Affordable housing in Haywood County is officially on the county's radar, and a plan has been adopted to chip away at the issue.
At the Monday commissioner meeting, the Affordable Housing Task Force recommendations were unanimously adopted, causing those spearheading the problem to breath a collective sigh of relief.
Dona Stewart, Haywood County administrator/program evaluator, co-chaired the affordable housing task force that was formed nearly a year and a half ago and presented the report to the commissioners.
She said the effort started in March 2016, when Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Davis, who co-chaired the committee, came to the board to highlight the need for a way to address homelessness and affordable housing.
Davis said she instantly felt relief after the board approved the task force recommendations.
"I have heard the stories and see these families who are working and struggling to make ends meet because housing costs are so high," she said. "Now the county and the community have come together and we have a plan. I'm so proud of this community for being willing to address this issue."
She said the plan is a road map to helping address the problem, and that is even a portion of the plan is implemented, it will be better than the situation that now exists.
"The elderly deserve a safe environment they can afford if they choose to age in place, and every child deserves to grow up in a safe environment," she said. "They are our future and they will take care of us someday."
The affordable housing task force was formed in early 2016 and after assessing the problems, the group developed a strategy — something Steward called only a beginning.
"This calls for significant action," she said of the report that calls for 400 additional affordable housing units within the next decade; building institutional capacity to create affordable housing, increasing the resources for affordable housing to promote the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing units, incentivizing private development of affordable housing, and maintaining/improving existing affordable housing programs.
Stewart stressed the report relies heavily on the ability of private, public partnerships to create opportunities to expand affordable housing.
"The housing assessment showed specific demographic groups in need, particularly older people and younger people, many who are in the work force but with wages that do not meet level needed to affordable housing," Stewart said. "As the economic growth of Buncombe and Asheville heated up, our real estate market heated up, so prices for rent and purchase have gone up significantly. There are very few rental properties and few multi-unit buildings."
Part of the task force's success will hinge on the county finding a person, either on staff or who will be hired, to oversee the area.
County Manager Ira Dove said the county will explore options and come back with implementation strategies.
The report will be presented at this month's Council on Government meeting, a body that includes all elected leaders across the county.
Joan Kennedy, a social worker with the Haywood County school system, was a task force member and applauded the Monday action.
Jamye Sheppard, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, was another grateful task force member.
"We are pleased the commissioners demonstrated their concern regarding the lack of affordable housing in Haywood County by adopting the Affordable Housing Strategy," Sheppard said. "They seem enthusiastic about moving forward with concrete action as recommended by those that work in the field every day. I, along with my colleagues at Haywood Habitat, am very encouraged by their action."