Rekindling the Affordable Housing Conversation - Shooting The Breeze


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Rekindling the Affordable Housing Conversation

Friday 08 June 2018 at 7:42 pm.


At the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting on June 4, Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Bob Peele read a letter addressed to the BOC regarding the need for affordable housing.

“The housing crisis on the Outer Banks is real,” he said. “Help wanted signs are seen everywhere, and we hear from businesses daily about their inability to find workers.  This is not just a seasonal challenge - it has become a year-round one.”

“Professional jobs go unfilled at our hospital and in our healthcare system; people are hired but can’t find reasonably priced housing options so they leave.”

This is by no means a new rallying cry.

When the BOC commissioned a year-long Economic Development study that was conducted by outside consultants in 2016, finding ways to establish more affordable housing was certainly on the to-do list for long-term goals.

And as any island local or seasonal worker will tell you, finding an affordable place to live is the hardest aspect of living here.

But the presentation of the letter, and the ensuing ideas that the Chamber of Commerce came up with via a committee’s research, rekindled the conversation of affordable housing by starting with more small-scale solutions.

“Basically, the Chamber had a three-pronged approach,” said Donna Creef, Planning Director for Dare County in a later interview. “The chamber asked for zoning changes when it came to ADUs [accessory dwelling units], duplexes, and multi-family structures.”

The complete letter to the BOC can be viewed here,, but here’s an overview of the zoning changes the Chamber proposed that could affect Hatteras islanders:

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

•    Amend to add ADU standards to RS-6, RS-8, R-2, R-2A, R-2B, R2-H, R2-AH, R-3, S-1, C-2, C-2-H, C-3, I1.
•    Language needs to be consistent across all zoning districts that requires ADUs only be subordinate in size to primary structures and not exceed the total conditioned space of the primary use structure - with no specific size limitations.  Obviously, in districts that have communities with covenants, the covenants would take precedence.
•    Amend current ordinances within the County to allow ADUs in any and all districts possible.
•    Remove the requirement that property owners, on parcels with ADUs, shall occupy the principal dwelling on the lot as their permanent residence.
•    All other current conditions for ADUs (limit of one per lot, ADUs will not be in front yards, ADUs shall not be sold as a separate unit unless the property can be subdivided, ADUs shall be constructed according to all applicable state and federal rules, etc.) should stay in place.


•    Amend districts to make minimum duplex lot sizes consistent with single-family in those districts that currently allow duplexes.

So how could these adjustments potentially play out on Hatteras Island? Let’s take a closer look at each specific arena of housing.

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADUs)

Think of an accessory dwelling unit as a mother-in-law apartment. It’s essentially a secondary house or apartment that has its own kitchen, living area, or separate entrance that shares the property of a larger, primary house.

“The only areas [in Dare County] that specifically allow ADUs are newer districts – Manns Harbor, Wanchese and East Lake,” said Creef. “The idea is that we expand this to some of our older districts.”

So what this would mean is that through zoning changes, properties in areas without zoning restrictions could feasibly build and / or rent out existing ADUs to provide more housing. Subdivisions and communities with existing rules and covenants would obviously trump any zoning changes, but there are areas of the island where ADUs could be accessible.

“With Frisco and Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo not having zoning [restrictions], there are some opportunities there to do something constructive with ADUs,” said County Commissioner Danny Couch.

But there are some challenges that could make this hard to implement on Hatteras Island – namely, flood zones.

“If we amend the zoning, and you have the lot coverage and the ADU, then you’re still going to have to build it to the federal flood rules,” said Creef. “We can’t throw out those restrictions – you still have to build to applicable codes.”

Essentially, structures have to be above a base flood level determined by their Flood Zone, as classified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) So if you live in soundside Avon like I do and are in an AE flood zone, your base flood elevation is 8 ft. This means that many ground level garages, converted sheds or outbuildings, or other low-lying dwellings would not meet the criteria, and could not be used as an ADU – regardless of additional subdivision or zoning restrictions.


The duplexes proposal is arguably where Hatteras Island has the potential to have a little more leeway, and a few more options.

In theory, the way this would work is that larger homes with multiple bedrooms could be divvied up into smaller, multiple units with minimal red tape.

“There’s been discussions in the towns about multi-family [options] where if you can build one eight-bedroom house, can you build two four-bedroom townhouses on the same lot?” said County Manager Bobby Outten at the BOC meeting. “You can have the same density, but you can cut the price point in half. Can we do things like that through zoning? It doesn’t cost anything, so they become policy choices that local governments can make that can have an impact.”

“They’re not the solution, but they are a solution, and they can make an impact,” he added.

It’s a potential solution where Commissioner Couch sees some possibilities.

“I think we have a real opportunity here with existing structures, like older vacation rental homes, to make them available for affordable housing,” he said. “We have an abundance of big vacation homes, and perhaps there are some incentives we can explore for some of our older vacation homes to make them competitive, and to make them amendable to year-round housing.”

“Someone with a six-bedroom home that wants to turn it into two three-bedroom units, let’s work it out. Someone with a couple extra bedrooms that they might want to rent to seasonal workers, let’s explore that” he added. “It might not work with a family that needs their own space, but it could certainly help with the labor pool.”
But there are limitations and drawbacks to this solution as well. Septic system limits for individual properties is certainly a concern, as is an increased number of vehicles and parking, and the ensuing effect on neighbors.  “These are all considerations that are going to have to be worked into the equation to make it successful,” said Couch.,

The proposed solutions from the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce will go to the Planning Board early next week, and from there, a public hearing will likely be on the way. And Peele recognized at the meeting that the proposed zoning changes are by no means the end-all solution to the housing problem.

“We’re still looking at everything,” he said. “This is the low hanging fruit, if you will, where we feel there are some inconsistencies in the current zoning [that we can address now.] We’re not done yet.”

“One of the things that’s an issue is ‘How can we do something?’” said Outten at the meeting. “We recognize the limitations of land, large scale development, money… those kinds of things, so the question then becomes can we do something with the stock we have in place to make it available at a lower cost to people that need housing?”

So the proposed zoning changes are just a start. It’s something small, that can be done quickly, and which can help in a limited but hopefully noticeable way.

But it’s a step nevertheless, and it has rekindled the conversation about the housing crisis, which is not a bad thing at all. It’s always been at the back of everyone’s minds – or at the front if you are currently scrambling to find a place to live for the summer – but it’s retuning to the forefront as these new solutions are being examined.  

And it’s good that new and fresh ideas are being proposed, because the housing crisis on Hatteras Island has been ongoing for years, and people who love this place will live just about anywhere – including ADUs or duplexes – to be here full time.

Case in point, when I was looking for a new place to live in the early 2000s, I rented a questionably-legal corner of a garage / basement apartment from a good friend. Said friend happened to have a huge pig who lived in the backyard, and who sometimes hung out in the garage, which connected with my bedroom via a door that didn’t latch all that well.  So when there was a thunderstorm, (which was often), the pig would freak out and charge into my bedroom, making panicked squealing and screaming noises along the way.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been woken up by a giant pig having a mental breakdown in your bedroom before, but I assure you, it’s a very effective way to go from “deep sleep” to “fully awake.”

But I loved that place regardless for two reasons: One, it was affordable, and Two, it existed, and was available to rent.  And I knew how lucky I was to have it.

Other people aren’t as lucky. Look at Craigslist, classifieds sections, or even Facebook, and you’ll see tons of people who are struggling to find a place to live on their income, along with a handful of places to rent year-round that are out of their price range.

“I think [the housing crisis] has intensified down here,” said Couch. “Not only do you have labor pool issues, but there’s a heightened awareness of how limited the labor pool is. Being able to have affordable housing to form a labor pool, as well as making sure teachers and everyday blue collar folks can afford to live here, is essential. We know our own backyard better than anybody, and I don’t think that anyone will dispute that we need affordable housing here.”

“But the conversation is heating up again,” he added. “It’s been fairly obvious that one of our biggest hindrances is our existing [zoning] rules. You have to be cautious with changing these restrictions, but it’s time to address this, and I think everyone is aware of that fact. I have confidence in our planning board and planning department to tackle this.”

“It’s time. The lack of affordable housing is creating more problems than can be solved.”

thirteen comments

Avon Resident

Opening the doors for more Airbnb. Already see it in my neighborhood!

Avon Resident - 09-06-’18 00:01

This a non-starter. No one wants any locals living in their rentals and it makes no sense to do a year-round rental when the summer + a few months rent will pay for the equivalent year-round rental with no hassles of renters.

This place is not designed to be affordable. Those days are long gone and multi-family housing is never the solution. Luckily for most of us lot coverage rules will prevent this from happening. And don’t forgot about the affordable housing built in Waves in the mid-2000. Good intentions and a great deal for Real who owns them all now. Nothing like the government subsidizing it and then getting to buy them all up. None of the hassle of building, but all of the benefits of the rent.

Government meddling in an economy is a mistake and it never turns out well for the taxpayer. The reality is that if anything wants to be done order some buses and transport everyone in and out.

These proposed ADU’s will be rented to tourists because they can and will pay more. There will be “rules” that don’t allow it, but like everything in this county the government looks the other way when it comes to accommodating our “visitors”. Nearly every house on my street has more people in it than the septic system is designed for. It is 2 people per bedroom without exception. Realty companies could care less.

surf123 - 09-06-’18 06:21
paul meadow

The labor pool issues are a result of low wages. The housing afforability issue is a result of low wages. The teachers are underpaid, the government workers are underpaid, the constuction workers are underpaid, the health care workers are underpaid, the rental and food service people are underpaid. When compensation on the Outer Banks
becomes competitive, then suddenly there will be workers and the housing will become more affordable. The “seasonal” excuse solves nothing and accomplishes nothing. Housing is unaffordable because many OBXers aren’t even paid a living wage. That’s the reality, and the buck is being passed from employer to tax payer. Time to rethink.

paul meadow - 10-06-’18 08:33

@surf123 I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment!

All the folks, that had yearly rentals, have kicked out all of their “local”, and are now renting exclusively, to tourist, through Airbnb & Flipkey.

Across the board, their reasons were the same:
1.) More money
2.) Less hassle
3.) More rights than a regular landlord (evicting deadbeat tenants is ridiculously difficult in NC.)

With the rampant drama, pill and drug problems on the island, I can totally understand their reasoning.

Honestly, If I had to choose between renting to a year round “local” for $$ and a tourist for $$$$, I would choose the tourist, every time, and I think it’s naive to think that others won’t do the same.

I agree that there is a need for affordable year round housing, but changing the zoning requirements, will not fix the problem, but will only make it worse,by increasing the occupant density per Sqft, which will in turn, cause problems in other areas (parking, facilities, sewage, emergency services, etc..)

Think about the rentals that are already violating the 2 person per room max, do you think that they are going to care enough to do the right thing, and update their septic systems before cramming even more renters into their lot??

The only long term solution that I can see, is to:

1.)Give landlords a financial incentive to rent to locals, large enough to bridge the gap between year round and tourist rentals.

2.)Lower the risk to Landlords. Increase Landlord rights.

SoundSurf - 11-06-’18 16:38


Did you know that you sound an awful lot like a certain socialist from Vermont?

The labor pool issues are a result of low wages. The housing affordability [SIC] issue is a result of low wages.

Beyond that, have you actually done any research in to how OBX payscales compare? Read on:

The teachers are underpaid,

Only there do we agree.

the government workers are underpaid,

LOL! You’re kidding, right?!?

the constuction workers are underpaid,

Cable Installer, $14-19 per hour
HVAC Apprentice, $10-16 per hour

the health care workers are underpaid,

Nursing Assistant, $12.45 per hour
Registered Nurse – Emergency Room, $29.35 per hour

the rental and food service people are underpaid.

McDoanld’s KH: $8.75 per hour to start Food Lion Avon: $9.00 per hour to $12 per hour

When compensation on the Outer Banks becomes competitive, then suddenly there will be workers and the housing will become more affordable. The “seasonal” excuse solves nothing and accomplishes nothing.

OBX payscales are actually quite competitive.

The average compensation on the OBX is $73,000 per year, where right across the sound in Ahoskie NC it’s only $39,000 per year.

Stop parroting the SJW talking points. They’re just not true.

Housing is unaffordable because many OBXers aren’t even paid a living wage.

False, Fauxcahontas. See above.

That’s the reality, and the buck is being passed from employer to tax payer. Time to rethink.

Time to get real is more like it.

Devildog - 11-06-’18 20:37

@DevilDog I would not use for anything, there numbers are probably based on the amount of tax revenue that rolls through here. They have no access to actual payroll data. Additionally there is no way on earth the average wage is $73,000. The government workers and teachers are paid no where near that neither are any of the tradesmen.By the way you cannot live on $15.00, support a family and expect to have a decent home. You would be hard pressed to find even one person making $73,000 when you remove business owners, real estate agents and bank executives.

surf123 - 11-06-’18 22:48
Avon Resident

Where can I get a job on Hatteras Island paying $73,000 per year? Are you hiring?

Avon Resident - 11-06-’18 23:14
Michael Scott

If existing building codes are relaxed/altered a bit to accommodate the real need for seasonal worker housing, I would likely have no objections. I am thinking of dormitory style living where folks spend a lot of time on the job and move on after the peak season is over.
If done to accommodate year round residents, I fear it might attract folks who are low income by choice rather than motivated worker/residents. I believe it is usually best to let the market sort out this situation. Already, pay for restaurant workers and cottage cleaners, etc is above the average rate of inland areas. If these jobs go vacant the employers will pay more and, as the cost of living here on the Island is above the national average, I think the pay should be more. If the workers are paid more, the need for government manipulation in the housing market will be reduced or eliminated, and we will be able to maintain what has already been determined to be a suitable development density. Life on Hatteras Island can be economically tough, but we are fortunate to have a lot of work options for 8 months of the year. For many it may mean working 60-80 hours a week followed by little or no work for the “off season”. This island has many motivated people who manage to remain productive year round or work a lot during tourist season, but budget themselves and utilize the off season for hunting, travel, home or self improvement, etc.. On the other hand we also have more than enough folks who are in line at the “welfare office” November 1st each year despite having just gone through 8 months of an overabundance of employment opportunities. Rewarding the “low motivation crowd” never has positive results.
The teacher housing building in Buxton is something I found extremely upsetting (my disdain was reduced a lot after a conversation with a school board member in which he explained it was a bit more of a gift than a taxpayer funded building). I think this is a good example where wages should have been made commensurate with the cost of housing here on Hatteras Island rather than make low cost housing available to our teachers (and police officers, etc.) and impairing them from making their own personal housing choices. I say, please tax me more so our teachers, police officers, social workers and other insufficiently paid Professionals can afford good housing options here on the Island. Michael Scott, Buxton

Michael Scott - 12-06-’18 13:41

Avon and Surf,

My apologies, point taken on the Simplyhired numbers.

According to both Dare and Hyde Counties websites, the numbers are:

Dare Median: $54,787

Hyde Median: $37,741

I stand corrected.

However, the minimum wage to $15/hour range are entry level wages, and are not meant to be a “living wage”. Higher wages come with career advancements and tenure, it’s as simple as that.

Remember, I n this country, we are guaranteed equal opportunities, but not equal outcomes.

The outcome is up to each individual, to declare otherwise is a call for socialism, where equal misery for all is the norm.

Choose wisely…….

Devildog - 13-06-’18 00:26

There goes devil dodo again. I guess he just ain’t good with numbers and fractions and all that arithmetic. Here are some other numbers that gets Devil dodo’s head spinning: ORV permit holders and passengers make up two percent of visitorship, yet they use up to 40 percent of the beach for offroading. This inbalance must be corrected.

pussycat - 13-06-’18 08:03

I can just see all the owners/real estate folks drooling and licking their chops anticipating investing some cash and reaping gobs of cash with a few additions to their properties . This will change the dynamic completely in OBX . As for lack of workers …wait till Trump and ICE get going ! Not gonna have any house cleaners nor food store check out folks or fish cleaners at Oregon Inlet to name just a few . Higher prices for veggies and fruits will be hitting soon … although maybe getting a good portion of the government handout folks off their keisters and in the fields to make an honest buck might work too ! It’s all just a nasty circle of life we’ve worked ourselves into .

diver531 - 16-06-’18 18:01

Affordable multi-family rental housing is the ONLY solution. Any number of developers should apply to NC Housing Finance Agency to build rentals. Nothing else will solve this problem.

rexcraigo - 18-06-’18 05:12

Oh Yeah …next comes the towns fighting over who will let these multi-family dwellings reside. Gonna be a lot of N.I.M.B.Y .

diver531 - 20-06-’18 15:54

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