MATTHEWS – If town leaders want to reduce the cost of living in Matthews, they may have to change their attitudes about multifamily development, as well as the community’s perception of affordable housing.
Matthews Commissioner Kress Query said one challenge the town will face in adding affordable housing is overcoming feelings of “not in my neighborhood.” Commissioner Jeff Miller said leaders have been criticized for the town developing too fast, especially for allowing too much senior housing.
But a committee formed by the Matthews Planning Board last year to determine the need for affordable housing found there’s actually a shortage of homes under $200,000 compared to the number of households moving to town.
The committee presented its findings to town commissioners Jan. 28.
The federal government defines affordable housing as housing that doesn’t cost more than 30 percent of a household’s monthly income, according to Kerry Lamson, planning board chairman. He also said government housing programs qualify people on a median family income for their housing market, which in Matthews amounted to $76,007 in 2017.
“It can apply to anyone,” he said of affordable housing. “It isn’t just people classified as impoverished based on level of their income. It can also be a burden to others in this town because of the price of the homes we have in our community.”
Lamson tried to provide life to income levels in poverty (under $22,000), near poverty ($22,000 to $38,000) and housing poor ($38,000 to $61,000).
Among the 900 Matthews households living in poverty, he described the hypothetical couple of Jim and Sarah. The couple is in their 70s and own their homes, but make just $18,000 a year from Social Security. They can no longer maintain their acre lot, but can’t afford a more suitable place for the $500 a month they are paying for taxes and utilities.
Another hypothetical example is Susan, a 32-year-old bank teller with two children. She takes advantage of resources like the Matthews Help Center and food stamps, but still has trouble with rising rent payments.
Janice is a 26-year-old school teacher that just earned a master’s degree. She’s paying $990 a month for a one-bedroom apartment while spending her own money for supplies. She’s among the 2,200 households considered house poor.
Matthews is the sixth fastest-growing town in the state, considering Census data shows its population has grown 18.2 percent from 2010 to 2017. During that span, Matthews welcomed 1,152 new households but added only 270 new single-family homes and 280 new apartments. That’s a deficit of about 600 housing units.
“The biggest single problem that Matthews has is that we don’t have a lot of land,” Lamson said. “It comes at a premium. Every developer who has to come in who wants to build an infill development has a huge upfront cost for developing that land – purchase price alone.”
Other factors impacting housing include a high demand and shortage of housing near downtown, people living in Matthews working outside of town, as well as a population growing older and more diverse.
Lamson said there was a shortage in town of homes valued at under $200,000.
The town approved 179 single-family homes and 1,234 market priced rentals in 2017 and 2018, but only three homes were valued under $200,000. Those were built by Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity.
Lamson outlined strategies Matthews can take to stimulate more affordable housing.
Some towns aggregate a list of available services and resources offered by area charities, churches and government programs. This can be made available through a website or an office.
“It is going to be very difficult for any town to be able to help those who are impoverished,” Lamson said. “We’re not going to find housing for them easily. The best thing we can do is help them with the available subsidies and programs that might help them to live here in the most cost-effective manner.”
The town could partner with groups to subsidize housing, particularly for seniors, or offer down payment assistance for qualifying home buyers, including town staff.
The town could launch a program that assists landlords in fixing up rentals with costly repairs like leaking roofs, to ensure homes don’t wind up in disrepair.
It could also help people make improvements to older homes, such as adding an ADA-compliant ramp, so more homeowners can age in place. Extending the life of homes will allow younger households to eventually move in, make improvements and maintain the lots, Lamson said.
Matthews could mandate developers dedicate a percentage of units for affordable housing. Developers could opt out by paying a fee, which towns like Davidson have used to build affordable units elsewhere. Cities such as Charlotte have offered developers incentives for incorporating affordable housing into projects.
Lamson also suggests the town look more favorably at multifamily housing. Apartment complexes could be subsidized to make them more cost effective.
Long-term strategies could involve taking land identified for future parks and dedicate it to affordable housing or putting together a bond referendum that could look at housing needs over several years.
With many of the options being long-term solutions, Commissioner John Urban recommended the town look at low-hanging fruit, like promoting the idea of accessory buildings on the back of properties.
Town Planner Jay Camp said the town changed its Unified Development Ordinance 10 years ago to allow accessory dwelling units up to 750 square feet. The town has also made it easier to allow multi-generational housing.