Kendra Jensen is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration. She is currently working with the Kerr-Tar Council of Governments through the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC)
One does not have to travel far in Henderson, North Carolina to notice the large number of blighted and abandoned residential properties. Hit hard by the recent economic downturn and a number of circumstances contributing to Tier 1 status, Henderson and Vance County’s housing challenges are apparent.
A number of factors contribute to the current housing situation in Vance County. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, 44% of households have incomes less than $25,000, and more than 77% of households have incomes less than $50,000. Job loss and the loss of industry in manufacturing contribute to low household incomes and influence foreclosure rates. The population is comprised primarily of renters, with home owners in the minority; many of the rental units are heavily subsidized and considered “substandard”. A recent request for assistance painted a similar picture in regard to the supply of housing for low to moderate-income single-family housing options. In addition to the circumstances affecting foreclosure properties, over 125 abandoned and blighted properties have been identified by the city and county.
Much attention has been given to foreclosure rates in recent months, simultaneously bringing attention to the problem of abandoned and blighted properties. According to HUD, blighted structures may pose a threat to “human health, safety and public welfare”. These challenges associated with large numbers of blighted properties are visible in Henderson, even to those not actively interested or concerned with housing or community appeal.
Vance County and the City of Henderson have taken major strides to improve current housing conditions. In March of 2009, Vance County received a two million dollar Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) award from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The program is funded through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The goal of the program is to stabilize communities through the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed and abandoned homes. With the award money, Vance County and the City of Henderson have managed to purchase about sixteen homes with plans to redevelop. They plan to purchase additional homes with remaining dollars.
Smaller scale projects include the Orange-Breckenridge Redevelopment Area. Similarly to NSP, the Redevelopment Commission hopes to acquire a number of blighted properties for demolition. The commission’s recent efforts focus on a particularly hard-hit neighborhood in Henderson. Franklin-Vance Warren Opportunity Inc. provides funds for single-family rehabilitation and non-profits and volunteers are also assisting in providing needed upgrades and construction efforts for local residents.
The ability to identify, plan and successfully apply for funding to deal with blighted and abandoned properties relies in part on knowledge of existing housing conditions and successful enforcement of a minimum housing code. Neighboring Warren County, also characterized by Tier 1 status, recently completed a housing inventory and housing condition survey. The housing study provided a detailed description of housing conditions in the area. The study can be used to create and enforce a minimum housing code, which currently does not exist in Warren County and data can also be used to target funding sources in the future.
In dealing with abandoned, blighted and foreclosed properties, many local governments are struggling to stay afloat. Realizing the importance of community appeal in the development process, local governments, including Henderson, are making housing issues a priority; they hope to utilize federal and state resources currently available. Henderson’s 2009-2010 Strategic Plan identifies improvement of the current housing stock as a key strategic objective. HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program and local government efforts are helping the city improve code enforcement, redevelop properties, and encourage home ownership opportunities in order to meet the strategic objectives.