Wilsie at planning meeting

Jennifer Wilsie addresses those gathered in the library last Wednesday.

Approximately 20 people filed into the Community Room of the Jessie Peterman Memorial Library last Wednesday for a public information meeting on Floyd County’s housing rehabilitation program.

The county recently was awarded a planning grant to assess the housing needs of county residents.

To fulfill the requirements of the grant, the project team, led by Community & Economic Development Director Lydeana Martin, was required to hold a public meeting to gauge local need and interest in the grant, as well as to establish a management team.

Wednesday’s gathering in the library was phase one of what could be a months-long project.

Jennifer Wilsie, a senior planner from the New River Valley Regional Commission, led the majority of the planning meeting.

The county has hired the regional commission to help with the administration of the planning grant, including the management team meetings. Wilsie explained that the Community Development Block Grant program is a “state process” that is “not super fast.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, which was one of two held that day, interested parties could volunteer to be part of a management/leadership team with the goal of assessing the areas of highest need in Floyd County. “Because of how big Floyd is and that the grant allows us to choose from anywhere in the county,” Wilsie said, “It’s great, but it’s time-consuming.”

Housing rehab projects typically deal with situations involving at least one of the following criteria: blight, households under a certain income threshold, or an emergency or urgent need.

The program in Floyd will be primarily focused on the second category of homes.

The income thresholds for qualifying households are set each year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development based on geographic location and family size.

In this planning stage of the project, Wilsie said the onus is on Floyd County—particularly the leadership team—to demonstrate that there are enough homes in need of repair and households that meet the income requirements within the county to qualify for construction grant funds. Construction projects would primarily address situations where houses were not in compliance with building codes, or had faulty or deteriorating components.

Another essential component of the planning phase is demonstrating community resident involvement—according to Martin, the Floyd Initiative for Safe Housing (FISH) has made serious progress on that front already. “Funders like to see grassroots support and community need,” Martin said. “FISH has demonstrated that.” Wilsie praised FISH as well, saying the organization “has taken an amazing run at working individually with homeowners … [the housing rehab] program would take that work to the next step.”

Many of those in attendance Wednesday had questions about current, urgent needs at their homes.

One woman asked Wilsie what could be done about her leaking roof. Another man said he had an uncovered cistern that needed addressing.

Martin told the crowd, “If you have an urgent need, see [FISH] after this meeting.” She continued, “I want to avoid confusing people in the room who need help.”

She said representatives from various community housing organizations that attended the meeting would compare notes and “triage” the most pressing requests.

In addition to Martin and Wilsie, representatives from the New River Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity, Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc., and the Renovation Alliance attended the planning meeting. Habitat was there in support of FISH, said Shelly Fortier, the executive director of the New River Valley chapter, as FISH is a Habitat committee.

In terms of the grant, the next step will be establishing a team that will meet monthly to collect data and determine the areas of highest need in Floyd. Applications for housing assistance funds will be due in Spring 2020, Wilsie said, and then will be scored. Applying for the grant is a competitive process and winners will not be determined for several months.

Those interested in joining the leadership team should contact Lydeana Martin at lmartin@floydcountyva.org.

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