One of Sonyia Turner’s slide on the Ocracoke affordable housing study.

By Connie Leinbach

A community meeting to discuss the findings of a UNC team studying affordable housing on Ocracoke will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the Ocracoke Community Center.

Sonyia Turner, project manager for the Development Finance Initiative of the UNC School of Government, gave an overview of the team’s finding at the May 2 Hyde County Board of Commissioners meeting, but she will go into more depth at this meeting, said Sara Teaster, Hyde County grant administrator.

Turner said her team works with municipalities across the state providing specialized real estate development and finance expertise.

Hyde County engaged her team to identify ways to increase housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.

The task was to identify development possibilities on up to three sites and then make recommendations on the next steps.

“Housing is affordable for households when their housing costs do not exceed 30% of their income,” Turner said in the presentation.

On Ocracoke, that translates to monthly rents in the range of $650 to $1,100, not including utilities.

Turner said the median income in Hyde County is about $58,000, yet all of the essential workers on Ocracoke earn less than this.

Most of Ocracoke’s affordable housing is not subsidized (by the government), she said, making these homes vulnerable to changes in the market, such as when a homeowner decides to turn their home into a weekly rental displacing the year-round resident.

Ocracoke’s private employers provide more than half of housing for essential workers, she said.

Of the 870 permanent residents, 630 of those are in the labor force with roughly half of them in year-round jobs.

She noted that half of the rental units were lost in Hurricane Dorian. There were 94 rental units in 2011, and 54 after Dorian.

So, she said, all essential workers are renting and competing for the 54 houses, and vacancies are little to none.

Today, there are 111 units that are “other,” or boats or campers, which are highly vulnerable to storms. In 2011, there were 106 of these kins of units, she said.

“Most people living in these do so because there’s no available housing stock on the island,” she said. “The prevalence of campers indicates there’s an existing need for affordable housing today.”

In getting to a solution, the high cost of land on Ocracoke is a factor in trying to develop truly affordable housing.

Public participation, such as “mezzanine loans,” for private developers is needed, she said, to help ease the financial burden of undertaking such development.

These loans are subordinate to the main loans a developer would obtain, but they would “reduce the amount of money the developer has to bring to the table for the project.”

Turner said the Ocracoke Development Ordinance would need some revision to accommodate increased density, or, increased number units.

“That’s important in a place like Ocracoke where you have high land costs,” she said, noting that multi-family construction is essential for affordable housing because it spreads the costs across more units.

At the meeting she will go into her findings and possible solutions in more detail.

Turner and her team will attend virtually and those who can’t attend in person can watch on Hyde County’s Facebook page: Hyde County Public Information.

A slide showing some of the considerations going forward.
This slide shows how other communities addressed affordable housing.
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