Friday, March 25, 2022

Affordable Housing and the Laurel Street Proposal

 We are truly blessed to live in one of the greatest communities in America. Cary is consistently ranked one of the best small cities to live, work, raise a family or start a business and we remain one of the safest cities to live in the country.

People want to live here. Those who already live here don’t want to leave. Believe it or not, Cary’s fastest growing demographic are seniors. People are retiring here. School aged children also make up 25% of our population but they can’t live at home forever. Nope. No. They. Can’t. 😉 It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. 

All of this has created a huge demand for housing and supply is not keeping pace with that demand. As a result, home prices continue to rise making it increasingly difficult for our children, young professionals, seniors, service workers and folks like teachers and first responders to afford housing in Cary. Make no mistake, those who work in Cary should have the opportunity to live in Cary.

The housing affordability crisis isn’t unique to Cary. It is a nationwide problem. And while we have investigated other communities for best practices to address this problem, there are no silver bullet solutions. Just ask Seattle or San Francisco. The harsh reality is that no matter what we do, we aren’t going to solve the problem entirely – but we can make a dent in it.

For background, existing Cary programs that provide housing assistance include:

Healthy Homes Cary, our Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Housing Program, was revised and relaunched in early 2020. It is a grant program operated through non-profit agencies, with the lead agency being Rebuilding Together of the Triangle. It combines up to $12,500 in grant funds per applicant with volunteer labor to do a large variety of improvements. Since the relaunch eighteen months ago, approximately 80% of our participants have been seniors, so it is proving to be an important means of helping our citizens age in place. Our program was also adopted by Apex, Wake Forest is considering it, and TJCOG is now helping provide guidance to other communities interested in our concept.

Cary’s Oasis Utility Bill Program helps our citizens in need with emergency utility funds.

Community Development Block Grants: Our CBDG Program is distributed directly to non-profits for the purpose of building capacity, providing services and developing housing. This is typically $650,000 per year, however FY21 was $1,100,000 and FY22 is $1,400,000 due to additional COVID disbursements. This includes funding organizations such as Carying Place, Transitions LifeCare, Dorcas Ministries, White Oak Foundation (and many more).

The Cary Council Nonprofit Grant Funding also provides support to some housing related services. It is funded from the general fund in an amount equal to Cary’s population, $172K last year.

We continue to partner with Habitat for Humanity. Their most recent project includes seven single family homes that are under construction on Trimble Avenue. These have been developed as workforce housing, accomplished through a combination of smaller unit size, volunteer labor, and low-rate financing (in addition to CDBG funds provided a few years back).

We have also been working with developers to site more workforce housing into their projects. While Cary CANNOT BY STATE LAW require developers to set aside some of their units as affordable/workforce housing, we do use what leverage we have to meet our community goals. To date this has resulted in 30 workforce units recently approved with more are on the way. I know that’s not much but it’s a start.

We must also say “YES” to more housing. As previously stated, we have a significant supply problem that is driving up housing costs. Think about it – even IF we could wall off Cary and not let anyone new in, 25% of our population are school aged children and will need housing soon. They can’t wait for someone to move or die before they find a place to live and they probably aren’t going to be able to afford (or even want) a single-family home right out of college either. Seniors need places to go for when they age out of their single-family home.

Earlier this year we finalized The Cary Housing Plan and are now working to implement the recommendations of the plan. 

The Plan includes three main goals: 1) A community of choice, 2) A place where residents experience high quality of life, and 3) Regional and nonprofit partnerships.

The housing analysis found that we have done very well in establishing single-family residential. Approximately 70% of all residential in Cary are SF homes. 25% are apartments. Areas of opportunity for more choice include 2-4 unit structures (duplexes, townhomes, etc.), urban apartments or condominiums (like we are accomplishing downtown), and additional opportunities for Accessory Dwelling Units.

The population analysis found that in-migration is increasing with our younger population (25-40 years old), however we are still aging as a community. Our existing population is choosing to stay in Cary through retirement. We also have significant diversity (particularly Asian population) and very high educational achievement. Areas of opportunity relate to addressing the needs of seniors, first time homebuyers, special populations (needing ADA or other accommodations), and affordability (particularly workforce housing). This correlates with the range of housing types discussed above and with specific accommodations to meet the needs of these populations.

The Plan discusses the relationship with other related priorities, including transit and the environment. Increased transit opportunities reduce personal vehicle dependence which can save folks hundreds of dollars a month by eliminating car payments, insurance, fuel and maintenance costs – money that can go towards other cost of living expenses.

Finally, the Plan suggests various program, legislative and funding strategies, which our staff will continue to evaluate and develop for Council to consider. But yeah, if you want to see us do more in this arena, we need help from our state legislature which means we need help from you in November.

Now to the Laurel Street mixed income project folks have been talking about.

One of the strategies in the plan is to identify under-utilized public lands for housing. The 5-acre parcel on Maynard Rd. that was originally purchased in 2007 for a new water tower - but not used for that purpose as we rehabilitated the Cary High School water tower instead - is currently Cary’s best opportunity. We recently purchased an additional 2-acre parcel from Wake County adjacent to East Cary Middle School to create a combined 7-acre parcel.

The selected developer, Laurel Street, is a mission-based developer. Consistent with the Plan, we are pursuing a mixed-income development (half market rate and half workforce/affordable). A total of 130 units are proposed (65/65). This site was selected for such a multi-family project as it checks a number of boxes related to housing affordability. It is in walking distance of three schools, shopping, retail uses and employment centers and is situated along a major transit line and future bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor.

This proposal is not something akin to section 8 housing. The 65 affordable/workforce units will be for those making 50-80% of average median income. The AMI for Cary is roughly $107,000 so households living in these units will be earning somewhere between 50-80K. These folks could be our children’s teachers, first responders, personal service workers, nurses etc…

This proposal will come before council for public hearing soon – April 7th I believe. Our town staff continues to work with the surrounding community to address their concerns – at least those which we can.

Some of the adjustments to the proposal that Cary and Laurel Street have made in response to resident feedback/concerns to date include:

Moved the greenway further away from 603 Ryan Road's property line, per homeowner request

Decreasing the building height from 5 stories to AT MOST 4 stories. Keep in mind however that reduced building height impacts our ability to serve more families and/or runs the risk of increasing the building footprint resulting in a loss of green space and tree canopy

Moved the location of the building on the site to preserve more trees

Exploring road improvements to calm traffic and enhancements to project road access/landscaping

Updated construction plans to increase energy efficiency to potentially include solar

As is typical of most development projects, I am sure a few more changes will be made as this proposal works its way through the process – and there remain questions regarding management and selection criteria. That said, if anyone can work all this out it is our amazing town staff. If you have ever interacted with Ms. Mansa or Ms. Widmar, you know what I’m talking about. I also want to commend Councilmember Lori Bush for her vision and leadership on this project.

I also thank those who have contributed to shaping this proposal and for caring enough about your community to get involved. Like it or not, you have made this a better project.

Citizen feedback has been mixed with dozens of people contacting us both in support and opposition of the proposal. To that end I wanted to make sure that folks had current, accurate information in which to form an opinion and offer feedback. We will have a lot more detailed information once the staff report is completed soon.

I hope this helps and if anyone has further questions or comments you can contact me at or you can email the entire council at .