities like the two-story Sumner Ridge site once it’s up, he said, some of them taking advantage of his organization’s educational fund that helps residents pursue skills to land higher paying jobs and move out while others will stay forever. To them, housing at a more reasonable price is a godsend, Levy said. But there are still about 26,000 more households who desperately need a reprieve.