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Housing shortage confronts City Council

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Despite new projects like the Beal Street Square Apartments, federal data reports that Rocky Mount still suffers from a lack of affordable housing stock.

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rocky Mount is home to 60 percent of the cost-burdened, low-income households in the Twin Counties, according to federal data provided Tuesday to the City Council during a workshop.

Rocky Mount has been identified as having been damaged by Huricane Matthews, but with potential for recovery and redevelopment, said Sarah Odio, project manager of the Development Finance Initiative, which is part of the UNC School of Government and working on the pilot project with N.C. Emergency Management. The DFI is a pilot program seeking to attract private investors for transformative projects.

DFI is concentrating on building rental housing in Rocky Mount, where 49 percent of residents are renters compared to 40 percent in Edgecombe County and 37 percent statewide.

Some Rocky Mount households are one broken refrigerator away from being homeless, Odio said.

Many of the vacant houses in the city are substandard, meaning the houses have incomplete plumbing or are overcrowded.

"There is definitely unmet demand for affordable housing," Odio said.

Right now in Rocky Mount, there are 200 substandard houses, 145 overcrowded houses and 135 houses that remain at risk of flooding. In all, 3,000 poor residents need housing.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said the data used by DFI might be presenting a conservative portrait of the city's housing situation.

DFI is using information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is based on Census results. Small-Toney said marrying the DFI numbers with information from city code enforcement might show a clearer — albeit bleaker — picture of where the city is with housing.

Odio agreed, saying that folks who can afford higher-cost housing are choosing to live in lower-cost housing, which forces low-income families to live in higher-cost housing. The cycle causes a mismatch of housing, which creates an affordable housing shortage.

On top of that, affordable housing stock is dwindling, Odio said, but there is plenty going on in the housing pipeline.

"You can feel the energy around town," Odio said. "You can see it, it's really cool."

But, Ravenswood, Beale Street and other housing developments for a total of 280 units in 2018-19 won't supply enough affordable housing, Odio said.

Affordable Housing is defined by HUD as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household's income. Cost-burdened households pay more than 30 percent of their household income on housing-related expenses.

DFI looks at four criteria including the public process and an analysis of the housing market, sites and finances. As the project moves forward, a public hearing will be held.

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