Op-Ed: Charting our path to affordable housing – a community’s choice
Published 10:32 am Thursday, November 16, 2023
By Josh Bass
For decades, the quest for affordable housing has loomed over the greater Outer Banks region. While the pandemic has thrust this issue into the national spotlight, it’s been a local concern for much longer. However, we’ve yet to find a lasting solution. Why? When proposed projects emerge, municipal and county governments often reject them, citing concerns about how they fit within the area’s character. It’s not fair to blame our elected officials; they’re just doing their jobs and representing their constituents. They also understand the challenges associated with growth and the burdens placed on local government for necessary infrastructure. A prime example is the new school in northern Currituck County, costing over $60 million. This project alone has driven up property tax rates by 22% this year, with projections of more increases in the next fiscal year.
Paths to consider:
Now, it’s time for us as citizens and voters to consider our community’s future. I see three paths ahead of us:
- The Status Quo: We continue our current approach, addressing issues as they arise without a holistic perspective. We let economic conditions guide development, causing it to meander rather than thrive.
- A Community for All Walks of Life: The second path is the one that proponents of affordable housing envision. They argue that the best communities are those that allow individuals to live, work, and play all in one place and provide a home from cradle to grave. Think about the typical real estate journey of an American. It starts when they leave school in their late teens or twenties, seeking a place that’s affordable, like a small house or an apartment. They stay there for several years until they feel more financially stable or need more space, often due to starting a family. This transition typically leads them to a single-family house with a yard in a neighborhood. As time passes, they may move to a larger single-family house when their financial situation allows. Then, in their 50s, 60s, or 70s, they may contemplate downsizing, perhaps seeking senior living facilities or smaller patio homes. Our region has an abundance of single-family housing options for the middle stages of life but fewer choices for those starting out or for seniors seeking to downsize. The question is, do we want to be a community where individuals of various ages and income levels can live together in harmony? Do we want to create a place where life’s different stages seamlessly coexist?
- Affluent Coastal Community: This path leads us to become an upscale coastal community, akin to suburbs in the Virginia Beach metro region. Here, single-family housing for the middle stages of life dominates. We must plan for the high-end businesses and amenities that this demographic will demand, including upscale retail, grocery stores, and restaurants, all integrated seamlessly into our community.
I don’t suggest that one path is superior to the others. What’s vital is that we, as a community, come together and choose a direction. The responsibility falls on our shoulders as citizens to express our desires to elected officials, charting the course our community will take.
Josh Bass is the president of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce.