MIDTOWN SPOTLIGHT: Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson
by Tara Robbins, Executive Director
I managed to catch "Mr. Greenjeans" in the car running between appointments and was grateful to have a
few minutes to get his take on some key issues. I've been fortunate to know Sig for many years so it was an
easy and candid exchange. 'Easy' might not be the right word when you cue up issues like affordable housing
and transportation funding but his insights and goals were clear and justified.
Affordable Housing is a critical issue to our county’s success. When I inquired about the role of the county
versus the role of the city – Sig was quick to point out that the Area Median Income or AMI is used to separate
levels of need. The county is responsible for programs assisting the lowest of the income earners <40% of AMI,
while the cities focus more on ‘workforce housing’ and >40% of AMI. how Wake County can stay ahead of affordable housing and avoid 'tent cities' of homelessness that we've seen in other cities, Sig was most excited about an initiative called 'Housing First'. This program targets in on the familiar faces we see repeatedly showing up at the police lock-up, or the emergency room, or the homeless shelters. "These folks often have compounded issues, not just of homelessness but mental health, physical health, domestic violence or substance abuse".
The Housing First program does not make them engage in a series of other service programs before being eligible for housing. Finding the root of their problem and providing services saves the county time and money. Sig explained that there are a series of “Social Determinants of Health” and that sadly one’s zip code can say a lot about your health, life expectancy and other variables. As defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Social Determinants of Health are “Conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. We must identify and address where these conditions are the worst.
‘One stop shopping’ for available services is an ongoing priority for the city and county. The new Oak City Center (which will replace the Oak City Outreach Center) will be able to provide coordinated care to individuals and families addressing the root issues and matching up available services.
“Moving forward, the biggest piece of this puzzle is policy” says Hutchinson, “elected leaders must embrace land use and transportation policies that expand densities and offer realistic transit options.” Attitudes about housing have to shift ~ more supply is necessary, and greater density has to be part of that.” The more housing there is the more affordable housing can be. Sig ended our discussion on this topic by saying that the public sector is not going to be able to solve the affordable housing needs along. The private sector is going to have a big role to play. So, reading between the lines, we need our elected leaders to make significant policy change which allow and encourage more housing.