ECU-led group addresses housing needs in eastern North Carolina
East Carolina University’s Office of Research, Economic Development and Engagement (REDE) is addressing the housing needs for low-and moderate-income families in northeast North Carolina.
Under the guidance of REDE, the newly formed Choanoke Area HOME Consortium has been granted multiyear funding from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for up to $733,850 annually for the first three years, with a renewal for reoccurring annual funding of a similar amount after the first three years. The funding allocation will begin in July 2023.
The affordable housing funds will be divided among the communities that make up the consortium, including:
- Bertie County — Aulander, Askewville, Colerain, Kelford, Lewiston-Woodville, Powellsville, Roxobel and Windsor
- Halifax County — Enfield, Halifax, Hobgood, Littleton, Roanoke Rapids, Scotland Neck and Weldon
- Hertford County — Ahoskie, Cofield, Como, Harrellsville, Murfreesboro and Winton
- Martin County — Bear Grass, Everetts, Hamilton, Hassell, Jamesville, Oak City, Parmele, Robersonville and Williamston
- Northampton County — Conway, Garysburg, Gaston, Jackson, Lasker, Rich Square, Severn and Woodland
Halifax County was elected to serve as the lead entity for the consortium and will work with the Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) to administer the program activities and funding.
The collaboration that led to this funding opportunity began in January 2020 when the SECU Foundation started the Rural Opportunity Grant Program to address key challenges in specific regions of the state. The availability and accessibility of affordable housing was identified as a need for northeastern North Carolina.
A longtime partner of ECU, the foundation tapped into the university’s resources and expertise to develop a plan to address the housing issue. ECU’s REDE office works to assist regional transformation efforts by providing research, innovations, resources and connections that lead to lasting impacts and positive outcomes for the area.
Prepared to tackle the challenge, director of research and innovation campus development Merrill Flood said, “It was important to us that it was not a ‘one-off’ funding source. That does not help anyone. Development of a program with long-term sustainability and consistent resourcing had to be the end result, in my mind.”
An ECU alum, Flood worked 29 years for the city of Greenville as a planner, then as director of community development, and retired as an assistant city manager. He returned to ECU to teach planning and is leading the development of the East Carolina Research and Innovation Campus as part of the office of economic and community engagement within REDE.
Flood said he became aware of the HOME consortium program when working for the city and introduced the option as a solution to affordable housing needs.
“I created a HOME consortium in 1997 when I was with the city of Greenville and oversaw it for about 12 years,” Flood said. “The HOME consortium program and its various funding categories were created in 1992 by the Cranston-Gonzalez Affordable Housing Act. Consortia are geographically connected units of local government who agree, by execution of a joint cooperation agreement, to be considered for a direct formula allocation funding from HUD under the HOME consortium category of funding.”
The HOME program would allow the identified communities to address affordable housing needs on a regional level and in a coordinated way.
“With consistent housing funds, communities find that they can better leverage outside investments for affordable housing production, allocation and preservation,” Flood said.
ECU led the discussions with representatives in each identified municipality, guided them on the opportunity, and provided them with pre-submission materials to be considered for eligibility.
The program participants agreed to pursue funding.
“It’s a big win for this region,” Flood said. “This is critical to their long-term economic vitality, growth and development.”
Sharon Paynter, ECU’s acting chief research and engagement officer, said, “When the SECU Foundation came to us with the opportunity to work on affordable housing in northeastern North Carolina, we embarked on quite a journey to find a feasible option that would have impact on the problem. I’m certain that the resulting consortium has the potential to improve safe and accessible housing options for years to come.”
Also part of the REDE team in this effort were Elizabeth Hodge and university program specialist Cassandra Keel.
The SECU Foundation provided CADA $40,000 to fund the completion of the required 5-year consolidated plan and 1-year action plan for the Consortium. The State of North Carolina has certified CADA to direct the activities of the HOME Consortium.
As for the university’s role in this successful service, Flood assures that ECU will continue to support the region as they work toward a solution for affordable housing.
“Our office continues to educate and advise the consortium on the startup of the program, provide data profiles of their individual communities and point them to other resources to address their needs,” Flood said.