Council studies housing


Stafff Writer

Thursday, February 21, 2019

CHAPEL HILL — The city of Rocky Mount is dedicated to promoting safe, affordable and sustainable housing, according to a mission statement developed Wednesday during the first day of the City Council retreat in Chapel Hill.

Whatever course the City Council takes, it must keep elderly residents in mind, said James Johnson, professor of entrepreneurship at Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The 65 and older population is growing in Rocky Mount and nothing — restaurants, hotels, parks — is age-friendly, Johnson said.

Prince George County in Virginia is the only location in the country with people migrating to Rocky Mount who have more money than the folks who live here. A lot of those people moved out of this area many years ago but might be looking to return home.

Johnson said the city should be running ads in magazines up there luring those folks down here.

"Recruit your own back home," Johnson said.

The city should also enact local workforce agreements in which companies have to agree to hire a percentage of locals.

The City Council needs to lead as an engine of opportunity by paying higher wages, dismantling barriers, promoting equity and supporting workers and job seekers.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell brought up the city's use of contractors to cut grass at properties where the owner won't do it. He said the jobs were often sloppy and property owners don't pay the fines.

That same money could be given to young men to clean up their neighborhoods, Blackwell said.

Councilman Richard Joyner said residents fall into a cycle where they can't afford a car that will pass inspection so they can't get their tags renewed so they get a ticket and can't afford to pay it and don't have a way to get to work. He said he'd like to see city police more understanding in such situations.

The council worked through five policy areas related to housing: Renters, homeowners, acquisition and preservation, repairs and rehabilitation and city investment.

Landis Faulcon, the city's director of community and business development, presented information on the city's three programs for housing improvements

Eleven urgent repairs, which are income-based, special-need and owner-occupied; 27 housing rebates, which are for properties more than 50 years old; and 21 housing repairs, for houses more than 50 years old and owner-occupied; have been completed in fiscal year 2019 for a total of $750,000.

Faulcon said the city is using one contractor to complete the work.

Blackwell asked why only one contractor is being used and whether there are barriers stopping interested and competent contractors from offering to do the work.

Joyner said he is concerned some residents are confused about which program to apply.

The council agreed it's important to make sure someone isn't improving a property with city money then raising the rent.

The council prioritized workforce housing over residents transitioning from public housing and first-time home buyers.

Joyner brought up the 2014 housing study that listed neighborhoods needing improvement. Rocky Mount Mills is the only neighborhood to have advanced.

Mayor David Combs said the Mills had a large private investment.

Councilman Tom Rogers said the housing study was put on the shelf, and now it's time to be more proactive.

Rocky Mount isn't unique in facing an affordable housing shortage, Rogers said.