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Consortium formed to address affordable housing in WNC

Seven counties in Western North Carolina have the opportunity to band together and receive money for affordable housing through the Southwestern Commission. As of June 15, several counties have signed on to make up the Southwestern NC HOME Consortium. 

The counties making up the consortium are Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Haywood, Macon and Swain. Haywood County would be the lead entity of the Consortium, meaning it would be in charge of administrative responsibilities. Each municipality within these counties would be a member of the consortium. 

Forming the Southwestern NC HOME Consortium would allow members to access $670,000 annually in funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME program. These funds are dedicated to addressing the need for affordable housing in the region. 

Dogwood Health Trust’s Leverage Fund will provide the initial matching requirement of $80,000. 

This means that it will not cost members any money to form the consortium and begin receiving funds. The program will officially begin in July of 2021. For now, members are tasked with formulating a consolidated 3-5 year plan for how to use funds. The plan will describe community needs, resources, priorities and proposed activities. After a plan is put forth by members of the consortium, funds will be distributed by the Southwestern Commission. 

According to Sarah Thompson, executive director for the Southwestern Commission, projects eligible for the funds include purchase of property, construction, home rehabilitation, down payment assistance and rental assistance among others. 

Once a plan is in place and work begins, there is an ongoing 25 percent match requirement for all projects. The match is for each individual project and can be provided in the form of money, or labor, assets or anything else of value to the project. The match must be paid by the jurisdiction where the project will take place. 

One important measure of affordable housing in any area is the percentage of cost-burdened households in a particular place. The Southwestern Commission defines cost-burdened households as those spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In August of 2018 the Southwestern Commission reported 29 percent of households in Haywood County were cost-burdened, 30 percent in Jackson, 28 percent in Macon and 23 percent in Swain. 

Another issue that the Southwestern Commission is working to alleviate is the lack of broadband infrastructure in the region. According to a 2018 report, the westernmost counties in North Carolina have “very good” middle mile connections, those connecting schools, businesses and institutions; but are lacking in last mile infrastructure that connects rural housing and businesses. 

The funds allocated to the Southwestern NC HOME Consortium will not pay for broadband infrastructure. 

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