Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Jessica Holmes delivered the state of the city and county address at a Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday.
They focused mostly on the highlights, ticking off items like economic development, population growth, and school quality. They also addressed areas that keep them up at night. Housing affordability topped on that list, and has been a growing concern for the past few years.
Wake County grows by 63 people every single day, which has put a squeeze on housing availability. The influx of people has driven up housing costs, and in some cases, forced renters out of their homes as landlords look to sell their properties for a profit.
Holmes highlighted a number through the public school prism, saying there are more than 2,000 homeless or housing insecure students in Wake County Public Schools.
"I focus on the children specifically, because many people don't realize that we have more homeless children in our school system, than many districts have children," she said.
McFarlane added that water and sewer supply are also high on her list of concerns. For example, the city has identified $1.75 billion in public utilities infrastructure costs in the coming decade, she said.
Other highlights from Holmes' and McFarlane's presentations include:
- New programs for early education. "Having access to early childhood (education) is not just something that feels good," Holmes said. "It's not just something that we should do because it's the right thing, even. But preparing our students – and particularly our most challenging students – at such an early age, allows them to have greater long-term life outcomes. And research shows that's not just important for individual success, but for our economy."
- More trails and greenways. The county has plans for 274 new miles of trails and greenway throughout the county.
- A $2.3 billion transit plan approved by the Wake taxpayers. When it's done, 80 percent of jobs and more than 50 percent of homes will be within walking distance to transit.
- Living wage and parental leave plans. Wake County government employees earn a living wage of at least $15 per hour, and the county instituted parental leave plans for both women and men. "Because we know that the stronger the household, the stronger the children for our workforce," said Holmes.
- More grant programs. Raleigh added grant programs to encourage and support small business investment. Last year Raleigh awarded 26 grants worth $450,000.
- Hillsborough Street improvement. Phase 2 of this project added a median and installed roundabouts at intersections throughout the North Carolina State University campus.
- More GoRaleigh routes. Eight new GoRaleigh routes beginning Jan. 1, and the bike share program should be underway by the end of the year.
- Opening of Union Station. McFarlane said she hopes the new Raleigh train station in the Warehouse District can become an attractive place for businesses.
- Downtown growth. In the past three years, new residents have moved in to 1,800 units and the population is now about 8,500. The city sees 3.4 million visitors per year, and 1 million attend downtown special events.
- Other renovation projects. Renovation projects at Moore Square and Dorothea Dix Park are underway.