According to a study by NC State psychology professor Mary Haskett in spring 2018, of the 7,000 NC State students she surveyed, 9.6% reported experiencing homelessness over the past year.
This is not the first time Technician has begun a piece with that statistic. A news article from Jan. 2020, entitled “Mayor Baldwin’s campaign proposal for affordable housing takes off,” cites the study in the same way. The article included many quotes of Mayor Baldwin making the case for affordable housing’s benefits to students, such as this one, which reads quite differently several months later:
“There are a number of students who are homeless — actually a large number of students,” Baldwin said. “I think people would be surprised at how many students are impacted when dorms close, for instance … there are students that sleep in their cars...”
While it was likely referring to university holiday closures, reading this statement now feels like a foreshadowing summary of the crises that many students faced in the following months and still face due to COVID-19. It also highlights just one of the numerous good reasons to vote “Yes” on the 2020 Affordable Housing Bond referendum many of you will see on your ballot when you vote in the next few weeks.
This editorial board has consistently placed affordable housing among its most pertinent issues to the local community, with our endorsement of Caroline Sullivan for Raleigh’s mayor partially centering around her position on affordable housing. That isn’t to say that the issue is limited to us and the ex-mayoral candidate, though. In fact, the issue seems to be quite popular in Raleigh, with all six candidates at the time viewing affordable housing as a major policy concern.
However, it is our concern — partially based on this election’s focus on the federal level — that students and other voters alike may walk into their booths only to be surprised by the large opportunity for direct policy change they will find at the bottom of the ballot. This referendum will ask voters for a “Yes” or “No” response and will be worded as several sentences, with no party affiliation. The last thing we want as an editorial board is for the student body to make an uneducated gut decision on this matter of direct policy, especially when we consider the answer to be quite clearly a vote for “Yes.”
To that effect, an explanation of our support seems necessary. For a non-opinionated explanation of the referendum, we urge our readers to see our recent piece on just that.
First, there are the obvious benefits to the student community. With COVID-19 moving students online and decreasing the occupancy of dorms, many students have had to face the harsh realities of housing and rent. The simple fact is that these realities have always been faced by students during breaks and other University Housing closures; the notable difference with the pandemic being that the time period is significantly longer and the uncertainty is much greater.
While these problems are partially addressed by the limited housing the University makes available during closures, we believe that a more prudent solution is a direct approach that moves towards reducing the proportion of students in need of such housing. This bond will help in solving one of the root causes of the crisis facing students, rather than the University having to react in real time to address the symptoms of housing security in an uncertain environment.
Second, we believe that this bond is good for our community. Affordable housing has been shown to increase local purchasing power, create jobs and lead to new tax revenues. While the property tax increase of roughly $20 per year for the median household in Raleigh is obviously some form of a cost, we see this as a more than reasonable trade-off. Especially when you consider how affordable housing can typically result in neutral or positive effects on the surrounding property values.
It is also worth mentioning that, as college students ourselves, we are not immune to the consequences of homeownership policies. This is especially true recently, as a college degree has become a strong indicator of future homeownership, according to Business Insider.
On a similar note, affordability in housing can affect education. Empirical data shows an inverted U-shaped relationship between housing affordability and children’s cognitive achievement within low-income families. Therefore, it reasons that if a city was growing and its housing costs were rising, it may want to consider decreasing the burden on low-income families via affordable housing initiatives in order to maintain or improve education performance. Raleigh fits that description to a tee.
We do recognize that many feel as if this bond is not doing enough to address the affordable housing crisis in Wake County. It is true that a large proportion of this money is going to organizations, nonprofits and government funds as opposed to the people directly, but we feel any step forward is a good step. It may not be the leaps and bounds that we want, but a single bond cannot be expected to completely solve as complex an issue as affordable housing is.
This bond is also not addressing some of the root causes of homelessness, like a lack of mental health care, gentrification and historical redlining, and with the current political climate, we expected the local government to pay more attention to these issues that disproportionately affect Black Wake County residents. Future affordable housing legislation and policy must focus on systemic changes to the root causes, but this bond seems like a satisfactory treatment of the current symptoms of these systems.
Affordable housing is an issue that is not going to go away in Wake County anytime soon, and it can’t be solved with one piece of legislation. While we as an editorial board do see the flaws of this bond, we as a community must now make a significant stride forward in fixing the affordable housing crisis. This way, future leaders can also make more substantial changes and find more effective solutions to this issue. It is for these reasons that we encourage our readers to vote “Yes” on the 2020 Affordable Housing Bond.
This unsigned editorial is the opinion of the members of Technician’s editorial board, and is the responsibility of the editor-in-chief.