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City faces housing challenges

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City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rocky Mount’s top day-to-day executive showed a local civic club quite a distressing picture of the housing situation locally, but she made clear the municipal government is working to address the problem.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney gave a PowerPoint presentation at Monday’s luncheon of the Rotary Club of Rocky Mount at Rocky Mount Mills. Small-Toney also fielded questions from the audience.

“A lot of the housing here in our community — or a considerable amount of it, I should say — would be considered substandard,” Small-Toney said.

Rocky Mount’s population was slightly more than 54,500 in 2017.

During her presentation, Small-Toney said although many have expressed concerns about Rocky Mount losing population in recent years, the city actually has been the scene of new residents through in-migration.

The catch, Small-Toney showed, is these new residents have income levels lower than Rocky Mount’s median level.

Among the rest of the information she showed:

Of the city’s 2017 population, slightly more than 20 percent are children 15 years of age and under, which is the largest share. Nearly 16 percent are seniors 65 and older.

Of the city’s 2017 population, less than 85 percent of Rocky Mount residents ages 25 and older have at least a high school diploma. Only 29 percent of Rocky Mount residents have an associate’s degree or a college degree.

Approximately a third of children under age 18 in Rocky Mount live in poverty.

Of families in Rocky Mount living below the poverty level, slightly more than 50 percent are single women with children, while 37 percent are working single women with children.

The local median household income is approximately $37,600, which is 25 percent less than the median statewide income of slightly more than $50,300.

More specifically, 34 percent have household incomes of less $25,000, while nearly 28 percent have household incomes of $25,000 to slightly less than $50,000.

Small-Toney next presented information about Rocky Mount’s housing supply.

According to what Small-Toney showed:

Slightly more than 54 percent of the residences in Rocky Mount were built prior to 1970, compared to slightly more than 39 percent statewide.

Only slightly more than 12 percent of the residences in the city have been constructed since 2000, compared to nearly 25 percent statewide.

Nearly 49 percent of the residences in the city are renter occupied, compared to 35 percent statewide.

And she showed 57.5 percent of rental household occupants are paying more than 30 percent of their incomes to landlords. The statewide average is slightly less than 49 percent.

Small-Toney said the positive is the city has seen a significant increase in the housing market, with sales being brisk so far this year in terms of volume and prices paid.

Still, Small-Toney said the big picture is the available housing supply for buyers remains low and the demand is putting pressure on affordable living.

Small-Toney showed median home values are nearly 2.8 times median household incomes.

And she showed the fair market rate for a two-bedroom apartment in the city is $721 a month.

Unfortunately, she said, the local median rent is nearly $1,000 a month.

And she showed that 74 percent of low-income households are cost burdened because they pay more than 30 percent of their incomes to landlords. That is compared to 65 percent statewide.

Even worse, she showed that 44 percent pay more than half of their incomes to landlords. That is compared to 35 percent statewide.

Small-Toney went on to show the development of affordable residential locations, such as Beal Street Square and the new Ravenwood Crossing.

She also said the City Council has committed to appropriate approximately $500,000 this year to support three city housing grant programs.

She said two of them are going to leverage state and federal funds to provide assistance to make emergency repairs to residences, as well as to stabilize affordable housing and to renovate older residences.

She also said land banking is another tool to help stimulate residential development of neglected properties. Land banking involves purchasing blocks of land, with the goal being to sell the land for profit when the land has been approved for development.

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