WASHINGTON, N.C. (WNCT) — Beaufort County officials are discussing ways to improve access to affordable workforce housing in the area.

“I think most of us that have gone around and talked to businesses, talked to the school district… have heard about the problems businesses have attracting people to come to work, problems that the school district has attracting teachers, problems that the hospital has getting nurses,” Beaufort County Commissioner John Rebholz said during a board meeting Monday. “One of the issues has been housing — availability of housing that matches the scale or the price range that workers are in.”

According to the North Carolina Housing Coalition’s 2021 Beaufort County housing profile, which uses data from the American Community Survey and Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43% of surveyed renters (2,578 households) had difficulty affording their homes, as did 24% of homeowners (3,347 households).

“I don’t know what the solution is,” Rebholz added. “I know the city (of Washington) is also looking at it. It was in their extended plan they just went through. … I think we owe our constituents a look at this as to what could be done.

“I’m not talking about spending money, but a look at what could be done to solve this problem and provide opportunities for developers to come in and solve our problems.”

Rebholz talked about the county potentially forming a task force consisting of local stakeholders who could discuss possible solutions. The commissioners took no formal action on the topic Monday, but they shared some observations and ideas on the county’s workforce housing situation. Several commissioners discussed the idea of devoting some of the county’s economic development resources to affordable housing.

“We’ve had some conversations with a new developer in town through our economic development,” Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood said. “We don’t focus economic development on housing. … Economic development is helping our existing industries and recruiting new businesses. But we had a conversation recently with a developer, and what you’re talking about is workforce affordable housing.

“The 400-lot subdivision (the city of Washington) has talked about, my understanding is north of $300,000. That’s not affordable for workforce housing.

“The conversation we had with this developer, they have a model that they’re working on,” Alligood added. “He said that right now, because of supply chain issues, cost of material, those kinds of things, it’s $1,200 right now for them to build a one-bedroom and rent it. It’s $1,200 a month. And that’s as tight as they can get it.”

Alligood said the discussions with the developer are ongoing. He said there are opportunities to help improve the price of housing, which could include using American Rescue Plan funds to work with a developer. He said it’s generally easier for city governments to pursue those opportunities in comparison to county governments.

“We’re continuing to have those conversations,” Alligood said. “It is something that is recognized very clearly. I think the developers recognize that. They’re just trying to figure out a way to make it affordable, but right now it’s extremely unaffordable simply because of the cost.

“We are a waterfront community and that drives real estate prices way up. And people are willing to pay that. Supply and demand and market — look at what houses are selling for right now in Beaufort County.

“People would love to come here and live, but they can’t afford to right now. So we’ve got to figure out a way to do that. And I think we can. It’s going to take some time.”