The Greensboro City Council constantly talks about a shortage of affordable housing, but that is only a small part of the picture.
The shortage in Greensboro is not in affordable housing, it is in housing period. Of course there is a shortage in affordable housing because there is a shortage in housing – from affordable to multi-million dollar homes, from apartments to condos to townhomes and even rooms to rent.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan has repeatedly said that one day recently there were only 80 homes for sale in all of Greensboro. Advertise an apartment for rent and see how many responses you receive immediately.
The housing shortage is acute and the City Council knows it, but by their actions they continually make the housing situation worse, not better. Developers with rezoning requests to build residential units of any kind are uniformly forced to reduce the number of dwelling units in order to get the five votes needed for City Council approval. So a development that could have 320 units is reduced to 250; a development that could have 200 is reduced to 180.
The City Council talks about the need for more density to engender growth and to deal with the housing shortage. But through the council’s actions, fewer homes are being built in just about every development that comes before the City Council. Often the city staff has encouraged the developer to reduce the density first and then a second reduction comes before the City Council.
In the past four years not a single member of the City Council has requested that a developer build more dwelling units than planned because of the housing shortage.
And if the current budget proposal passes, the City Council will be taking further action to slow development in Greensboro by raising development fees and adding more red tape. Why should a developer deal with the hassle of trying to build in Greensboro when they can go next door to Alamance County, which encourages development, or Durham County or Wake County?
And the issue is about to become far more problematic. Two game-changing economic development announcements were made in the past six months – Toyota and Boom Supersonic. Both of these developments received large incentives from the Greensboro City Council, but the City of Greensboro won’t collect a dime in property taxes from either one.
What Greensboro stands to gain is in the supply chain to support those industries and in population growth in housing the people who work at those plants and in the supporting industries.
Except the more than 3,000 new employees coming to the area can’t live in Greensboro because there are not enough homes for them to rent or buy. As far as the supply chain goes, the high taxes in Greensboro compared to the surrounding area will be one disincentive to locating in Greensboro. But if someone building a facility to support Toyota discovers that their workers aren’t going to be able to live in Greensboro, why would they build their plant in Greensboro? Why not build it closer to where they can find housing.
This problem can be solved. First, the City Council needs to recognize the housing shortage is much more than simply affordable housing and take action to encourage more and denser residential development.
Second, there has to be a change in corporate culture at city hall. The current attitude is to make development as tedious and difficult as possible. It is an us versus them attitude. The city should have a welcoming attitude toward new development, not see how many hoops they can make them jump through. Not, “You can’t do that,” but, “Let’s see how we can make this work.”
Some relatively minor changes in how plans are approved could help solve the problem, but they will have little affect if the same people with the same attitudes are sitting behind the desks at city hall.
If the City Council doesn’t take action quickly to solve the housing shortage then the surrounding area will benefit greatly from the economic boom and Greensboro will get stuck with the bill.