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Raleigh leaders get 1st look at housing, parks bonds. How much could they could cost you?

The (Raleigh) News & Observer logo The (Raleigh) News & Observer 1/22/2020 By Trent Brown and Anna Johnson, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Raleigh city leaders got their first look at Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s “moonshot” Tuesday and how much it might cost taxpayers.

Baldwin proposed a “quality of life bond” package last month to help pay for affordable housing and parks, including the first phase of Dorothea Dix Park. She compared the proposal to President John F. Kennedy’s sending men to the moon, saying ‘It’s our moonshot” the night she took the oath of office.

The plans the City Council looked at Tuesday propose asking voters to approve either a $50 million or $75 million bond for housing and a bond of $150 million to $250 million for parks.

The proposed housing bond would cost the average Raleigh homeowner $15.43 or $24.05 per year, based on a home assessed at $269,830.

The proposed parks bond — $150 million, $200 million or $250 million — would cost the average homeowner $58.28 to $103.20 per year.

If approved by the council, the bond package would go to voters Nov. 3.

Homeownership and homelessness

Raleigh’s last housing bond was in 2011 for $16 million. The city stopped seeking affordable housing bonds after it raised the property tax rate by 1 cent per $100 of property value in 2015 to fund its affordable housing efforts.

The proposed housing bond amounts are smaller than Durham’s recent $95 million housing bond, $59 million of which will go to the Durham Housing Authority to modernize public housing downtown.

However Larry Jarvis, Raleigh’s Housing and Neighborhoods director, said the city doesn’t have comparable public housing properties in need of redevelopment like Durham does.

According to the N.C. Housing Coalition, 31% of Durham County households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than a third of their family budget on on housing and utilities. About 24% of Wake County households are cost-burdened.

Raleigh City Council members differed Tuesday on how bond money might be spent, including proposed downpayment assistance that could provide up to $20,000 in low-interest loans to low-income home buyers and forgive the debt if they stay in the home 20 years.

Council member Nicole Stewart worried that assisting with downpayments might aid wealth building for some residents and said the money might be better spent on eviction prevention.

Council member Jonathan Melton argued that downpayment assistance fits the bond’s mission. “It opens the doors to home ownership to many folks who may not be able to afford home ownership without the assistance,” he said.

According to the NC Housing Coalition, 462 Wake families faced a foreclosure in 2019.

Council member Saige Martin recommended giving funds to homeowners who build new accessory dwelling units or offer their existing ones to residents who face chronic homelessness.

“That reminds me of the discussion on tiny homes from a few years ago that went nowhere,” Baldwin said. “So we’re going to add that to the list.”

Unfinished Park Projects

Raleigh’s last parks bond was in 2014 for $94 million. At the time, the city had around $300 million in identified needs for its parks.

Stephen Bentley, assistant director of Raleigh Parks Recreation and Cultural Resources, said some 2014 parks bond projects are behind schedule because of inflation, a saturated construction market and a lack of subcontractors.

Some council members said they want to make sure past projects that haven’t been finished are included in the new bond.

“We voted in favor of a bond before and those parks are still not done,” Melton said. “So I think it’s going to be really important that we’re pulling into this discussion any past projects that were promised and that money is earmarked for and making sure that they’re actually at least discussed in this prioritization process.”

Dix Park, which could get most of the money from the possible November bond referendum, already has a development plan that includes the creation of a plaza and play area along Lake Wheeler Road.

The first phase of the renovations to the park would widen and expand the Rocky Branch Creek that runs along the park, create a land bridge over Western Boulevard to connect Dix Park to Pullen Park, create a multi-use path along Lake Wheeler; and restore the historic cemetery.

“A November bond to support construction of phase one, coupled with donations at every level from individuals and organizations throughout the region, is critical to our community’s ability to truly create ‘a park for everyone, built by everyone,’” said Sean Malone, president of the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy.

The first phase would likely take a decade or more.

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©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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