Raleigh leader wants investor home data, praises N&O series

Raleigh needs to know how many investor-owned homes are available in the city and what, if anything, the city can do to get those homes into the hands of people who need them, says Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Stewart.

“We cannot think of the housing market as a free and fair system when we have move-in ready homes sitting vacant during a housing crisis,” Stewart told her City Council colleagues on Tuesday afternoon.

Stewart highlighted the Security for Sale series, reported and published by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, that looks at the trend of corporate investors buying houses and turning them into rental property. The months-long investigation found more than 40,000 single-family properties in North Carolina are now held by 20 companies.

Stewart said she’s seen her own neighborhood affected by corporate landlords buying single-family houses.

“This practice hit close to home for me last summer after my neighbors, who were renters, were asked to move,” Stewart said. “Their home was put on the market with an exorbitant price tag — without any improvements done to the property — resulting in the home sitting vacant for a year.

“The corporate investor is finally having renovations done, but in the meantime, a home that previously provided housing in my neighborhood is now sitting vacant, along with at least three other vacant and move-in ready homes nearby,” she said.

“How — one might ask — can homes sit vacant for this long, in this housing market?” she said.

Raleigh council member Nicole Stewart talks with city attorney Robin Tatum before the Raleigh City Council meeting at the Municipal Building in Raleigh, N.C. Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Ethan Hyman

Removing homes from the market

Stewart praised the city’s actions to create and preserve affordable housing like the $80 million affordable housing bond that was approved in 2020 and the newly created eviction prevention partnership with Campbell Law School.

Those were the right decisions, she said, but “this issue of homes being removed from our available housing supply” must also be part of the city’s efforts to address the housing crisis.

“I think most people who are working with us to meet the housing needs of this community truly understand the city’s limitations to address the rising costs of housing,” Stewart said. “When we talk about the housing market, we like to think of it as a free and fair system. But when individuals and families have to compete with huge corporations, it’s not a fair competition.”

Last summer Stewart asked how many vacant homes are in Raleigh, with staff still working to get that information.

“One figure I have heard recently from Coastal Federal Credit Union is that 13,000 homes in Wake County are owned by these investment companies and that only about half of them are being rented,” Stewart said. “I asked our city attorney if there was anything Raleigh could do to regulate this and ensure our community has fair access to our housing market. Not surprisingly, our authority is incredibly limited.”

She asked the city manager to report back to the City Council in an upcoming meeting to have a “broader conversation on how the city can continue to address the housing needs of our community.”

Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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