United States

Critics say $42.3M in North Carolina housing grants will have ‘limited impact’

(The Center Square) – The North Carolina Department of Commerce awarded $42.3 million in neighborhood revitalization grants this week for low- and moderate-income housing, though some believe a better approach may be more fruitful.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce on Dec. 19 announced 27 local governments will receive 30 Community Development Block Grants totaling $42.3 million, including $5 million set aside by the General Assembly for non-housing community development projects in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties through the Rural Community Development Fund.

“North Carolina has made significant investments in our communities to help them provide affordable housing,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “Building stronger and more resilient communities is important to our economic success and these neighborhood revitalization grants will support them in doing just that.”

The grants were awarded in two rounds; the first funding 18 projects totaling $15.7 million with awards up to $950,000, and the second for a dozen projects totaling $26.6 million with a maximum award of $5 million.

The grant maximums were increased to offset rising construction costs and “other special needs that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a Cooper release.

Fifteen of the 18 projects in the first round received the maximum $950,000:

Anson County for Ansonville.Avery County for Cramerton, Fair Bluff, Fairmont and High Shoals.Hyde County.Jones County.McDowell County for Newton, Oxford, Sanford, Tabor City and Thomasville.

Other first round awards included $400,000 for Buncombe County, $617,222 for Duplin County and $442,500 for Leland.

McDowell County was the only recipient to receive the maximum $5 million award in round two, though Sanford received $4,947,521 and Granite Falls received $4,999,000. Others in round two included $645,044 for Alexander County, $2 million for Brunswick, $2,575,000 for Elizabethtown, $1,231,388 for Hyde County, $550,000 for Martin County, $2,280,400 for Pamlico County, $625,000 for Princeville, $235,939 for Seaboard and $1,562,500 for Stantonsburg.

Granite Falls is the first recipient of the Rural Community Development Fund.

“These additional federal resources will help our most vulnerable communities as building and living costs have increased,” said Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “This is a banner year for economic development and this infusion of funding will greatly benefit more North Carolina families and local economies by providing more housing options, jobs, and economic opportunities.”

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, contends that while affordable housing is a pressing issue facing many North Carolinians, there are better ways than government grants to address it.

“Looking for ways to increase availability of affordable housing is an admirable goal. Approaching that goal through a top-down, bureaucracy-heavy, government program is likely to have a limited impact. It would be much more advantageous for government to look for ways to remove the regulatory obstacles that block builders from pursuing a range of projects that would include affordable options,” he said.

“It’s also disappointing to see any government spending program touted as good for the economy,” Kokai added. “At best, government programs tend to have little positive impact on the economy and employment opportunities. At worst, they divert resources from private investments that would produce larger, more sustainable economic gains.”

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