Can first responders afford to live in Wilmington?


Wilmington firefighters can earn as low as $12.24 an hour. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Wilmington Fire Department)
Wilmington firefighters can earn as low as $12.24 an hour. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Wilmington Fire Department)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The short answer is, at the entry-level, maybe. There’s opportunity to earn something close to the area’s median income — $53,400 for a single person, $76,200 for a four-person family — in higher-ranking roles, but for most entry-level positions, it may be tough to snag a rental and impossible to find an affordable home.

It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many public servants can’t afford local housing, but it’s evident when marked law enforcement vehicles can be seen parked outside county lines.

RELATED: What’s a living wage in New Hanover County?

The long-term effects of public employees being unable to afford to live in the area they serve can be far-reaching, according to Patrick Bowen, president of Bowen National Research.

“We’re starting to see this theme of cities’ workforces, particularly those that are earning probably less than $20 and hour, maybe even under $15 an hour in many cases, they’re getting forced out in terms of being able to afford a rental unit, let alone trying to buy a home is probably impossible for them,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Bowen recently delivered a 263-page housing needs assessment to the city and county that will likely be used as the basis for local officials to finally take significant action in addressing affordable housing after years of talking about the problem. Should patterns trend the same direction without intervention, Bowen thinks housing costs and low inventory could further push out lower-income earners.

“That’s my concern for Wilmington,” he said. “You might get to the point where you cannot sustain your workforce.”

The area’s affordable housing crisis doesn’t target public employees, but they’re often pointed to as representing the face of the problem. Often confused with public housing, affordable housing can get wrapped in negative connotations, with some people apprehensive about low-income people moving in next door. If that person is a first responder or teacher, the resistance typically drops.

In comparable southeastern districts Bowen has studied, public employees living great distances from the area they serve can lead to turnover. This can increase costs for local governments to continue to train and recruit new employees.

“A lot of people lose sight of how housing is tied to the local economy,” Bowen said. “Wilmington wants to get ahead of this and I think they are.”

View public servant’s salaries compared to common affordability benchmarks below. Click to enlarge:

Data courtesy of New Hanover County, City of Wilmington, NHCS, and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. (Port City Daily graphic/Johanna F. Still)
Data courtesy of New Hanover County, City of Wilmington, NHCS, and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. (Port City Daily graphic/Johanna F. Still)

Cost to live

Half of all renter households in New Hanover County are cost-burdened, meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on housing. Nearly 28% are severely…



Read More: Can first responders afford to live in Wilmington?

728×90