County commissioners, affordable housing experts and concerned Ashe County citizens met Monday at Ashe Services for Aging to discuss possible housing solutions for the destitute residents of the area.
Don Sloan, treasurer of the Board of Directors of Ashe Habitat for Humanity, initiated the presentation portion of the evening with information on the up and coming Ashe Habitat for Humanity. The organization is a Christian based ministry dedicated to assisting unfortunate citizens in obtaining their first home.
In the course of Sloan’s presentation, he explained how 10-15 percent of Ashe County’s residents pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Sloan went on to explain that “affordable housing” for many residents are classified as a rented three bedroom mobile home for $300 a month.
Through Ashe Habitat for Humanity, individuals will be able to purchase a newly built home for only $81,000 which is a mortgage of $350 a month. In order for individuals to receive services from HFH, they must be able to meet three criteria: a need of a home, ability to pay and a willingness to partner with the habitat on working on other homes before they receive a home of their own.
Although the HFH is still in the planning stage, Sloan emphasized how close the organization is to becoming fully operational.
“We are in striking distance of becoming an operating Habitat for Humanity and we are continuing to facilitate funds for our organization.” Sloan said.
Next, Ned Fowler, Executive Director of Northwestern Regional Housing Authority provided information on what housing developments his organizations has provided in the High Country and what still needs to be done in order to ensure adequate housing for all Appalachian residents.
“Just 30 years ago, people were still using newspapers to cover holes in the wall to keep the wind from blowing out their kerosene lamps, that’s how dire the housing situation was becoming. When I founded NHRA, Ashe County had the poorest economy in the state and that is no longer the case,” Fowler said.
Since founding the NHRA, Fowler has secured housing developments for the under privileged in Ashe, Watauga, Mitchell, Alleghany, Avery, Wilkes and Yancey counties. When one thinks of affordable housing complexes, you may think of “concentrated and crowded structures” but in reality these buildings resemble the condominiums you would find at a ski resort or housing development.
Fowler went on to stress how important it is to get the private market involved with this cause instead of solely using nonprofit organizations.
“The problem is, builders are building were the market is and are targeting retiree communities and development parks. If we could get the private sector involved, it would help substantially,” Fowler said.
Carolyn Shepherd, county director with the NC Cooperative Extension of Ashe County, provided insight on what other housing issues need to be addressed, such as the day-to-day dilemmas home ownership poses.
“Our focus is not only helping people get their first home, but we also address the day in and day out problems of owning a home, like home repairs,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd also highlighted on drinking water issues and Radon sources, the second leading cause of cancer.
Mold and moisture issues were stressed in Shepherd’s presentation as it stands many residents of the High Country suffer from respiratory problems due to these exact issues.
Rob Rusczak, manager of the Loan Production for the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, provided possible financial solutions to prevent housing foreclosures for struggling families.
“Under the state’s Home Protection Pilot Program, the initiative will cover the mortgage payments for four to six months, so the family has the chance to get back on their feet without losing their home,” Rusczak said.
One proposal that was further debated was the concept of providing incentives to get the private market to participate in this cause as well as examine how other counties and organizations have been successful in their campaigns of providing affordable housing.
Also, the forum acknowledged the fact that land is an ever fleeting commodity in the area, and how we must act now to ensure the construction of future developments.
“If we don’t set aside land in Ashe County for affordable housing now, then we will not be able to purchase it in the future or be able to do our projects.” Fowler commented.
At the end of the meeting, citizens and affordable housing experts concluded that an additional forum or convention was necessary to elaborate on the various proposals. The date for a future forum has not been announced.