By Beth Lawrence
Local officials are examining ways to mitigate the lack of single family housing in the area.
At an Aug. 13 planning session, the Board of Commissioners, Planning Director Mike Poston and members of the housing committee discussed an ongoing housing study that could offer some solutions to handle the needs of the community.
Last year Poston asked the board to establish the committee as part of the 2040 Land Use Plan. The committee includes representation from the Planning and Economic Development departments, Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and county attorney Heather Baker.
According to Poston, the committee was charged to do four things – take a look at land preservation programs; take a look at housing trust fund programs; complete a housing survey; and develop and administer an access to a fair housing plan.
A housing trust fund and a housing survey would help the committee better address the needs of Jackson County, Poston said.
Housing trust funds are designed to promote development and maintenance of affordable housing. The money can be used for new construction or renovation of existing housing.
Jackson is one of several area counties to complete a survey to address housing needs.
Mountain West Partnership and Southwestern Commission worked with a research consultant from Asheville to complete a housing survey for all Western North Carolina counties.
Most of the surveys have been completed but Jackson’s is taking longer due to its unique circumstances.
Rich Price, economic development director addressed the board about what he has seen so far.
“The analyst is looking at the myriad of student housing that we have in the central part of the county,” he said. “If you look at that just on standard models for surveys that could skew the results dramatically and make it appear that we don’t have a need for a particular type of housing.”
With those numbers teased out, the survey has thus far underscored the need for affordable housing for senior citizens and families, both the rental and homes for sale.
The census looked at topics like vacancies, less than six months occupancy; second homes, the number of houses available, population and number of people per residence.
Jackson County has a strong second home and student housing market, Poston said.
The missing component is middle income family homes for year-round residents.
“But we don’t know to the extent, and that’s kind of what some of the housing survey data can help us fill in the understanding and help us better focus our efforts into some different areas,” he said.
The housing committee hopes the survey will help them examine needs down to specific communities within the county.
Commissioners and committee members discussed measures that might be used to spur development.
Planner Caroline LaFrienier, presented commissioners with a plan for the trust fund including priorities and funding.
The list of priorities for development include development of one to three bedroom single family homes including rental properties, renovating existing housing to meet structural and safety needs and developing housing that is ADA compliant.
She offered several options that could benefit both developers and homeowners and alleviate some of the issues. One option is to secure low interest loans for developers who would convert current nonresidential housing such as empty commercial property into lodging or to use as gap funding to complete a project. Another possibility would be to offer loans to eligible homeowners who can use the money to upgrade their homes addressing safety issues or major repairs.
Another line of funding discussed was to secure state and federal grants for housing development or rehabilitation including instillation and upgrades to infrastructure.
County Manager Don Adams asked the board to think about the information presented until the study was completed.
“Where do we want to put investment?” Adams asked. “That doesn’t mean we can’t invest in them all, but at the same point we need to prioritize and maybe put some of our investment in one or two (options).”
The results of the study and a final report are expected to be presented to the board in the near future.