Chris Estes joined the N.C. Housing Coalition as executive director in 2003. He has a master’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The purpose of the N.C. Housing Coalition is to educate the public about housing issues facing low- and moderate-income households and to lead an advocacy effort that empowers residents to impact housing needs and issues that affect their lives. The coalition provides lists of available resources by county, along with weatherization assistance and other assistance.
Carolina Public Press asked Estes about housing issues across North Carolina — especially those what’s in store for the coalition’s work in the N.C. General Assembly.
Carolina Public Press: What are the 2012 state policy priorities of the N.C. Housing Coalition?
Chris Estes: “The top priority is protecting and expanding the N.C. Housing Trust Fund,” Estes said.
The N.C. Housing Coalition will work to ensure at least $10 million in recurring funding for the N.C. Housing Trust Fund and urge state lawmakers to find additional funds to restore the $7 million cut to the trust fund’s Housing 400 program. The coalition also hopes to move the N.C. Housing Trust Fund from the General Government Committee to the Natural and Economic Resources Committee, which has more funding and fits better with the economic development impact of the trust fund.
The trust fund, according to the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, is “the state’s most flexible housing resource – able to finance home ownership and rental apartments, new construction, rehab, and emergency repairs. It provides the state’s largest source of funds to finance supportive housing and emergency repairs/accessibility modifications. The Trust Fund has won three national awards for its innovative programs.”
CPP: Why is that so important for housing issues in Western North Carolina?
Estes: “We want to protect funding for affordable housing,” Estes said. “Land in Western North Carolina has become so expensive and there is only so much land in the mountains that can accommodate housing. One of the biggest issues is the high cost of housing relative to the wages in Western North Carolina. In the more rural areas, owner financing of existing homes and mobile homes have led to abuse and foreclosures, and buyers end up losing all their equity,” Estes said.
The N.C. Housing Trust Fund is North Carolina’s only state-funded and state-designed resource for financing affordable housing.
“Asheville and Buncombe County is somewhat unique to the rest of Western North Carolina, because most of the jobs are in Buncombe County,” Estes said. “If Asheville and Buncombe County can’t provide adequate housing, the workforce will be forced to reside in other counties. People tend to spend their money where they reside, not where they work.”
CPP: What are some other policy priorities for 2012?
Estes: Other state policy priorities for the N.C. Housing Coalition include: protecting the N.C. Housing Tax Credit, as well as legislation recognizing Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties at their rent-restricted value for the purpose of tax valuation; enacting revenue to avoid cuts to essential programs like affordable housing; strengthening homeowner protections against homeowner associations, including restrictions on the power of a homeowners’ association; taking pre-emptive actions against unnecessary utility rate increases; and protecting tenants against unfair liability in the case of bedbug infestation.
CPP: Are there other state legislative issues the N. C. Housing Coalition will focus on this year?
Estes: Bills were introduced last session that would reduce consumer protections and increase the cost of small loans. Senate Bill 488 would strip away many of the consumer protections for lease-option contracts and contracts for deeds, as well as protections against foreclosure rescue scams that were put into place last year in the Homeowner/Homebuyer Protection Act. House Bill 810 would raise rates and fees on small consumer finance loans.
“These bills are still active and the N.C. Housing Coalition will continue to fight them in the 2012 Short Session,” Estes said.
The N.C. Housing Coalition also will continue as a member of the HKonJ coalition, which unites more than 90 organizations around a 14-point People’s Agenda for North Carolina, which promotes affordable housing and stronger protections against consumer abuse.
CPP: What issues are included on the coalition’s federal agenda?
Estes: The N.C. Housing Coalition will urge members of Congress to pass legislation to provide $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund and $65 million for project-based vouchers. The coalition will also work with the National Low-Income Housing Coalition to identify dedicated sources of revenue for the National Housing Trust Fund sufficient to build or preserve 1.5 million units of rental housing over 10 years. The coalition also will promote the provision of $65 million for project-based vouchers to be used in connection with units funded by the National Housing Trust Fund for every $1 billion in funding for the NHTF.
The N.C. Housing Coalition will fight to protect budget appropriations for essential HUD and USDA housing programs, as well as housing-related federal programs such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and others.
As a part of a national coalition of housing developers, advocates, syndicators and other partners, the N.C. Housing Coalition also will work to ensure that the vital role government sponsored enterprise reform (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) plays in the syndication of Low-Income Housing Credits continues with whatever reform occurs.