The Mooresville Board of Commissioners on Monday approved funding a pilot project to develop a housing strategy to accommodate future demand, a process that is expected to play out across a 14-county region in the coming years.
The program is part of the Centralina Council of Governments “Connect Our Future” initiative, in which local governments, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations are partnering to develop a framework for future growth. A portion of that involves creating a “Community Housing Strategy,” a task that Mooresville was the first to approve.
The focus will be on attracting employers by ensuring that housing is consistent with their needs and is near transportation; upgrading substandard residences; and creating aging-in-place options for seniors, whose numbers are set to explode over the next 25 years and beyond. Coupled with an increasingly aging population is a general increase in the number of people moving to Mecklenburg County, including a large number of migrants, both international and from other states, and younger individuals who are starting families.
The plan will define the correct mix of housing needed and where development should occur, said Jim Prosser, executive director of the council, which assists local counties in coordinating development efforts to expand the regional economy and boost job growth. It also will aid in getting the private sector more involved in remedying housing needs and challenges.
“The wave of the future is collaboration with private-public partnerships,” Prosser said.
Future benefits to Mooresville, Prosser said, include working more effectively with developers who will be more aware of the town’s specific needs. Other advantages include the streamlining of the development approval processes, such as the coordination of land-use plans and ordinances, and identifying regulatory impediments. A strategy also will provide continuity to housing efforts as new officials are elected.
Under phase one, the council will evaluate the town’s existing housing stock, projected rate of population and job growth, and economic development goals. Phase one will begin this spring and is slated to take four to five months to complete, at a cost of $33,000.
The council, which will contribute $3,000 of in-kind services to the tally, also will summarize its findings for public input. Phases two and three, scheduled to be completed by early next year, will include quantitative and qualitative data analysis, open houses for public engagement, strategy outlines, and presentations to town officials and other stakeholders.
The council’s Connect Our Future initiative is supported by a $4.9 million sustainable-communities grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and $3 million in local public and private resources. Goals include sustainable, well-managed growth that maximizes the efficiency of infrastructure investments, a diverse economy supporting a wide variety of businesses, high-quality educational opportunities, and increased collaboration among jurisdictions on growth management, transportation and environmental concerns.
Joe Padilla, executive director of the Charlotte-based Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, is a member of Connect’s housing work group, which has been meeting monthly since September 2012. It includes representatives from nonprofits, schools, financial institutions, public-housing authorities, and developers, among others.
The beauty of the project, he says, is identifying the economic goals of a particular area and then creating a housing plan that will coincide with it.
“We looked at how the current housing stock matches up with drawing jobs,” he said. “Do they have the housing stock and type to match it?”
He said a locale looking to attract the high-tech industry will require housing catering to younger workers disinterested in single-family houses. If there is a dearth of options, he said, employees will move to outlying areas but continue to use local infrastructure.
“Economic development goals should drive (an area’s) housing plans,” he said.
He explained REBIC’s involvement with Connect, saying: “Our members are the providers of houses and offices and should be part of the dialogue.”
Connect has already written a Comprehensive Regional Housing Strategy, published in 2014, that identifies several challenges and proposed remedies for the 14-county region. Issues include:
- Unmet needs for many households, including severe cost burdens and overcrowding.
- Substantive opportunities for both rehabilitation and redevelopment, including vacant residences.
- Strong demand for both rental and for-sale properties in the future.
- Lack of sufficient senior housing.
- Need for large-family housing.
- Need for additional contemporary housing and neighborhood features, including those that are pedestrian friendly with nearby services, groceries and retail establishments.
Some of the overall recommendations include:
- Rehabilitation and redevelopment of properties that are most suitable, such as units that are of above-average grade but below average condition in order to preserve architectural uniqueness and historic qualities. For properties that are not good candidates for rehab, the parcels could be assembled for redevelopment.
- Identify where permitting, construction, and development fees may be waived or reduced for affordable or senior construction; consider the development of mixed-income sub-development near public transit, services and retail.
- Incorporate contemporary housing and neighborhood design features to redevelopment or rehabilitation projects, which would appeal to seniors, families, the disabled, and persons interested in energy efficiency, community amenities, and pedestrian-friendly streets. Encourage “visitability” policies, making all housing accessible for persons in need of wider doors or stepless access. Create senior or shared-community options within selected redevelopment projects.
Connect’s strategy for the region pretty much follows an outline provided by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities.
The report, “Smart Growth and Economic Success: Benefits for Real Estate Developers, Investors, Businesses and Local Governments,” endorses higher-density, compact development, as well as redevelopment using existing infrastructure to cut land costs and the need for additional fire and police protection, utilities and schools.
The creation of walkable communities, the EPA says, increases real estate sales and prices, and benefits local government with higher property- and sales-tax revenue. By providing a range of choices in land use, building types, workplace locations, housing and transportation, businesses will attract employees and customers, while local governments will garner higher tax revenue from increased property values and new residents, according to the EPA.
Padilla, meanwhile, is hopeful about the latest developments in Mooresville.
“If it works out,” he said, “we have a model to take to other areas and come up with zoning and permitting strategies to make sure the regulatory environment is in line with the type of housing the community needs.”