Commentary: Regional approach can help solve Outer Banks, northeast N.C. workforce housing challenge

Commentary: Regional approach can help solve Outer Banks, northeast N.C. workforce housing challenge

November 21st, 2022

As the end of the year approaches, and we think about the things we’re hopeful for in 2023, many of those hopes are based on what we’ve experienced in 2022 regarding trends, challenges and opportunities.

Up front in those trends and challenges is our lack of affordable housing on the Outer Banks and in northeastern North Carolina – it’s a hot topic that collides with a host of complexities that have so far kept large-scale groups from being able to solve it.

What lies at the root of this challenge is the most important acronym in the affordable housing world: NIMBY.


As in the not-in-my-backyard trend that remains entirely undefeated at the local level. We all agree we need workforce housing, yet most have differing views on where it needs to be.

The good news, amidst this frustrating gridlock, is that within this undefeated streak lies a broader opportunity.

Let’s be clear; there is no affordable housing on the Outer Banks. Let’s be even more candid and say that the likelihood of fixing any of our housing issues remains a long-term challenge instead of a short-term solution.

We’re well-served here by the reminder that the first definition of a leader is to define reality, and that’s it. We simply don’t have it on the Outer Banks.

Of course, we’re not alone in that trend, as suburban sprawl across America suggests. Look to the halo counties of Raleigh as an example.

And that reality is the inflection point that matters. Where local resources can’t solve a problem, we turn for hope to regionalism.

Think about regionalism’s success in North Carolina for a moment: the Research Triangle, Piedmont Triad International Airport, Raleigh-Durham Airport, and the Carolina Panthers. These are but a few examples of a host of economic development partnerships that make our state’s economy the envy of much of the nation.

Even our higher education systems are regionalized. For example, the College of the Albemarle is the only community college in the state to serve seven counties. The next largest is four.

The success of those partnerships suggests that the future of our biggest problems lies not in localized and various county-by-county solutions but in a joint regionalism where our elected officials work together and allocate resources, to solve complex issues.

Imagine, for example, a housing complex in Elizabeth City, Columbia, or Camden funded by multiple counties to serve their workforces. Just like we do on a range of other issues. Imagine an Albemarle area-wide housing authority.

Imagine a regional zoning partnership that combines the power of the business community and local government that unties the private sector’s development capabilities with the public sector’s incentives and planning skills.

All of that is to say that as NIMBY continues its win streak, we’ll have to come up with bigger ideas and better solutions to keep our wonderful region as vibrant as we all wish it to be in the future for our children.

Regionalism teaches that we can work together to solve big problems, as many of our fellow citizens have done across our state. Let’s learn from that and begin 2023 with some handshakes, curiosity, and cups of coffee across county lines.

When business, nonprofit, community leaders, and elected officials work together with a shared vision, we can lead our regional communities toward long-lasting solutions.

Clark Twiddy is president of Twiddy & Company and serves as president on the board of the North Carolina Vacation Rental Managers Association (NCVRMA).

Share this Article

Subscribe for Daily Updates

Invalid email address
Send this to a friend