Equity Housing

Time for Action on ADUs

Raleigh4All was started with a mission of advocating for a more inclusive community. To do that, we seek a space for true dialogue – which means educating and listening – on how a comprehensive policy platform that addresses Housing, Transportation, Land Use, Economic Development and Equity can help our City become more inclusive.

We have our work cut out for us. According to Opportunity Insights, a research and policy institute at Harvard that “is dedicated to understanding why upward mobility and economic progress have stalled for so many US families”, Raleigh ranks only ahead of Atlanta and Charlotte in terms of economic mobility. The most damning statistic for Raleigh is that a child born into the bottom quartile of income has just a 5 percent chance of moving into the top quartile as an adult. The Urban Institute, for its part, has created a ranking of inclusion across 274 of the largest cities in the United States. Raleigh ranks 155 overall, and has only become less inclusive since the City’s economic development boom began. The story is even worse for black residents of Raleigh, which ranks just 219 out of 274 in terms of racial inclusion.

The work of Opportunity Insights, the Urban Institute and others is based on the fundamental truth that inclusion is a place-based concept. So much of what determines a person’s economic outlook is determined by where they grew up, where they live, and the policies that govern those places. The key factors that determine economic mobility are racial segregation, poverty rates, economic inequality and access to social capital (having access to others and organizations that can help a person succeed).

In the face of Raleigh’s poor opportunity metrics, along with an increasingly unaffordable housing picture, Raleigh4All supports a more inclusive housing strategy. The first major attempt at creating a more equitable housing policy in Raleigh has been a years-long attempt at removing barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which help create more inclusive neighborhoods. . Despite hearing from far more supporters of ADUs than opponents at public meetings, City Council is set this week to approve a new ADU ordinance that they claim is a compromise and that would create a new ADU Overlay. As many have stated, the overlay is unnecessarily burdensome and will likely create no new units. Additionally, the balloting method that will be used to gauge neighborhood support for an ADU overlay is open only to property owners. For the record, Raleigh is the only major North Carolina city that does not allow ADUs. Nationally, we are one of just a few.  

Council voted 5-2 at its most recent meeting to approve the overlay – Mayor McFarlane was out sick. Due to an administrative requirement, Council will have to vote again. Assuming McFarlane votes against the Overlay – she’s been a proponent for an as-of-right policy – we can count David Cox, Stef Mendell, Dickie Thompson, Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder as the five council members who will vote for the overlay.  Let’s take a look at what each of those Council members has had to say about ADUs:

Stef Mendell – In 2016, the Raleigh Planning Department conducted a survey of Mordecai residents to gauge community support for an ADU pilot program in their neighborhood. The survey was left open to non-Mordecai residents, so others provided comment. One of those people was pre-Council Stef Mendell. This is what Mendell had to say:

“Unless strictly regulated by the City, ADUs can drastically change the character of the neighborhood, particularly visually, and population density-wise. It is one thing to build an ADU for a relative to live in to help with family situations. It is an entirely different thing to allow ADUs that are used solely as rental units to generate income. Many times, that leads to a decline in the quality of life in the neighborhood”

Dickie Thompson – At the February 6 Council meeting, Thompson said of ADUs, “One of the things that makes Raleigh great is that we have great neighborhoods…We’re not against them. Actually, we’re for them. But we also are for protecting neighborhoods and letting folks be good neighbors for each other.”

David Cox – Cox frequently states that he supports extending democracy as much as possible. On ADUs, that means letting neighborhoods decide. On Twitter, Cox stated that he supports “involving people in the decision-making.”

Kay Crowder – Crowder has been noticeably quiet on the issue. However, she has supported the Overlay proposal and opposed an as-of-right ordinance in the past. In 2014, as Council considered allowing ADUs across the city as part of the new Unified Development Ordinance, Crowder argued that allowing ADUs would increase the number of renters in a neighborhood and discourage home ownership. Crowder also chairs the
Growth and Natural Resources Committee – a position she could have used to leverage support for this housing option.

Russ Stephenson – The owner of three ADUs on his own property, Stephenson claims support for ADUs but has opposed allowing them citywide without barriers like the overlay. On Twitter, Stephenson wrote, “I’ve tried since 2012 to get a citywide ADU ordinance adopted that would avoid the (neighborhood ballot approach), but Council has always been too polarized. The current compromise is, by either side’s definition, imperfect. But it is a positive step to citywide ADUs.”

So, to sum up. We have Council members  who are on record as saying that introducing renters into primarily owner-occupied neighborhoods “reduces the quality of life.” One can assume this is speaking to the quality of life of homeowners. In a city where more than 50% of households are renters, this is frankly, out of touch. Other council members claim to be proponents of democracy, yet advocate for a system in which only homeowners can vote. That is not democracy, that is classism. Others allude to “protecting” Raleigh’s “great” neighborhoods. And our question is, protect from whom?

Here are same maps illustrating key socioeconomic data points and where our councilmembers live. We’ll let you decide whether these maps tell us anything, but here are a few takeaways:

The renter population in Council members’ census tracts is as follows: Cox: 24%; Thompson: 60%; Mendell: 35%; Stephenson: 76%, Crowder: 44%; Stewart: 47%; Branch: 24%; McFarlane: 39%. Renters account for 52.3 percent of Raleigh residents.

The black population in Council members’ census tracts is as follows: Cox: 7.1%; Thompson: 10.5%; Mendell: 2.6%, Stephenson: 3.9%, Crowder: 7.7%; Stewart: 62%; Branch: 65.9%; McFarlane: 1.5%. Blacks account for 29.3 percent of Raleigh residents.

The Hispanic population in Council members’ districts is as follows: Cox: 4%; Thompson: 16.4%; Mendell: 1.9%, Stephenson: 3.1%, Crowder: 4.3%; Stewart: 8.6%; Branch: 17.7%; McFarlane: 2.2%. Hispanics account for 11.4 percent of Raleigh residents.

For income, we can use the smaller, more precise census block groups. Here are the median incomes in the block groups in which Raleigh council members reside: Cox: $102,392; Thompson: $50,081; Mendell: $94,000; Stephenson: $27,015; Crowder: $92,050; Stewart: $33,155; Branch: $66,007; McFarlane: $99,444. The median income in Raleigh is $54,581.

ADUs are a way we can introduce needed incremental density, housing options and income diverse neighborhoods into a shamefully opportunity-poor Raleigh. States like Washington and California, and cities like Minneapolis, Asheville, Atlanta and Durham, among many others, are making ADUs a critical part of their housing solutions. If the 5-vote pro-Overlay coalition holds on Tuesday, we will continue down the path of exclusivity, segregation and inequality. That’s not a trajectory any of us should be comfortable with. Perhaps the only way we can become more inclusive is to elect council members who live in neighborhoods that are more like Raleigh as a whole.

2 thoughts on “Time for Action on ADUs

  1. Great article – one point to update. “In 2013, as Council considered allowing ADUs across the city as part of the new Unified Development Ordinance, Crowder argued that allowing ADUs would increase the number of renters in a neighborhood and discourage home ownership.”

    Kay was appointed to council in 2014. You may mean Thomas Crowder and while their policies are similar we shouldn’t confuse one with the other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top