By Shauneen Miranda
Just as the lack of affordable workforce housing in Dare County has become perhaps the county’s thorniest issue, a solid majority of North Carolinians agree that “the lack of affordable housing is a major problem” in their communities.
By a narrower margin, they also say state leaders should intervene to help alleviate the shortages, “even if it means partially restricting city or county control.”
These are the results of a survey administered on May 14-15 by Public Policy Polling that surveyed 912 residents across North Carolina and examined responses based on political party, gender, place of residence, race and household income. The survey results were released early in July by the progressive policy group, Carolina Forward.
“We wanted to look at how people not only thought about housing in their own communities, but then also going beyond that, what do you think we should do about it,” Carolina Forward Executive Director Blair Reeves told the Voice in an interview. “Everyone supports affordable housing. Not everyone supports building it.”
Overall, 59% of the respondents said affordable housing is a “major problem” in their community — almost double the 31% who did not agree with that statement. On the question of whether the state should act even if it means restricting local control, 48% agreed compared with 37% who did not and 15% who were unsure.
But broken down by party affiliation, major gaps appear. “Where the big split comes is with ideology,” said Reeves of the survey results. Democrats were the most likely to agree that affordable housing is a major problem, at 78%. And virtually the same percentage of Democrats (75%) said state leaders should act. But a slightly higher percentage of Republicans (44%) disagreed that affordable housing was a major problem than agreed with that statement (40%). And by a 2-1 margin (55%-28%), Republicans did not want the state to step in.
Independents were somewhere in the middle. By 57% to 37%, they did agree that affordable housing was a major problem in their communities, and they rendered a mixed verdict on the idea of the state intervening (42% to 42%).
The results were also examined by dividing the respondents into residents of urban, suburban and rural communities. And on the question of whether affordable housing is a major problem, majorities of each group agreed – urban 75%-21%; suburban 57%-31%; rural 51%-38%.
There was a bit more distance between the responses over whether the state should act, even if that meant restricting local authority. Urban residents agreed by 69%-24%; suburbanites agreed 47%-37%; but rural residents disagreed, 44% to 39%.
Reeves said there was no way to specifically identify Outer Banks respondents in the survey, but he speculated that OBX participants would likely have been categorized as rural, or depending on where they lived, possibly suburban.
In Dare County, the lack of affordable or “essential” workforce housing is widely acknowledged to be an ongoing crisis – one that has become more troubling because of a shortage of summer workers that is straining business capacity and in at least one recent example, forcing one to close permanently.
The affordable housing shortage, added Reeves, is “a hugely disastrous issue if you are an hourly worker or if you are a low-wage worker.”