A proliferation of recent apartment complex sales serves as a reminder that affordable housing is an important issue — and a problem some define as a crisis — that will require attention from residents, volunteers, government officials and all stakeholders to solve.
At least 15 existing apartment complexes in Forsyth County have been sold over the past 12 months for a combined $134.2 million, while several hundred units are under construction or recently completed, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported recently. Those sold have all gone to out-of-region and out-of-state buyers, who no doubt expect to make a healthy return on their investments.
Much of the selling and building trends seem to be driven by millennials — people between the ages of 23 and 38 — who are expected to rent rather than buy for some time to come.
“These trends drive up the sustainable demand for apartment housing, raising rental rates and increasing the returns to owners of rental properties,” Tony Plath, a retired finance professor at UNC Charlotte, told the Journal.
Higher rents are good for the owners, of course, but make it more difficult for renters to save for their first home purchases.
But millennials have little choice, as many of them struggle to pay off student loans — 46% of millennials now live with student loans with a median debt of $27,000, according to online housing publication Updater — or remain in rental units in anticipation of possible economic downturns — a wise precaution.
They also choose to move to urban areas, where the jobs are — and where rent is more expensive.
In addition, fewer homes are being built — Freddie Mac forecasts just a 1% increase in single-family home construction nationally this year.
Millennials are not the only ones turning to rent rather than buying, either, as salaries remain stagnant and Americans struggle to save or just get by. According to a recent report from Bankrate, nearly six in 10 Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 or $1,000 unplanned expense. And a landmark report from WFDD recently examined how difficulty paying rent leads to Greensboro and Winston-Salem having some of the highest eviction rates in the nation.
Various efforts are currently being made to improve the situation. Some church and charity organizations are working to provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income households. A good example is PCCI, a community-development effort by The Shalom Project that is in the process of building 74 family units on the property where the former Budget Inn on Peters Creek Parkway stood.
A tiny house community of six units between 400 and 500 square feet, built by Tiny House Community Development, largely through donations and volunteer labor, is near completion in Greensboro. The organization hopes to build 100 tiny houses within the next five years.
Since 2017, BB&T (now Truist) has provided the Winston-Salem area with more than $62.4 million geared toward affordable housing in the forms of community-development loans, contributions and investments. And last week, Wells Fargo & Co. announced that it would commit $1 billion in philanthropic spending through 2025 to address the affordable housing crisis, including homelessness, available and affordable rentals, transitional housing and home ownership.
But that’s still not enough. We need more affordable housing.
Ultimately, affordable housing should be the norm. Every family, every individual, should be able to afford a roof over their heads in a safe neighborhood — and at a price that allows them to still buy food and medicine and save for their future. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s the American dream.