ECU alumna engages with North Carolina community to create more affordable housing

East Carolina University alumna Catherine Grimm is using her degree to help make an impact on the citizens of one eastern North Carolina community.

Grimm, director of planning and economic development for the town of Tarboro, received her Bachelor of Science in urban and regional planning (’06), now the B.S. in community and regional planning. The program is in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Department of Geography, Planning and Environment,

Along with Tarboro Mayor Tate Mayo and Town Manager Troy Lewis, Grimm makes up a team that recently received a $30,000 grant from the International City/Council Management Association (ICMA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support a community engagement project for residents. ICMA is the world’s leading association of professional city and county managers and other employees who serve local governments.

Known as the ICMA Economic Mobility and Opportunity Cohort, Grimm’s team is one of nine across the country that received this funding.

“The town of Tarboro is appreciative of this opportunity to improve the lives of our most vulnerable populations, providing our citizens with autonomy, independence, pride and ownership of the community in which they live,” she said.

Working as planning and economic development director since 2015, Grimm said she has seen many changes over the years, but that the department strives to protect the safety and welfare of the public and to enhance the quality of life of Tarboro’s citizens and visitors. Therefore, she said the group decided that Tarboro would use the funds to conduct a housing study to identify needs, especially those related to providing more affordable housing options for its residents.

“The town has made upward mobility and opportunity for its residents a high priority and has been aggressive in its pursuit and use of grant funds to provide economic opportunities and decent, safe and affordable housing in our area,” she said. “In a Tier 1, economically distressed county, Tarboro has worked hard to retain, expand and diversify job opportunities that allow a higher standard of living. Likewise, we have utilized various housing grant opportunities to maintain decent housing stock while incentivizing new development through infrastructure investment.”

Catherine Grimm (Contributed photo)

Regionally, Grimm said vulnerabilities to towns like Tarboro include aging and inadequate infrastructure, slow growth-related issues, vulnerable populations and limited resources. However, she said that the town’s staff continues to adapt leadership practices and policies to create resilience and mobility within the community.

“This study will assist staff with implementing policy, procedures and incentives, and in marketing this data for potential developers of appropriate and needed projects,” Grimm said. “The town has long been aware of a need for safe, sustainable, affordable housing for our community and the surrounding region. There has been difficulty in determining how to approach this need without sufficient data to determine what kind, how much and where it would be best suited.”

The town has selected Bowen National Research to perform the housing study that will include a thorough evaluation of demographics, economics, and housing supply and analysis. The research firm has already spoken with staff and initial stakeholders, and it will finalize its report this fall.

Grimm said her education at ECU provided her with the skills and knowledge needed to advance her career and help make an impact on the citizens of Tarboro.

“These educators provided me with both an academic understanding of our history of humanity and the progress we’re authorized to make within our world,” said Grimm, who also serves as chair of ECU’s planning program advisory board.

“With recognized bias, but blatant truth, I will state that ECU’s planning program contributes directly and broadly to regional transformation,” she said. “Our alumni are executing change and directing progress at all levels of authority both within the public and private sectors. I am grateful for the professors who encouraged us to believe that we were capable of making a difference on a community scale.”

To learn more about the Economic Mobility and Opportunity initiative, visit the ICMA website.