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The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve a preliminary plan to use over $1.4 million in federal funds to invest in local affordable housing, despite concerns from some on the board about how the county has addressed the issue in the past.

Chairwoman Toni Stewart, Vice Chairman Glenn Adams and Commissioners Jeannette Council and Marshall Faircloth voted for the measure. Commissioners Michael Boose, Veronica Jones and Jimmy Keefe voted against it.

The $1.4 million is from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, federal legislation passed by Congress in 2021 that is meant to help communities address issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The $1.4 million is not from local tax dollars, but from the national budget.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will issue the $1.4 million to Cumberland County through HUD’s HOME investment partnerships program. HUD uses HOME to “fund a wide range of activities, including building, buying and/or rehabilitating affordable housing,” according to HUD’s website.

According to the U.S. Treasury, ARPA funds must be designated by Dec. 31, 2024, and must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Dee Taylor, Cumberland County’s director of community development, presented the preliminary plan to the Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The final plan will be presented to the board for a vote at its Feb. 6 meeting, Taylor said. The county was required to hold a public hearing Tuesday before going forward with the plan to use the $1.4 million. No one spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing.

To formulate the plan, Taylor said the county surveyed community organizations in Cumberland County that serve the local unhoused population. The organizations indicated in the survey that the biggest unmet need is affordable housing.

Taylor said the county decided to plan for the $1.4 million to be invested in the development of affordable housing. The funding from ARPA has to be used to help people who are unhoused, at risk of losing shelter or are fleeing from domestic violence, she said.

Keefe was concerned about how the county plans to use the money, arguing that funds used in the past have not adequately addressed the issue, he said.

“The old ways of doing things are not really working out for us, and that gap continues to get bigger,” Keefe said during the meeting following Taylor’s presentation.

Boose and Jones said the county should consider using the funds to purchase existing housing as a cost-saving measure as opposed to new construction.

“Buying something already existing for affordable houses, just something to consider,” Jones said.

Boose said he was concerned the $1.4 million might not be enough to complete a new development for affordable housing.

“This money is going to run out. So, starting brand-new million-dollar projects, it might just be that we’ve gotten started, and that might be the end of it,” Boose said.

Taylor said she would be willing to speak with the commissioners to determine how to best use the money to invest in affordable housing.

Lack of affordable housing in Cumberland County

According to a study from OrgCode Consulting the county released in August 2021, it is common for those with extremely low income in Cumberland County to struggle to find affordable housing.

As of 2021, the study found that there were 9,445 renter households in the county with extremely low income. That was $17,900 for a family of four at the time, according to HUD.

The OrgCode study also found that there were 5,141 affordable units available for those at that income, a shortage of 4,304. HUD defines housing as affordable if the unit costs 30% or less of the household’s annual income.

The OrgCode study also found that the area is short on emergency shelter beds.

At the time of the study, there were a total of 38 emergency shelter beds in Cumberland County. That was fewer than Buncombe and Wake counties’ numbers at 259 and 509, respectively.

When accounting for the population in each county, there were 0.113 beds per 1,000 people in Cumberland. For Buncombe and Wake, the per 1,000 rate for emergency beds was 0.9916 and 0.454, respectively.

Cumberland County is in the early stages of bringing a new homeless shelter to the area.

At a November Board of Commissioners meeting, former County Manager Amy Cannon said the county could finish construction of the shelter in two years, if fast-tracked by the board. Cannon retired from the county manager position in December.

While the county plans to use the $1.4 million in ARPA funding to address this gap in affordable housing, some on the board  are concerned that old methods of creating affordable housing will not be sufficient.

Resources/links

FAQ for HUD’s HOME program

FAQ for ARPA funding

General information on Cumberland County’s preliminary plan for HOME funds

Residents can also view physical copies of the preliminary plan at the following locations until Jan. 27 at 5 p.m.:

  • Eastover Town Hall, 3863 Dunn Road, Eastover.
  • Linden Town Hall, 9456 Academy St., Linden.
  • Falcon Town Hall, 7156 S. West St., Falcon.
  • Spring Lake Town Hall, 300 Ruth St., Spring Lake.
  • Godwin Town Hall, 7827 Royal St., Godwin, North Carolina
  • Stedman Town Hall, 5110 Front St., Stedman, North Carolina
  • Hope Mills Town Hall, 5770 Rockfish Road, Hope Mills, North Carolina
  • Wade Town Hall, 7128 Main St., Wade, North Carolina
  • Headquarters Library, 300 Maiden Lane, Fayetteville, North Carolina

Residents can also make a public comment concerning the county’s plan, or concerning anything else, during the next public comment period at the next board meeting on Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. in Room 118 at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

To make comments to the Board of Commissioners, residents have to sign up before the meeting here, by phone at 910-678-7771, by fax at 910-678-7770, or by email at cwhite@co.cumberland.nc.us. The sign-up sheet will also be available 15 minutes before the start of the meeting.

Correction: A previous version of this story reported an incorrect number of emergency shelter beds per 1,000 people in Cumberland, Buncombe and Wake counties. The original story incorrectly reported the total number of beds.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a former Carolina Public Press reporter. To reach the Carolina Public Press newsroom, email news@carolinapublicpress.org.

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