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Poll shows voters support housing bond, but not a tax hike to pay for it

Two surveys show that fewer than half of the people polled would support a property tax hike to pay for it
Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 4:50 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For years now the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County have been discussing ways to address the affordable housing shortage in the region. One of the ideas that seemed to have the support of officials was the implementation of a $50 million housing bond.

Leaders (and even residents) support the idea, but two surveys show that fewer than half of the people polled would support a property tax hike to pay for it.

In November, the Sales Tax and Housing Bond Committee, which comprises elected officials from the city and county, as well as some staff from both organizations heard from Natalie English, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce President about a recent poll the chamber conducted.

The group hired a political pollster to conduct a voter opinion poll of 300 people, that would make up the likely voter turnout for an election.

“She [English] stated the responses for and against a $50 million housing bond were almost evenly split, with 48% in favor and 46% in opposition. She reviewed some of the questions posed on the survey that were intended to delve into the reasons for the yes or no responses,” she stated. “When the amount of the proposed bond was reduced by half to $25 million, the response in favor of the bond dropped by 1%,” according to meeting minutes.

In the spring and summer of 2021 leaders in the community pushed their support for such a program, but, according to the survey conducted by UNCG, public opinion was significantly higher in support of a housing bond compared to the latest results. Despite the majority of the respondents saying they would support a housing bond, more than half of the same people said they would not support a property tax increase.

You can’t have one without the other.

A survey conducted by UNCG shows a majority of people would be in support of a local housing...
A survey conducted by UNCG shows a majority of people would be in support of a local housing bond.(WECT)

Any sort of bond has to be funded through a tax increase.

“We all agree and I think what you have heard consistently is the public realizes there’s a problem here and we want to solve it, but when it comes down to who pays for it — that’s where it loses lots of the enthusiasm. Everybody wants it but they don’t want to pay for it,” New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple said.

English echoed that sentiment.

“Our community does understand and appreciate the need for more workforce housing. The issue isn’t whether we need it or should we do it, it’s how will we pay for it. In both the UNC Greensboro survey and the voter opinion poll, the majority said I don’t want my property taxes to be used,” she said.

The idea of passing a bond to help with affordable housing is nothing new; in fact, in cities like Durham and Greensboro, housing bonds have gained support and are already being used to bridge the affordability gap.

Bond referendums have succeeded in Wilmington and New Hanover County in the past, notably, the 2016 Parks Bond which helped pay for parks across the city including the new Riverfront Park. A transportation bond also passed in 2014. Like all bonds, in order to pay for them, voters have to approve them on a ballot, and convincing people to willingly increase their property taxes can be difficult.

For projects like parks and roads, things that everyone can see a tangible final product, like North Waterfront Park, it’s easier to ‘sell’ to the public.

“That is the challenge and selling a bond that is not as tangible and clear on where investments will go is a little bit harder when you’re campaigning to try and get one passed,” English said.

Another struggle is the fact that there is no magic bullet to help ease the affordability burdens, but English said that is a problem that will be addressed.

“There will be a plan, there will be an identification of where investments should go, and at the end of the day the question is, can we convince the voters to support the bond issue? If we cannot then the $50 million isn’t there,” she said.

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