The Transylvania Times -

Land Trust Seeks To Increase Workforce Housing - Brevard, NC

 

May 11, 2017



The Community Land Trust wants the county to develop a plan to increase workforce housing in Transylvania County over the next 10 years.

During the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Claudia Hawkins, chair of the Community Land Trust, gave a presentation on workforce housing availability and affordability in the county.

Over the past several years, the Community Land Trust, a nonprofit formed in 2008 with a nine-member board, has worked to identify and address the issues related to workforce housing. The organization initially was formed to work with the school system to build housing for first-year teachers, but the effort ultimately failed mainly because of infrastructure costs.

The most significant housing issues in the county deal with rent burden/affordability and limited availability, Hawkins said.

Housing is affordable, Hawkins said, when it comprises no more than 30 percent of a family’s budget, including utilities.

According to 2000 and 2010 census and other information, 1,322 renter occupied homes, or 39.9 percent, in Transylvania County faced having more than 30 percent of their income spent on housing and utilities. The national figure is 36 percent.

Another 626 renter-occupied homes, or 18.9 percent, faced having more than 50 percent of their income spent on housing and utilities.

For 1,969 owner-occupied homes they faced having more than 30 percent of their income spent on housing and utilities. For 855 owner-occupied homes, they faced having more than 50 percent of their income spent on housing and utilities.

Nearly half of Transylvania County respondents in a 2016 Community Land Trust survey said they are concerned about the stability of their housing situation.

Research found that a household paying a median two-bedroom rent amount ($925), with a county median income ($44,114), of which 30 percent went to rent plus utilities, would face a $72 monthly housing affordability gap.

Under the same scenario, beginning teachers with a salary of $37,975, would face an affordability gap of $226.

For beginning deputy sheriffs with a salary of $33,528, they would face an affordability gap of $337. Someone on minimum wage and a yearly salary of $15,084, would face an affordability gap of $798.

According to research, Transylvania County will need an additional 375 rental units by 2020. Of that number, 187 would be family households and 188 would be senior households.

The same research found that 494 additional owner units were needed in the county, with 81 for families and 413 for seniors.

In 2016, there were 104 residential units built in the county with an average value of $381,235.

Workforce housing is a key component of a healthy community and is a reliable strategy for lasting community revitalization and economic development, Hawkins said. Commercial redevelopment without including sufficient workforce housing doesn’t meet the needs of incoming businesses, while workforce housing promotes a more stable workforce.

As part of the Land Trust’s research, Josh Hallingse, the Transylvania Economic Alliance’s executive director, was asked if he had experienced difficulties in recruiting and/or retaining employees because of housing issues.

“Working with existing businesses, we frequently hear owners and employees discuss the need for more workforce housing,” he said. “To support the long-term economic health of the county, we realize that there must be more affordable housing choices supported by both new private and public investment.”

Clark Lovelace, the Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, was asked the same question.

“Yes, both from my days running The Greystone Inn in Lake Toxaway and from what I have heard from members over the past three years in my position with the chamber,” he said. “It is particularly a problem with recruiting in the $30,000-$45,000 range. The problem seems to be both affordability and availability for both home purchases and apartments. This is also a real challenge for lower income hourly jobs since there is little low-end rental opportunity.”

Sheila Cozart, the county’s human resource’s director, has noticed issues as well

“Many (county) employees already have housing in Transylvania County or a neighboring county, such as Henderson (40-50 employees), Buncombe (10) and Haywood (four),” she said. “Attracting department heads is more difficult because of the limited amount of housing stock and the price.”

Finding employees who do not have a housing problem or concern is also a “major problem” for Tore Borhaug, who operates Tore’s Home in the county.

Hawkins noted that there has been no multi-family housing built in Transylvania County since the 1980s other than tax-credit/subsidized housing, while the tourism industry is taking potential properties out of the long-term rental pool.

Transylvania County has a vacancy rate of 0.8 percent, while the vacancy rate in the South is 8.7 percent.

“The market is broken,” Hawkins said.

She said it means that sometimes the community, the government, needs to get involved to fix it.

In closing, Hawkins gave a call to action to commissioners, asking them:

•to commit resources (funding) to develop an actionable plan to increase workforce housing over the next 10 years;

•to do additional data gathering;

•to define existing impediments to the development of workforce housing;

•to provide a menu of options for elected official to consider to mitigate impediments, and incentivize/attract workforce housing development; and

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting:

•Commissioners approved a funding plan of $104,212 for the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council for the 2017/18 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

•Commissioners approved a resolution urging the governor and the N.C. General Assembly to restore the statutory requirement that 40 percent of the net lottery proceeds be allocated to counties for school capital needs. Based on the 2015-2016 allotment from the state, for example, Transylvania County received $243,929 compared to $507,372 that would have been allocated under the 40 percent rule.

 
 

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