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Housing trust project helps make housing in community more affordable


A new nonprofit organization in the Watauga County community is working on increasing the amount of available affordable housing for both students and community members.

The Watauga Community Housing Trust is a nonprofit organization run by 15-20 local volunteers around the community to develop and manage permanent, safe and affordable housing to promote financial wellbeing and economic security for low-moderate income community members.

Ben Loomis, Board President of the housing trust, said their plan is to fundraise enough money to purchase land and do renovations. Then they will sell the houses to individuals while the WCHT still has ownership. By only paying for the structure, the houses will be more affordable for potential tenants.

What our strategy was from the beginning in choosing the housing trust is picking some form of affordable housing that we can work on and that we also didn’t need to wait on new legislation or a large federal grant or anything outside of the community,” Loomis said. “A housing trust is something that we as citizens were able to just sit down and start working on.”

Loomis has been a part of this project for the past two years. He said his goal is for this project to outlast him and to have members of the community keep buying houses and renovating them, providing affordable housing for the community like what the Durham Community Land Trustees have done.

The WCHT has partnered with local organization Junaluska Heritage Association. The JHA is a community organization formed to preserve cultural heritage and help with growth in their community. Junaluska is the only remaining African American community in Watauga County. The Junaluska Heritage Association works to preserve the history of Junaluska and to include it in the surrounding communities, according to the website.

“The JHA has also promised to work to find a potential buyer for the house in the Junaluska neighborhood,” said Susan Keefe, secretary for the JHA and professor emerita for the Department of Anthropology at App State.

Roberta Jackson is a facilitator for the JHA. She said the Junaluska Heritage Association was approached concerning the interest in participating with the Housing Trust to purchase and restore a house in the Junaluska Community.

“We were more than happy to help. There is a shortage of housing in our community and this sounds like a good project to aid people in obtaining affordable homes,” Jackson said.

The JHA partnered with the WCHT to help with their purchase and renovation of the house in the Junaluska neighborhood, and in their application for a grant from the Western North Carolina Episcopal Diocese.

Members of the JHA have volunteered to work with the work teams to renovate the house.

During the process of forming the WCHT, some of the board members reached out and met with other North Carolina housing trusts to learn more about the start-up process, including the DCLT.

According to the Durham Community Land Trust website, the organization was established in 1987 and founded by a group of neighbors concerned about houses left empty to decay, causing an increase in crime rates and absentee landlords. “The neighbors then came together to save the neighborhood.”

Over 30 years later, DCLT self-manages 198 permanently affordable homes in eight different neighborhoods in and around Durham. The organization has expanded their focus to include all of the city of Durham.

Loomis said one of the local contractors they connected with to help with this housing trust project and to help with the construction part of it is Rob Howard, who is a lecturer in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment at App State, which is how he got involved with WCHT. Along with being the contractor for WCHT, Howard is also on the board for the organization.

Howard said he has a background in affordable housing which made him want to get involved in this project and go to some of the housing forums that were held at App State last year. 

He was a part of Habitat for Humanity for 15 years, worked for Catawba Valley Habitat for Humanity for 10 years and worked as a sustainable building specialist for Habitat International for five years.

In the winter of 2021, local community members who were a part of housing advocacy came together to pursue a housing trust and formed the WCHT, according to the website.

In the spring and summer of 2021, the board connected with other North Carolina housing trusts to research the process and worked with Watauga County to adopt a nonprofit 501(c)3. 

In the fall of 2022, the working teams for the WCHT developed their budgets, goals and outreach plans. Then they hosted their first public meeting to share their progress. 

The WCHT launched their website in the winter of 2023 and opened membership to the community. They also started having presentations to share their ideas with the community and to invite other collaborators.

Over the past few months, the WCHT had its first fundraiser to raise money for the First Home Fund. They raised over $50,000 to purchase their first house in the Junaluska community of Boone. They are now seeking help to repair the house and prepare it for affordable resale using The Housing Trust Model, according to the website.

Howard said they are at the stage of demolition where they are stripping it back to the framing to do a complete “gut rehab” of this house, and hoping to have it completed by spring of next year.

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About the Contributor
Sierra Fridinger
Sierra Fridinger, Reporter
Sierra Fridinger (she/her/hers) is a freshman public relations major with a minor in digital marketing from Greensboro, NC. This is her first year writing for The Appalachian.
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