Woda Cooper launches Nags Head housing complex and faces tough questions from City Commissioners
By Michael Wagner | Voices of the Outer Banks November 3, 2022
A representative for property developer Woda Cooper made the case for the construction of a 54-unit affordable housing complex called “Commons of Nags Head” during a presentation at the Nov. 2 meeting of Nags Chief Commissioners. The resort, proposed at the corner of Hollowell Street and US 158 across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park, faced community opposition and was placed under a construction moratorium approved by the city commissioners.
Woda Cooper is partnering with Dare County to build a total of 100 workforce housing units, both at Nags Head and the county-owned site on Bowsertown Road on Roanoke Island.
The presentation by Woda Cooper Senior Vice President Denis Blackburne marks the first time the company has formally appeared before Nags’ Chief Commissioners regarding the project.
However, community pushback, along with complaints this summer from residents near a new pizzeria, led commissioners last month to issue a 150-day development moratorium in the town’s historic character area which includes the 4.7 acre parcel of Hollowell Street. The moratorium, staff said, will allow the municipality to review its zoning ordinances.
Blackburne told commissioners at the meeting that his company had a strong reputation. “When we enter a community, we like to stay in that community,” he said, adding that the proposal includes three buildings that will be spread across the site and have just over 100 parking spaces.
Woda Cooper, he said, has built and now manages his more than 400 properties in 16 different states, representing a management of approximately 16,000 units. Blackburne told commissioners that the Woda Cooper developments – which are reserved for those earning between 40, 60 and 80% of the average area income (AMI) – are often used by teachers, school support staff, the hospital staff, entry-level police and firefighters, local government employees, and “of course in this particular community, the hospitality industry.”
He also pointed out that there is no age limit and that many older people also move into Woda Cooper properties.
Blackburne’s presentation, however, came about a week after staff from the town of Nags Head issued a report Oct. 25 to commissioners outlining the project and noting that the salaries of most town employees, including junior police officers and firefighters, are too high to meet income limits. live in the complex. Additionally, the report indicates that many teachers as well as a good segment of healthcare workers would also not qualify under the current AMI calculations. The report noted that “…many employees in the identified sectors are earning salaries in excess of established income ceilings for the proposed project.”
“A primary source of funding for the project would be the use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC),” the report said, noting that the project is a private development that would use a variety of government grants. “Many LIHTC projects are occupied or targeted by older populations who have left the workforce.”
The report went on to highlight that the LIHTC is designed to encourage projects that cater to low-income segments of the community. “This project can provide housing for certain sectors of the workforce; however, because it relies on the LIHTC as a major source of funding…it may not address many of the “essential” sectors identified by the county, including government, health care, and education.
Asked about his response to the report, Blackburne said he had not had a chance to review it and would like to do so before responding.
For his part, the Mayor of Nags Head, Pro Tem Mike Siers, said: “I would like you to have the opportunity to read [the report] and tell me if you think it’s sustainable… I want a better understanding, and I’m sure there are people in the community who want to understand how this is going to work and how it’s going to help our restaurants, our first stakeholders and our workers.
Commissioner Kevin Brinkley said that in addition to rookie police officers in Nags Head, rookie police officers in Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores and Duck all earned more than the AMI’s 80% threshold.
“Two teachers with a starting salary of $41,000 and a bachelor’s degree…couldn’t live there,” he said. “Be transparent about it. The transparency is not there. Our fellow citizens think we are turning our backs on affordable housing, and that is not the case.
He concluded by stating that “you said it at the last meeting, and you said it at this meeting, that quite a few elders [reside in Woda Cooper units]. Seniors also need a good place to stay. But how will this help our workforce? It’s not.”
In addition to the Woda Cooper projects, to which the county has committed a maximum of $9 million, it has also partnered with Coastal Affordable Housing, a North Carolina-based consortium that plans to build 350 to 400 affordable housing units in the county. . The state has committed $35 million to this venture. But so far no site has been secured for these units.