Hundreds in line for affordable housing
With the high demand for rental units in Haywood County, many families are having difficulties finding affordable housing.
Patsy Dowling, Mountain Projects executive director, said there are hundreds of people on a waiting list to receive assistance with affordable housing units.
“The waiting list is so long we aren’t able to add new names to it,” she said.
According to the North Carolina Housing Coalition, more than a million households do not have and cannot afford a safe, stable home in North Carolina. The average hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent is $13.63 — almost twice as much as the minimum wage.
Mountain Projects has worked with developers in the past to build affordable apartment units like Smoky Meadows in Canton, but the 48 units are always at capacity.
“We tried to work with developers early this year for another one of those projects, but we couldn’t find suitable property for that project to qualify (for state funding),” Dowling said.
Meeting the government’s standards is another obstacle when it comes to assisting people with housing. Dowling said the state tax credits available to build affordable housing are very competitive.
And while Mountain Projects can provide financial assistance to someone already in a home, the home or apartment must meet certain government standards and pass an inspection to receive help, yet many older homes in Haywood don’t meet those standards.
But it isn’t just low-wage earners who are having problems affording their rent. Dowling said she knows of many people in the community, including police officers and teacher assistants, who have a hard time meeting all their expense because of the cost of rent.
The government standard formula for housing states that people should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing, but that is rarely the case. According to MIT’s living wage calculator for Haywood County, one adult with one child would need to make more than $18 an hour to afford the basic living expenses. Two adults with no children would need an income provided by one or more jobs totalling $14 an hour, yet many people looking for affordable housing only make minimum wage.
The current demand for rentals reminds Dowling of the 2004 demand that hit Haywood after the floods displaced people, but this time she speculates the demand has been increased by the number of people looking for a rental because they lost their job or went into foreclosure following the recession.
“I’m very concerned about housing,” Dowling said. “I hear stories from clients about several families moving in together to share expenses and that concerns me because it could make for potential problems.”
If people are paying more than they can afford on rent, they have less money to put toward utilities and groceries. Many families don’t have enough money to pay for heating throughout the winter.
Dowling said a number of landlords choose to partner with Mountain Projects and offer lower rent to make it more affordable.
“They don’t increase rent as much as they could and they could definitely charge more on the private market, but they are dedicated to affordable housing,” she said.
“We have some great landlords that have great quality places and charge a lower rent so people can afford it.”
To address the affordable housing shortage in Haywood, Dowling said she would continue to apply for state funding to build more units while also trying to come up with new solutions. In an attempt to eradicate poverty in Haywood County, many people in the community have come together to form subcommittees and think of solutions.
“A lot of community members are interested in housing as well, and I think we’ll come up with some great ideas to address those concerns,” Dowling said.
There is a community-wide effort under way to tackle poverty issues in the county, including a housing subcommittee headed by Pastor Nick Honercamp. The next communitywide meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. May 15 at the Senior Resource Center in Waynesville.
- $1,216: Median monthly homeownership cost (2009 dollars)
- $709: Fair Market Rent for two-bedroom unit
- $13.63: Hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent
- $7.25: Minimum wage in 2012
- $3.88: SSI income as an hourly wage in 2012 (assuming 40 hours per week)
- 42.9%: Percent of renters that don’t earn enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent
- 31%: Percent of households with housing problems [ii]
- 44%: Percent of renter households with housing problems
- 25%: Percent of owner households with housing problems
- 318,963: Number of foreclosure starts between 2005-2010
- 14.7%: Percent of Owner Occupied Units and foreclosure starts
Fair Market Rent means the rent for a less-than-average standard rental.
Source: NC Housing Coalition