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Almost $700K awarded in first round of HOME Funds

Building more affordable housing isn't the only way to improve access to housing, explains Russ Harris of the Southwestern Commission.
Courtesy of Pexels
Building more affordable housing isn't the only way to improve access to housing, explains Russ Harris of the Southwestern Commission.

The first round of funding has been awarded to six far-western counties participating in a housing consortium. The agreement allows Western North Carolina to qualify for more funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD).

In 2020,Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham and Clay counties came together to form the consortium.

The funds were recently distributed explains Russ Harris, executive director of Southwestern Commission, which manages the funds.

“So that money usually goes to urban areas so for six out of the seven [counties] being willing to work together we were able to get a regular allocation to our rural region to address housing,” said Harris.

After the consortium was approved, there was a regional planning process. In May 2022, applications opened for the funds for the first time.

The Southwestern NC HOME Consortium Board of Directors met in August to review applications for the first cycle of HOME funds.

From the $675,000 given to programs this cycle, six projects that range from building affordable housing to repairs were approved to receive funding . A Dogwood Health Trust grant of over $200,000 is also included in the first year’s funding.

Harris understands that building more houses is a key piece of expanding housing access in Western North Carolina. But construction is an expensive process, so he says it was important to fund a variety of projects.

“You are talking about a pretty expensive problem. So I think it’s taking the long view a little bit that over the next 10 years we’re looking at $5 to $7 million dollars,” explains Harris, pointing to the HUD funding overtime.

One example of leveraging the funding is the $300,000 grant to a Mountain Housing Opportunities project which will develop 84 new rental housing units in Waynesville. The project costs total about $20 million dollar so, Harris says, the funding can fill in some additional needs.

Harris says they also wanted to fund projects that make current houses accessible.

“So knowing that we can’t do all construction so some of it is rental repairs. We have a lack of rental housing in the region and the rental housing that we do have a lot of the time is in disrepair. So there is a real need to keep those houses up to a certain standard,” said Harris.

Harris says that in February 2022, Cherokee County also agreed to join the consortium.

“I think it’s very unusual to have seven rural counties come together to work as one. I think in our region we’re lucky to have local governments and local officials who are willing to do that,” said Harris.

The next round of funding opens up in May 2023 so Cherokee County applicants will be eligible at that time. The additional county also means that the allocation will increase from $542,000 per year to about $670,000 dollars.

Here’s the full list of projects funded:

1. Mountain Projects: $110,000 to develop 10 homes for homeownership in Maggie Valley.

2. Graham County Rural Development Authority: $125,000 to partner with Robbinsville High School’s construction class to build a home for affordable home ownership in Robbinsville every two years while helping students prepare to enter the workforce.

3. Mountain Housing Opportunities: $300,000 to develop 84 new rental housing units in Waynesville using Low Income Housing Tax Credits. This recommendation is conditional upon the organization receiving the LIHTC award.

4) Four Square Community Action Agency: $45,000 to partner with landlords to rehabilitate existing rentals to make them eligible to receive Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.

5) Haywood Pathway: $52,000 for operating costs.

6) Macon Program for Progress: $43,000 to help residents of Macon County obtain or retain housing.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.