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Letter to the Editor: Outer Banks Chamber writes regarding housing efforts

Dear Editor,

The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce was contracted by Dare County from 2017-2020 to handle economic development. Under the contract, the Chamber was charged with finding ways to diversify our local economy and add available year-round jobs to our community. The Chamber did this in many ways including responding to over 100 Requests for Proposals from our state economic development partners representing the county in these endeavors. Creating a partnership with the county allowed us to market a unique model for promoting economic development in Dare County. During this process the Chamber determined that the #1 deterrent to economic development was lack of reasonably-priced housing for the workforce.

Now as our State and county continue to work through Covid 19 issues, we need to remember that the lack of workforce or community housing remains a major economic issue for businesses in Dare County – both in the short and long terms. This is proven not only from talking to business owners and employees in our county, but by the results of the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) survey of local business owners. For the past 7 years, the BRE has identified the lack of housing for seasonal and year- round employees as the major problem facing the Dare County business community.

In light of the BRE survey results, the Chamber began reviewing zoning ordinances and visiting local county and town boards in 2017 to suggest zoning changes in the county as well as in each town that would make it easier for housing and accessory dwelling units to be built. During that effort, the Chamber also began conversations with County officials on the issue.

Through its contract to perform economic development duties for the County, the Chamber, in 2018, dusted off plans for an abandoned OBX CDC housing project in Manteo. A new wetlands delineation and drawings/renderings were completed. This new version of the previous plan was submitted to the current Dare County Commissioners for consideration. The Commissioners heard the Chamber loud and clear and put the workforce/community housing issue on their front burner.

In 2020 the Dare County Commissioners engaged the UNC School of Government to study the workforce housing issue in the County, determine how many units are needed, suggest long-term solutions, and identify at least two projects that could be done immediately. One of the two projects should be the old CDC project that will, if built, produce 44 affordable units. A great first step.

The Chamber applauds the Commissioners’ willingness to take the bull by the horns. The UNC effort was slowed due to the pandemic, but the study is now underway again. The need for housing hasn’t gone away or lessened. The Chamber Board continues to hear stories about the lack of housing alternatives for our workforce (both needed and existing employees); housing is needed for year-round, full-time and part-time employees including professionals; those in the hospitality industry and other local businesses and manufacturers as well as seasonal employees, students and low-income earners.

The Outer Banks Chamber is committed to continuing to look for solutions to this crisis. It remains imperative that we create and provide housing for our workforce so that local businesses can survive into the future.

Regards,

Ronnie Sloan, Chairman of the Board

Karen S. Brown, President & CEO

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