By Beth Lawrence
The results of a four-month-long housing study paint a clearer picture of the need for new and affordable housing in Jackson County.
“The study confirms what we believed intuitively, that we are facing a shortage of housing across multiple income and consumer segments,” said Rich Price economic development director. “We’ve heard from our largest employers: WCU, Harris Regional, Harrah’s Casino on a regular basis that they are challenged to recruit and retain employees due to a lack of available and affordable housing.”
Jackson is one of a number of Western North Carolina counties to examine the housing situation in their respective areas.
The 105-page report was conducted by planning and economics consulting firm T. Ronald Brown Research & Analysis of Asheville. Analysts used census and survey data from several sources to gain an overview of the situation with regard to both rental and privately owned properties.
The report benefits the county because it gives realistic statistical data that confirms what others in the area already unofficially knew, said Planning Director Mike Poston.
“This allows the county to tailor policies and programs that can encourage the construction of needed housing types,” he said. “This will allow more of the people that work in Jackson County the opportunity to live and play in Jackson County.”
The firm based its assessment for housing needed in the future on tenure, owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing units, and by age.
The study found that the county’s population grew by more than 7,000 between 2000 and 2010, and projected the growth would continue.
The median value of owner-occupied units is $177, 200 and typical monthly home mortgage payment is $1,159, analysts found.
Numbers suggest Sylva’s housing market could support up to 33 new single-family homes per year for working class families looking to purchase homes.
Findings revealed just under half of renters paid more than 35 percent of their income on housing costs. That number was 39 percent in other areas.
The survey recommended several possible solutions to alleviate constraints on renters including a 91-unit subsidized apartment complex for “low and very low income seniors” and recommended subsidized housing units for other low income families: up to 500 units in Sylva, 100 in Cullowhee and 175 in the Cherokee/Whittier area.
The survey found that the Sylva market could support 92 market-rate single family apartments or “work-force housing.”
The report is a tool that Jackson County leaders can use to plan.
The study helps the Office of Economic Development because housing, or the lack thereof, can have an impact on economic development in a community.
“Housing ... is relevant to new business development and job creation, and quite frankly job retention,” Price said. “Our role (going forward) will be to assist with the county’s housing committee to formulate policy recommendations, as well as to market the area and this information to attract new interest in housing development.”
County leaders and the planning department would be able to use the numbers to guide development prospects focusing on building that would benefit the county’s long-term working class residents making the area more appealing to prospective residents.
“The county will use the results to better guide our efforts to promote and partner with others to bring more housing options to Jackson County,” Poston said “(And) use the study information to promote the need for the types of housing shown in the report. We will also share the study with the development community and other interested partners to highlight the housing needs and discuss ways to address those needs.”