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Affordable Housing Battle in Knightdale

Adam Rust's picture

Posted August 4, 2009

A North Carolina city proposes to obstruct a new affordable housing projectKnightdale, North Carolina opposes the project on the grounds that its location would not adequately meet the needs of potential low-income residents, would place undue burdens on schools, and that the needs of seniors should come first.

Knightdale, intends to turn down an application, set forth by the Evergreen Construction Company, that would allow the developer to break ground on a 92-unit apartment complex.

The project was experiencing trouble getting financing, but now the Wake County Commissioners

have offered to extend due dates for payments until 2011.

It is the latest salvo in a several year battle between a small exurb of Raleigh and a variety of supporters of the project, who include Wake County as well as the North Carolina Housing Coalition.

Several years ago, Knightdale blunty stated that it had enough affordable housing. In 2007, the town council established an "affordable housing policy" that capped such units at 120.  At the time, the community counted 108 affordable apartments within its borders. The cap can go up, but the policy says that the share of affordable units has to be at least two-thirds less than the average for Wake County.

Knightdale is a rapidly growing community. Its population grew by more than 30 percent from just 2000 to 2007.  Knightdale gets its water from the City of Raleigh.  It is a scarce resource in the area. According to the News and Observer, the underlying motive for the town's policy includes a desireable to maximize the value of residential property that gets that water.

"We've got our fair share," Mayor Doug Boyd was quoted at the time, "we don't need anymore."

In 2005, Knightdale established another affordable housing policy.  It set the minimum value for new home construction at $185,000.

Legal precedent

Advocates can cite several Supreme Court decisions that explicity state the responsibility for communities to include affordable housing in their development plans.  Most famously, Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Township of Mount Laurel established that communities cannot establish zoning rules that exclude low and moderate income families from living in their environs.  That was followed by Mount Laurel II, which established formulas for a fair share and a hearing for builder's remedies.

Knightdale may actually have a good bit of affordable housing.  More than three percent of the town's units are affordable to a household with an income that is less than fifty percent of the MSA median.  By comparison, only 1.4 percent of Raleigh's housing stock meets that criteria. The town has a higher percentage of affordable housing, save for nearby Zebulon, than any other community in Wake County.

That does not relieve Knightdale from the need to zone for affordable housing.  The standard focuses on deciding if the need for affordable housing is met, and not if a town's existing share of affordable housing is in balance with neighbors.  In other words, the obligation is regional. Individual communities cannot evade the need to contribute to local stocks.

A new plan

What is new, today, is Knightdale's assertion that it needs more affordable housing, but not the kind that the Evergreen project would create.  Senior housing, according to the town, is the real shortfall.

That might sound sincere, but Boyd does himself no favors when he links the construction of more affordable housing with the likelihood of more crime.

Construction is supposed to begin in December 2009.