MANTEO, N.C. (WAVY) — By now, you’ve seen the headlines and heard the stories about the 2021 housing market.
Prices are through the roof and rentals are impossible to find.
It’s true across the country, but in the Outer Banks, residents and county leaders say the situation has reached a crisis point.
The Outer Banks Hospital asked for leads on Facebook in April, writing that its staff, from techs to nurses and even physicians, had lost their long-term rentals and couldn’t find anywhere to stay.
In July, when the Dare County Board of Commissioners held a special meeting to address the housing shortage, chairman Bob Woodard said the market demanded 1,200 units for its essential workers.
“We’ve got to stop talking about it,” Woodard told his fellow commissioners. “And we’ve got to start doing something.”
Pamela Anderson rents out three units in the county. She attended the meeting to testify to the overwhelming need for affordable housing and to pitch a site on which she believes the county could build units.
“We had an opening at one of our rental apartments, and we had over 100 inquiries within hours,” Anderson said. “It’s out of control.”
Anderson says she got the overwhelming response because she rents her units for $800 per month, including water and electric.
Other homeowners and landlords appear to be motivated to make a bigger profit, either by converting rentals to short-term via Airbnb and Vrbo, or by selling them while prices are high.
“There are people out there that are getting kicked out of their residence so that the God-blessed [landlord] can rent it for Airbnb and charge triple, quadruple the God-blessed amount for a week,” Woodard said. “It absolutely makes you sick to your stomach.”
Lifelong Dare County resident Margaret Guardado says her landlord told her earlier this year she’d have to move out because he wanted to list the property on Airbnb.
As her search dragged on for months, she sent her son to live with his father and moved into a friend’s camper.
“It’s my home,” she said. “It breaks my heart to see people for 30-plus years they’re having to move out to Edenton or Englehart because they can’t find anywhere to go.”
Guardado eventually found housing across the county line, in Powell’s Point.
Nags Head resident Chris Furey — also forced out of Dare County by a lack of housing options — had to take his family much farther, all the way to West Virginia.
“This is a bigger issue than me,” he said. “I’m happy I have the opportunity to speak up about it, but it’s going to take a lot of figuring out, and it needs to happen soon, otherwise you’re not going to have a local community.”
Like Guardado and Anderson, Furey wants to see action at the county level, but he dislikes its current approach.
“I don’t believe the answer is stuffing everyone into affordable housing,” he said. “That would be unfair to the people who have built the community, from the fishermen all the way to the contractors and the housekeepers.”
The commissioners are exploring two proposals in Manteo: building mixed-income housing on county-owned land off Bowsertown Road and converting the Elizabethan Inn into rental housing.
Together, the sites would create about 200 units, just a fraction of what’s needed.
The proposals are also just that — proposals — and would likely more than a year or longer to become reality.
The county does not currently restrict short-term rentals anywhere in the county, according to its planning director.
When asked in a follow-up phone call with 10 On Your Side if he regretted not implementing some regulations and restrictions on apps like Airbnb, Woodard said commissioners may have to explore that option.
“That was new to us, so it was difficult to figure it out as to who was doing what,” he said. “But we probably need to regroup and readdress it, because we’re hearing horror stories that I don’t like.”