Community discusses what to do about housing
CANTON — Developing a detailed scope of work for a consultant will be the next step in tackling the affordable housing challenges in Haywood County.
From a group discussion, two issues were weighing heavy on the minds of those committed to finding solutions. One dealt with the unmet needs with homeless children and families in the county, and the other involved those earning less than living wages and their struggle to find affordable housing.
Joan Kennedy, a social worker with Haywood County Schools, said that so far, 159 students in the school system have been identified as homeless under federal guidelines.
The definition includes students who don’t have a permanent place to sleep each night. As the year goes on, she is confident the number will approach the 400 level it was at last June.
Older students determined to be homeless often end up couch-surfing with friends, but not knowing if they would be able to return the next day. Younger students are found to be living in a single trailer with their family and up to two other families.
Task force member Virgil Daughtery,who is one of the partners in a tax-exempt affordable housing project in the county, noted the situation isn’t new in Haywood.
“Beth and I had several young men living with us when our kids were in school,” he said.
Five social workers that cover all 16 school campuses in the Haywood County Schools system work with teachers and administrators to offer assistance to students where it is needed. Service organizations and donors in the county pitch in to fund many of the efforts.
There is a backpack program where students can bring home food for the weekend so they will have something to eat when the school breakfast and lunch program isn’t available.
There are ways to provide clothing to students, especially during cold weather, and hygiene products such as toothpaste, soap and deodorant is made available as well. Often the products are donated by local residents who bring in the soap, shampoo and conditioner they have collected when staying in hotels.
Kennedy works with high school students who live independently. Some, she said, are not only taking high school classes, but college-level courses, in addition to holding down a job, paying for car insurance and other living expenses.
“They are just amazing,” she said, adding that generous donors help school social workers provide needed help.
For instance, one donor provided $1,000 in fuel gift cards. Kennedy said she meets the students and uses a gift card to fill up their tank. Another donor provided gift certificates to a local shoe store where social workers could take students shopping for a pair of sneakers, sometimes the first new pair many had ever owned.
Donations earmarked for homeless children can be sent to Haywood County Schools, 1230 N. Main St. Waynesville, NC 28786.
Mike Graham, owner of Juke Box Junction in Bethel, attended the task force meeting for the first time and ended up volunteering to be on a subcommittee to define a scope of work for a consultant who will help define a strategy for achieving Haywood’s goals.
Graham observed there are plenty of homes in the county that are empty for a portion of the year, and that the difficulty for those who are in the workforce seems to be in coming up with a down payment.
Jim Blyth, a builder and real estate broker, spoke of a project undertaken by the Haywood Pathways Center (on which he is a board member) to erect an affordable home for resale in the Jonathan Creek area.
The goal would be to find a buyer in the public service sector, he said, but so far no candidates have emerged. There is an opportunity to build more such homes.
“We’re shocked we don’t have people knocking on our doors to buy a brand new house,” Blyth said of the three-bedroom, two-bath home available for $139,000.
It was noted that 100 percent financing could be arranged for a family with a decent credit score, which would make the payments about $660 before taxes and insurance are thrown in.
Clyde Town Administrator Joy Garland, who was unable to attend the meeting, sent word through Task Force Co-Chairman Dona Stewart that 12 apartment one- and two-bedroom units are being renovated in Clyde and will rent for around $930 a month.
Another issue that came up was finding emergency housing for families.
“The Pathways Center is for single adults, and families are put up in motel rooms, but it usually for three to four days,” Kennedy said.
While homeless adults have several months to figure out a life plan, offering less than a week for a family to do so isn’t enough time to get things together, Kennedy said, noting that before the Pathways Center opened there was a place at Camp New Life where families could be accommodated during the winter months.
Blyth said the Pathways Center helped 80 families last year stay in a motel and said the board is looking at the under-utilized women’s dorm as well as searching for homeless family housing options.
“Paying a motel bill for one to seven nights is just a band-aid on the problem,” he said, noting that the Pathways Center isn’t equipped to take in anyone under the age of 18.
Moving forward, the task force will come up with a specific plan for Haywood’s housing woes to discuss at the March meeting. A subcommittee was formed to intensively research options that can be discussed and then presented to a consultant who will be able to use the document to plot a strategy for success.
When the task force was formed in March 2016, the county agreed to pay for a consultant, estimated to be in the $20,000 range.
The first step was a thorough housing assessment that showed that for Haywood’s median wage, affordable rents should be in the $500 a month level instead of the fair market rent level of $811 a month level.
The study also showed a deficit of 11,000-plus affordable housing units.
The task force consists of representatives from each town in the county, along with several nonprofit organizations, businessmen and private citizens. Those who volunteered to serve on the strategy subcommittee include Graham, Blyth, Waynesville Planning Director Elizabeth Teague, Kennedy, and task force co-chairpersons Stewert and Patsy Davis.