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WLIVE Message Forum  |  Topics of Discussion  |  Haywood County (Moderator: LaneDEA)  |  Topic: funding disapperring for local counties 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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funding disapperring for local counties
« on: Nov 01, 2005, 03:42:39 PM »

The hard search for affordable housing
by Melanie T. McConnell

There’s a chance Marybeth Johnson and Sam Hooper will need new housing before winter arrives. Johnson, 52, lives in a tiny efficiency at the Hitching Post Apartments in Clyde; Hooper, 55, in a doublewide trailer in Maggie Valley.

The circumstances for the renters’ housing woes are as different as the renters themselves, with one exception: Johnson has a disability and Hooper depends on low rent to make ends meet.

With rising rental costs and federal cuts in housing assistance, low-income renters in Haywood County have to search harder for affordable housing.

Since December 2003 Congress has cut $265,000 from Mountain Project’s rental assistance budget and $62,000 from its administrative budget, said Mike Wyatt, director of Mountain Project’s Section 8 Housing program.

The local non-profit agency depends on federal funds to provide housing assistance payments to renters on a limited income. Renters are responsible for finding the apartment; their monthly rent is based on their income.

But major cuts mean fewer caseworkers to help process the applications — the current wait is 18 to 24 months — and less money to give to clients who need it.

Applications for housing payment assistance also are up about 20 percent during the past 18 months, Wyatt said, a trend he attributes to the economy.

“So many jobs have been lost in Haywood County it has increased the need for many people who have never required housing assistance before,” he said.

Mountain Projects is allotted 684 vouchers a month, but some of those who qualify for a voucher need help every month, Wyatt said. The cuts have not restricted the number of clients Mountain Projects helps, just the amount of assistance the agency can pay for the clients who qualify, he noted.

And with rental costs in Haywood County up 20 percent over the past two years, according to Wyatt, the search for affordable housing becomes harder.

For example, he said, a two- bedroom apartment renting for $425 two years ago is now going for $495 to $500.

Who is affected? “It would have to be the elderly and the disabled because they are on fixed incomes, and the lower-income people,” Wyatt said.

Senior citizens living on Social Security receive a yearly cost-of-living increase of about 2.1 percent to 2.4 percent, he said, not enough to keep up with the increase in housing costs. So why the huge cut in funding?

“You’ve got two wars and hurricanes. My assumption is there’s not enough to go around,” said Patsy Dowling, executive director of Mountain Projects. “It’s very heart wrenching for us. We see the people come in the doors, we hear their stories, and in a lot of the cases they didn’t choose to be in this situation. In some cases, they’re out working and doing the best they can and they’re just unable to pay rent. With minimum wage being $5.15, it’s difficult to make enough money.” As a truck driver Sam Hooper made enough to pay his $450 monthly rent, but an eye operation has kept him out of work. With no disability to rely on he is two months behind in his rent. He said he sought help from Mountain Projects, but the backlog of applications was too long. He said his landlord asked him to be out by Nov. 1. “I’m 55 years old and it’s killing me to ask somebody to help me,” he said.

Alaska Pressley owns the trailer in which Hooper lives and said she asked him to move because she wants to remodel the place “so it won’t rot down.” Pressley said Hooper has been late with his rent before but she “never made an issue out of it.”

Marybeth Johnson pays $300 a month for rent and utilities at her Hitching Post apartment. She and landlord Steve Snyder are feuding over the source of a roach problem.

Johnson said she suffers from encephalitis contracted from a mosquito when she was 4 years old. She works two jobs to support herself, which she said puts her over the minimum income limit for help from Mountain Projects.

In both cases, Hooper and Johnson will likely find it more difficult to find comparable housing for what they pay now.

Hard times ahead

While the housing issue is not “huge at this point,” Wyatt said, “it’s becoming more challenging.

“Congress went in to pare down Section 8 and public housing programs, mandating certain cuts per year. You take a county like Haywood, to take $265,000 out of rental assistance you have to give a lot of credit to the landlords because they’ve been very very good about accepting the amount of rent Mountain Projects and their clients have to pay. They’ve controlled their increases,” Wyatt said.

Robin Black is the office manager for Waynesville Housing Authority, which has 99 dwellings throughout Haywood County, and 62 apartments in the Waynesville Towers — all dedicated to low-income housing with some exclusively for the elderly or disabled. “I stay full,” Black said. “I have a waiting list for efficiency apartments and one and two bedrooms. We’re always needing applications for the three and four bedrooms.” Renters qualify and pay according to their income level, which the Housing Authority divides into three categories: low income (a family of four who lives on $36,000 a year), very low ($22,650) and extremely low ($13,600).

“Most of my people are very low and extremely low,” Black said.

Rent, which can range from the minimum of $50 a month to the maximum of full-market value, also includes utilities.

But Black sees another factor that could easily affect housing for low-income people this winter: fuel prices.

“With these heating bills, low income people might be able to scrape together the rent but are they going to scrape together the $1,000 for heating oil?” she said.

Mountain Projects and Waynesville Housing Authority are just two sources for people needing housing assistance. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Web site,, housing assistance from the USDA is available for the following rental properties in Haywood County: Lake View Housing and Mountain View Housing in Canton, Timber Ridge Apartments, and the Cavalier Arms Apartments and Hickory Hollow Apartments in Waynesville. For more information on low-income housing visit these Web sites: the National Low Income Housing Coalition at and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency at

Tenants also may turn to Legal Aid of North Carolina for legal advice or representation about eviction and or other housing issues. For Dowling, who also does mission work in Honduras, the need for affordable housing is always at the forefront of her mind. “There aren’t many nights I go home and don’t think about it,” she said. “It’s something most people take for granted.”

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WLIVE Message Forum  |  Topics of Discussion  |  Haywood County (Moderator: LaneDEA)  |  Topic: funding disapperring for local counties « previous next »
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