18 Questions with Richard Angino: On Equitable Housing

by Sierra Winters

Richard Angino owns Third Wave Housing and strives to make multifamily housing units more accessible to lower-income people. His work involves both the development of new buildings and the renovation of historic buildings. He also helps run Folks for Good Housing, a discussion group for the general community to explore solutions to the housing crisis. Join us for July’s edition of 18 Questions as we dive into this complex topic with many historical nuances!

  1. What was your educational background?

I started out by learning architectural engineering. Halfway through college, I had enough teachers tell me that there were no jobs out there in architecture, given the big recessions at the time. So instead, I got an economics degree. Now, I work in developing tax credit properties; I dabble in some of the architecture and design work that goes into our properties, but I always let a professional finish it.

  1. What is a “tax credit property”?

In the 1980s, each state was given funds and basic guidelines for tax credit properties. Each state was told to come up with its own rules regulating how it could best use the money. So basically, for every dollar we get, we sell to a corporation and they pay us cash. Then that cash gets turned into property. But in return, you must have your rental income reduced to a certain level. You end up with a smaller mortgage but also with credits that build a gap.

  1. How do your properties compare to traditional market properties?

When you drive by one of our properties, you can’t tell the difference between workforce housing and traditional market rate. And in reality, it’s actually gone a little bit the other way; other than the very high-end luxury properties, our properties look better than the local traditional housing units.

  1. How have you interacted with tenants in the past?

I tell people I work on workforce housing and they ask me how I can trust anyone. There is a preconception that everybody with an income on the lower end is somehow bad. When you have a pavilion with chairs and picnic benches, many people will chain them to the concrete to prevent theft. We decided not to do that. We’ve lost maybe one chair over the last six years out of ten properties. In fact, I went to one of the properties to take some chairs away to be fixed. Three women saw me and when I came into the light, they said, “Oh, it’s you, Richard.” They were trying to figure out if they should call the police or if they should call management because somebody was stealing the chairs.

  1. What is “Folks for Good Housing”?

Folks for Good Housing is a group that I started with some folks in the area who were frustrated about the lack of workforce housing. We began a discussion group that gets together once a month. We have no specific agenda; we’re just spreading the knowledge so that more people understand what’s happening. We’ve done some one-on-one classes where we’ve talked about different housing-related subjects.

We’ve gathered a lot of data from these meetings. People were saying housing’s “bad.” And what we’ve been trying to tell people is you really need to get to the facts, not just say we need to “fix the housing issue because it’s such a big issue.”

  1. How did Third Wave Housing begin?

The concept came out of a silly conversation at lunch one day with my wife and a city council member.

While at lunch, they asked me why I don’t build housing here in Winston-Salem. I told them it was not friendly enough for me to want to work here. They encouraged me to take some time and try to make it work. By now, we’ve built about 120 units here. It’s slow going, but it’s happening.

  1. What are the backgrounds of people who participate in Folks for Good Housing?

Forty to fifty people are active in Folks for Good Housing and genuinely want to take time out of their days to discuss housing.

We have some professional career people, like those from Habitat for Humanity, who are involved and some professional builders who build single-family houses. We have some social workers. We have a good amount of church groups who are trying to figure out how to keep parishioners near their churches. We have different employers. We have banks, and we have medical facilities, and then we have some people who are just interested citizens of Winston-Salem.

  1. Give an overview of the major housing issues Forsyth County is currently facing.

In Forsyth County, our population is growing by eight people each day. Over the last 10 years, we’ve only built 12,000 housing units compared to the 25,000 we usually build. So we are ending up with a situation where we have a lot of people who are moving to Winston-Salem and Forsyth County that are quite a bit wealthier and a bit older. They therefore displace those who were already living here.

  1. Describe this process of displacement in more detail.

Our population is growing with people coming from Texas, California, and New York. North Carolina, the fourth fastest-growing state, is absorbing a lot of people from higher-income states. They’re selling their houses, moving here, and thinking, “Wow, this is incredible. I could buy a bigger house here for far less money.”

Over 50% of those moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are over 55. A majority of them have incomes that are over $100,000. Many have incomes over $150,000. That’s far more than the average or median income of the city. Because we do not have enough housing units, people are being displaced. This means it is almost impossible for a person with Section Eight vouchers to find a unit here in Forsyth County.

These people are the same ones who work in restaurants and provide services. The demographic shift is changing the entire city’s landscape, so it is in everyone’s best interest to solve the housing puzzle. Restaurants might be closed more days each week, and they might lack staff on the days they are open. Workers often sleep in their cars; even if they have homes, it may be too daunting of a commute (financially, physically, and mentally) to drive back and forth each day.

  1. How does the housing landscape in Winston-Salem compare with other communities where you have worked?

Winterville is largely the workforce neighborhood from which people commute every day for work in Asheville. The city called me and said they had a big challenge: the folks who traditionally lived in the city couldn’t live there anymore. More and more wealthy seniors were buying that property, often as second homes. Because the workforce couldn’t afford Asheville anymore, they moved into suburbs and small cities.

Asheville ended up with a deficit of kids in their schools. They were trying to figure out how to keep teachers and younger families in the community. Additionally, half the tax bills were being sent to out-of-state people.

  1. How are demographics changing in the properties you work on?

We now have many seniors living in our properties because it is more affordable than market-rate houses. Most of our apartment buildings average about 1.3 people per unit, which is pretty small. That’s about one person short from where we were 20 years ago.

We’re changing the design of buildings to include more elevators. This helps not only older people, but also younger folks trying to drag groceries. The downside is that now you’re putting people closer together, and they will hear some sounds through the walls and floors. There are pros and cons, many of which we become accustomed to over time.

  1. Describe the perceptions people have about single-family housing versus apartment-style living.

Unfortunately, a generally negative opinion prevails about people who live in multi-family establishments. People don’t want to live in the same neighborhood as them. But the dynamics are changing; we now have people living in apartments who are making way more money than folks who live in single-family homes. People have been told for many years what’s good and bad about housing and what to expect from certain housing types. We need to shake some of that up and that’s what we’ve been doing with Folks for Good Housing.

Sharing land or a housing unit with others allows people to divvy the responsibility of taking care of the property and build a community where everyone is watching out for each other. A lot of people are looking for socially conducive housing right now, as opposed to often sterile single-family housing units.

  1. How has the availability of workforce housing changed over time in Winston-Salem?

Building units behind houses (what we now call “granny flats”) used to be common, but these were mostly outlawed in the 1920s and 1930s. Mill companies then began building mill villages, and everybody had their employee housing. However, over the last 50 years, employers have not worried about housing their employees. We need big employers to start thinking about how they can support housing establishments to shelter their employees and their well-being.

We’ve noticed employers are moving their employees to Charlotte, where they are more proactive in creating workforce housing. Winston-Salem could quietly lose many more companies in the same way.

In the 1970s, a lot of land in Winston-Salem was downzoned, meaning that housing density had to be reduced. Single-family houses, therefore, had to be built larger. Streets were also widened so people could travel in and out of the city more quickly. In the 1970s, they did not foresee what we are experiencing now: we are running out of land.

This housing crisis differs from the past because we have so much more population density and many more rules that restrict us from quickly and efficiently building housing units. Nowadays, it takes a couple of years to get through the approval process.

  1. What do people look for in houses these days?

People want more space in their houses now. In the 1950s, our average houses were a little over 1100 square feet. In the 1970s, we grew to 1700 square feet, and now we’re up to about 2,600 square feet for single-family houses. The cost of building a site to put a house on is so expensive that you have to develop that big to make money.

Accessory housing units are often met with resistance, but we try to educate people that they are, in fact, a good investment. You can let other people rent them for the time being, and then perhaps your elderly family members can stay there later on. Or maybe your kids can stay there once they graduate college.

  1. What does the homeless population look like in Winston-Salem?

I see a lot more people camping out in the woods these days. The federal and state governments have been cutting back on subsidies for lower-income folks. People with Section Eight vouchers can’t necessarily find places to live.

  1. What is your opinion on tiny homes?

I follow a lot of Japanese architecture, and they can create great spaces that house families of four in what many Americans would consider to be the size of their master bedroom or bathroom. I think those tiny homes are a great introduction to doing more with less because there has been enough press and many TV shows that show how cool they are. Tiny homes also allow people to have ownership while not having to deal with a huge mortgage.

It’s counter to 50 years’ worth of conditioning to build and buy bigger houses. People have been told that investing in bigger houses is a means to become wealthy. But that’s often not the case.

  1. How do you keep your spirits up in such taxing work?

I find this job really fun because you can change so many people’s lives by doing it, but at the same time, it’s getting more and more cumbersome. Because of inflation and construction costs, it gets more and more difficult each year to build these properties statewide and nationwide.

However, I don’t like to complain about things. I want to point issues out and say, “Here’s something that’s not right,” and then treat them as challenges to solve.

  1. In your opinion, what is most commonly misunderstood about affordable housing?

There is a misconception that single-family houses are the answer for everybody. In reality, there are mixed opinions on this subject, especially among younger generations. Many Baby Boomers are interested in downsizing, and many Millennials think living in an apartment is cool. But sometimes, their choice to live in an apartment is not a choice, but the result of a financial inability to purchase or rent a single-family unit.

Historical political interests have been involved in encouraging people to live in single-family houses. The idea was that if you owned a house, then you weren’t a communist. Apartments were viewed as a socialist enterprise. Many cool apartment buildings in the 1950s and 1960s ended up getting cleared out and turned into public housing (Section 8-type facilities).

I believe we need to be patient with other people and be open to ideas that aren’t the same as ours. The city council members and people making our laws need to overcome generational differences and understand that what was considered desirable when they were young is different than what people deem desirable now.

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