Multimillion dollar investment by Cape Fear Collective aims to preserve existing affordable housing units

Cape Fear Collective’s “Collective Ventures platform” is actually buying a way into the problem
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 6:50 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Whether you’re looking to buy or rent a home, skyrocketing prices and low inventory have made it challenging to find a place to live within your budget.

“It’s a very difficult environment for affordable housing, and it’s not just in Wilmington, New Hanover County, its really all over the nation. I mean, some people say we’re in an affordable housing crisis,” said the community development and housing planner for the City of Wilmington, Suzanne Rogers. “Those front line workers who make $15 or up to $20 an hour, its just not enough to afford to buy or rent here without really stretching your budget more than it can reasonably stretch.”

The City of Wilmington has been working to address the crisis for years, running loan programs, encouraging landlords to repair and rent out their units, and seeking out developers to bring workforce housing into the region.

The problem is, across the board, the wages simply aren’t increasing as fast as the prices are. Ensuring there’s enough affordable housing options is a job too big for local governments and public funds to fix alone.

It’s why Cape Fear Collective’s “Collective Ventures platform” is actually buying their way into the problem. The group is tapping into the private sector, sourcing money from banks and investors to become landlords and keep rents under the annual median income.

At the end of January, the platform closed on $10.6 million worth of properties across the city, despite the region’s surging real estate market.

“From the last portfolio we bought to this one, it’s essentially more expensive, but we’re able to preserve about 70 units,” said Meaghan Dennison, interim CEO of Cape Fear Collective. “We feel like we’re a drop in the bucket in terms of the work happening in the region, but if we can preserve even 100 units of affordable housing, that’s our role and we want to continue to do that.”

Each unit of those 70 housing units will now be preserved as affordable rentals.

Because many of the homes already have tenants living there, building the trust of those families is at the top of the list for Cape Fear Collective.

“The way we do that is to surge renovations, so we’re not looking for any quick fixes here, we’re looking for quality renovations to these homes to make them safe and comfortable,” said Dennison. “We are not going to sell these properties out from underneath individuals, and so hopefully we provide a little bit of comfort.”

The deal doesn’t just include low rents and renovations; the platform also provides residents with wraparound support. Cape Fear Collective has staff tasked to connect tenants with helpful resources already being offered by nonprofits or governments, like the city’s homebuyer program.

It’s work that leaves leaders at the City of Wilmington hopeful.

“It’s really great to have a partner like Cape Fear Collective who can work with the private sector and the public sector and can build that bridge, and has that commitment to the low and moderate income families that are being left out,” said Rogers. ”I believe that there’s a real commitment to addressing this problem, so I’m very optimistic that our local leaders understand the problem and they’re committed to addressing it.”

Cape Fear Collective leaders say they hope to continue their work buying up available units in New Hanover County while also developing strategies to help some of the more rural communities around Wilmington that don’t have the same number of available units on the market.

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