Simple Survival

Published 8:47 am Tuesday, July 23, 2013

GATESVILLE – The majority of Gates County citizens reside within homes with all the basic amenities.

However, some local residents find themselves living in sub-standard conditions, homes lacking sufficient plumbing, electrical or heating sources, have structural issues, and have mold or other conditions that place them at significant risk of illness, injury or worse.

The good news is that the caring people of Gates County do not sit idly by and wait for someone else to tackle the issue of sub-standard living. The Gates County Housing Committee was formed years ago to lend a helping hand.

The bad news is even with all avenues tapped for resources, it will take upwards of two decades just to address the housing issues currently present in the county.

Lee Riddick, Chairperson of the local Housing Committee, gave an update to the Gates County Board of Commissioners at their July 1 meeting. There, Riddick announced the completion of a housing assessment, one funded through of the North Carolina Department of Commerce/Division of Community Assistance by way of a $100,000 building capacity grant.

Riddick said the assessment was an in depth evaluation of over 1,100 homes that the Gates County Tax Assessor had labeled as fair, poor or very poor. That information, Riddick said, can be tapped into during the application process for future grants.

“On behalf of the Housing Committee, I would like to express my appreciation to Chris Couch who performed the visual assessment of these homes,” Riddick said. “In addition to the housing profiles, the assessment also gives county officials updated demographic information – population, number of individuals per household, race, income level, poverty level, housing costs, and challenges faced.

“This study showed the challenges faced by many of our citizens, some facing the challenges of human rights, which is access to safe, sanitary and affordable housing. Our goal is to improve the housing conditions of the citizens of Gates County,” Riddick added.

Highlighted in the study were:

Total housing units increased by 18.1 percent from 2000-2010;

23.5 percent of the total number of homes in Gates County were built prior to 1959;

Rental occupation increased during the 10-year span from 17.9% to 18.4%; and

Female head of households increased to 13.6 percent.

“You can see right there that there are a lot of older homes in our county,” Riddick said, referencing the residences built prior to 1959.

Riddick thanked the board of commissioners for their commitment to this project.

“The Housing Committee is committed to use all available resources to work hand in hand with our citizens to make this place we call home better for everyone,” he noted. “This document will support future efforts to gain CDBG funding.”

Commissioner Linda Hofler stressed the need for information to be made available to county citizens who are seeking various options when it comes to improving their living conditions.

Riddick said the North Carolina Financing Agency, and USDA Rural Development are two that come to mind.

“Federal funding now for CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) will be far in-between,” he said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to gain a grant, we need to apply. Not only does it help those in need, but it also adds to the county’s tax base, which means the county will recoup their matching funds.

“At the rate that these grants come in, typically a two-year waiting period, it would take 20 years to clear up what’s in this study,” he closed.

One of the key housing issues in the county is the overall lack of rentals. In a survey performed five years ago, local citizens said that rental prices in the county were too high; there was no advertising of available rental property; a lack of rental standards; and a lack of understanding rental rights.

That study also revealed accessibility barriers to having a “standardized” home included low-paying jobs, length of time it takes to build or set-up a home, lack of multi-family housing units, shortage of a construction workforce, zoning regulations, planning board policies and procedures and flood zones.

Other concerns included a county infrastructure that will support additional housing, people not wanting to have a “stick-built” home constructed, credit worth, education on available resources and heir property issues.

It also was worth mentioning what are referred to as the county’s “homeless” – not those portrayed on TV as living in cardboard boxes or under a bridge, but rather those living with relatives and friends, moving from house to house. They don’t have a home they call their own.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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