Affordable housing boosted

By Ret Boney

North Carolina lawmakers this year earmarked over $20 million for affordable housing for low-income people, targeting more than half to people with mental health disabilities.

Almost all the money will flow to the N.C. Housing Trust Fund, a funding source administered by the N.C. Housing Finance Agency that pays for construction and renovation of housing for low-income North Carolinians.

The appropriation, approved in the just-ended legislative session, is considered a partial victory for the more than 200 nonprofits and businesses comprising the Campaign for Housing Carolina, a coalition formed to push for $50 million from the state for the Housing Trust Fund.

“We’re very excited about where things ended up,” says Chris Estes, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition and coordinator of the Campaign for Housing Carolina.

“For us the most important thing was the strong, positive, broad-based discussions about the need and benefits of investing in affordable housing that occurred within the General Assembly and among coalition members,” he says.

The funding includes $3 million in recurring revenue, or money that is earmarked for the trust fund annually, plus $5 million in a one-time appropriation.

Another $10.9 million was directed to the trust fund for the construction of 400 housing units targeted for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive illnesses.

“It’s a great start,” says Jennifer Mahan, director of policy and advocacy initiatives for the Mental Health Association in North Carolina.  “Four hundred units is a drop in the bucket, but it’s a fantastic start.”

An additional $1.2 million in recurring funds was earmarked to provide operating subsidies for the 400 units, allowing rents to remain low enough for people with very low incomes.

Estes says that appropriation represents the first time the state has provide rental assistance for low-income people.

“That recurring money is the hardest to get and it’s a significant commitment to get that for rental housing,” he says.  “It’s the key piece to getting the units utilized by very-low-income folks.”

Despite this year’s success, the Campaign for Housing Carolina will continue to work for $50 million in annual funding by the state for the Housing Trust Fund, says Estes.

“The plan now is to build momentum and emphasize the great features of the trust fund,” he says.  “All it needs is more money.  Ten years from now we don’t want to be fighting for money one year at a time.”

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