Communique: Cape Fear Housing Coalition Focuses On Local Economy At Annual Legislative Breakfast

Jan 10, 2018

  On Thursday, January 11th, the Cape Fear Housing Coalition (CFHC) holds it's annual Legislative Breakfast. This free event features 2 notable guest speakers: Samuel Gutner and Mel Jones. CFHC Chair Paul D'Angelo joined us.

Breakfast begins at 7:45 am (from Milner's Cafe), with the program running 8:30 am-10:00 am in City Council Chambers downtown (also known as Thalian Hall Ballroom). 

Paul:    I work with Tribute Companies as their Director of Affordable Housing and I'm also chair of the Cape Fear Housing Coalition.

Gina:     And you're having this Legislative Breakfast Thursday morning.

Paul:      Yes. We do it once  a year. Every January we have a Legislative Breakfast where we invite community members, political leaders, policy leaders, nonprofit folks, executive directors, the community, to come out once a year to hear what's happening with the Housing Coalition, what we've accomplished in the previous year, what's happening around the state and in our region when it comes to housing and housing affordability.  And then we usually bring in a guest speaker as part of our Solution Series to talk about a pressing issue when it comes to affordable housing and your community. So this year we're going to focus on housing and economics.

Gina:     And you were just saying something interesting about how you have focused on other aspects like social issues.

Paul:      To us at the Housing Coalition and a lot of our friends in the community, it's a social issue, it's a community issue, it's an equity issue. It's also an economic issue. And so we thought as we branch out in these Solutions Series to discuss those topics and those issues of how it affects a community in some sort of fashion, we thought it might be a good time to tie it to economics and how a lack of affordable housing can affect your local community, the bottom line of your local municipality, the sales tax dollars, and your property tax dollars when you have a lot of folks that are moving out of your community into other counties and into other areas and spending their money over there because they can't afford to live here.

Gina:     What do you think people would be surprised about in terms of the economics of affordable housing?

Paul:      It's funny, I know there's a lot of reports that come out about housing. There is nowhere in the country that a minimum wage worker can afford to rent a modest one or two bedroom apartment anywhere in this country. And people are still getting paid minimum wage right here in Wilmington. I believe there's only 12 to 15 counties in the whole country where two people living on minimum wage can actually afford to live in a modest two bedroom apartment. So that's a real economic issue a lot of people have discussed and it's a national conversation about stagnant wages.

So that's also something we hope to talk about on Thursday- how can we get companies to look at living wages? In a town like ours that creates 60 percent of our employment as lower income service jobs, 10-12 bucks an hour and less, it's not matching up to that housing that we have here. And I think it's an important economic issue because those people aren't spending money in their local stores, their local coffee shop. They're spending life on necessities of a roof over their head and the transportation to get to and from work, the groceries on the table, and that's really about it.

Gina:     Some people believe that they have something to lose in their community if they have affordable housing. That it's undesirable. What would you say to that?

Paul:      I think in any community you want to have housing that matches those jobs that you have in that community so that your teacher in the local middle schools two blocks over, your local person who's working their way through school and working part time at a local coffee shop, is right down the street. I don't think a lot of people understand that housing affordability really talks about the people in our community who are already here. It's not necessarily public housing or housing for the homeless- although that's all part of the struggle. Affordable housing encompasses all of housing where we need to have housing- both home ownership and rental- that matches the jobs and wages we create in this community. If we don't, can you really call it a community? Otherwise it's going to be this side of town that's the haves and this side of town that's the have-nots. To me, that's not a community at all.

I think that most people that I know love that their local butcher lives a couple of houses over and those type of people that make up the fabric of this great city are a part and living all together in this community. But unfortunately some people look at that as, you know, they want the service workers here and then we're going to be on this side of town. But again, our Solution Series always hopes to try to open up eyes with education and knowledge about how these service workers are a big part of our community- 60 percent- and they should be enjoying Wilmington just like everybody has a chance to.

Gina:     Is this in Wilmington or is nationwide? That 60 percent are service workers?

Paul:      In Wilmington. But you're seeing it in a lot of quality of life towns. Asheville, Charleston. These great destination spots for tourism and also great destination spots for retirees. It creates lower income service workers. We need to change that by either finding a way to increase wages or finding ways to attract better, well-paying jobs.

It's very true that there are some CEOs and a few stock buybacks and the stock holders are always considered more of an asset than the actual person working for that company. I would be one of those people who would be like, Boy if you could raise from eight bucks an hour to 12 bucks an hour and maybe the CEO in their stocks makes a hundred thousand dollars less a year, to me if you're one point five or one point four million dollars, does it really make that much of a difference? But I also think some people hear a statement like that and are like, Oh well they're against capitalism and to each his own making money. Hey, good for you for being successful. You've probably added value to the community. That's all great. But seeing it in the mirror versus looking out onto the company work floor and seeing that extra income go to them. I think that would be more rewarding.

But it just depends. I do think you're seeing a change in conscious capitalism. I think you are seeing some new leaders out there, younger folks perhaps, that are leading companies that are taking a look at that. And it's a conscious capitalism like, hey we're still here to make money but it's going to be a little bit more of what Richard Florida talks about which is inclusive prosperity that it doesn't just have to be me. You can also have prosperity for others and the people who work for you by taking a look at those economics and figuring out two more dollars an hour here. How much is that really going to make a difference on my bottom line? I hope we see more conscious capitalism. Why not?

And you know, [workers] are called the fabric of the community. So in great towns like Wilmington and Charleston and Asheville, when people talk about how they visited there a lot of times it's like, Oh my God, we stayed in this great hotel. Oh my God, we ate at this great restaurant, it was so vibrant and fun and our server was awesome and we shopped in these great stores. That's a lot of times what people talk about. Who are the people working in the restaurants, the retail shops, the hotels? They're our service workers and they're the fun folks out there who are part of the fabric of our community. We should be housing them in the same said community, not pushing them 30 minutes out. Otherwise you're following the Aspen model where the staff of that city who work to help those people have a good time are bussed in from 30-40 miles outside of the city because there's no way they can afford to live there. I don't think that's a community. To me that is a castle palace model of housing. And you know, that's a fairytale. It doesn't exist. And it shouldn't exist.

I hope people think about that when they think about the type of housing they're providing, the type of housing we're building. It's not easy for developers. It can be expensive. I know that working where I work. It can be tough, but there are ways to work if you can get everybody around a table to be like, Hey, what can you do? Where can you take less? Can I do a little bit more? How can we make this work? It's not impossible but you have to have all the willing players at the table.

Gina:      You have a speaker for the Legislative Breakfast?

Paul:      Yes, we have two. Samuel Gunter is coming from the North Carolina Housing Coalition. Great. He is so knowledgeable about what's happening statewide when it comes to housing. So he'll give us an update on what's happening statewide with the legislature. He works with the folks up there in Raleigh at the government and then he also will give us a federal update about where housing is. How are things with HUD- Department of Housing and Urban Development. Where is the Trump administration falling on some of our housing issues? So he's a great speaker and gives us that update. And then the other speaker we're just as excited about is Mel Jones. She is a research scientist focused on housing with Virginia Tech and the Center for Housing Policy there. We're very excited to have her down because she has kind of come up with a way to present the lack of affordable housing and how that affects the bottom line of a municipality and the local economy by having not enough housing for the folks that live and work in their community.

So we're really excited to see how she breaks down numbers in New Hanover County to show that, Hey, if Bob and Susie are a married couple and they're working in New Hanover County or Wilmington but based on their wages they can't afford to live there and they buy a house over in Brunswick or Pender County- they'd rather live closer to their work but they can't- how does that affect our bottom line here in Wilmington and New Hanover County? You know, whether they decide to shop over in Brunswick County. All that money spent over there. Obviously their property tax dollars go over there. If they're not spending their money locally here then they're going to spend it down in Brunswick County and the more people that do that it's going to create more jobs. She's found a way to really attach economic development and housing. So we're thrilled to have her. Because housing the folks that actually work in your community is a big deal to your local municipality and the bottom line.

Gina:     Who gets to go to this breakfast?

Paul:      It is an open invitation to everybody in the community. So we throw it out there and anyone's welcome to come. A neighbor who has an interest in this, nonprofit leaders, executive directors, political and policy leaders. I'd love to see couples who, you know, during the Q&A session could raise a hand to be like, We can't find rental housing here that matches our income. Does anyone have an answer to that? I would love to see a variety of folks like that come. Last year we had 96 people, it was our best attended that we've had, we were thrilled with that and it was a nice mix of folks, whether it's you're average person renting an apartment to a new homeowner to a senior to a veteran to executive director, nonprofits, political policy leaders, city council, county commissioner. It makes a big difference because the more people like that that we have- I mean, we're almost putting community in that room and then maybe they can understand that connectivity.

Gina:     And this is in the City Council Chambers.

Paul:      Yes. And it's being filmed as well. So we're really excited for anyone who can't make it. The city has graciously again agreed to film it like they did last year. Our event last year was apparently very well watched and repeated online. So they were thrilled to do it again. So hopefully if anyone can't make it they watch it online to learn something about housing and economics.

Gina:     Will it be streaming?

Paul:      I don't think it's live streaming but it will be accessible.

Gina:     And what time should folks show up?

Paul:      If you're struggling on time, the event usually starts the speakers around 8:15 or 8:30. But we start serving a breakfast 7:45 from Milner's Cafe. They're awesome. So we have a great breakfast, plenty of food for everybody, coffee. So people can come early, mix and mingle, say hi, maybe get some questions ready to go as they get a look around the room of what's going to be happening Thursday morning. So any time they want to show up. And again, if you're tight on time, if you show up at about 8:30, we'll be just getting started.

Gina:     Paul, what's going on in your in your career?

Paul:      Well, I absolutely love Wilmington and I've enjoyed my time here but I got picked up by the City of Asheville to be their Affordable Housing Development Specialist and I start up there on January 22nd. So this is kind of my last hurrah with Wilmington, but I'll never be that far off the map from this community that I love so much. And I'm also well-known for staying connected and picking up the phone and sending an e-mail when I've got a question or, Hey, what about this idea. So I really am looking forward to the challenges that are ahead in Asheville, which they've got some real affordable housing issues up there, but also sharing any knowledge I gain with my friends in Wilmington and hopefully, if I'm allowed to, try to do a better job of connecting the municipalities in the state to see what everyone's doing. You know, that shared knowledge. So we're talking Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, obviously Asheville, Wilmington and then even into South Carolina who are doing great things. Charleston, who has kind of introduced inclusionary zoning in their city because they have such a lack of affordable housing for all their service workers. Greenville, South Carolina is doing some great things with a housing trust fund. So I think there's a lot to be learned and I hopefully can connect some of these issues and still keep my pulse on what's happening here in Wilmington. I look forward to it.

Gina:     Wilmington is going to miss you.

Paul:      Thanks, Gina. I'll miss you guys.

Gina:     I hope somebody steps up.

Paul:      They will. Somebody will. There's got to be somebody out there. Right? There's got to be somebody who will look at this as a really good opportunity. I took it and made it my own. And so I got to run with it and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to do it. So it was fun.

Gina:     What number is this of the Legislative Breakfast?

Paul:      I believe this is number 11.  We may have lost count but we won't stop until we see some real action on the local level, whether it's a housing trust fund, a ballot initiative to fund that housing trust fund, some kind of grant incentives, some kind of continuation of the city and counties ad hoc committee on affordable housing to keep that going, a housing needs assessment. So the Housing Coalition's in it for the long haul. We'll keep presenting solutions. And we feel confident that eventually some of our political and policy leaders will grab on to some of those solutions and implement those policies here and make a difference before we turn into an Asheville that is really struggling with their affordable housing issues.  I just hope if we can get in front of the curve, we can plan better than other municipalities have been able to.

Gina:     And if anyone doesn't understand all those words you just said about things that we need to look at the legislative track, this might be a good place to get a deeper understanding.

Paul:      Absolutely. And we have a great Facebook page so we utilize that platform not to just cry about the issues and stomp our feet that this is unfair, but we present those solutions. Really great articles and all of our presentations over the last three and a half, four years. The Solution Series are all available online. It's a great wealth of knowledge that you can learn about if you're interested in this issue. And again, going back to the beginning, understanding that it's a community issue, a social issue, an equity issue, an economic issue. Plenty to learn.