To strengthen rural communities in North Carolina and encourage congregational outreach through United Methodist churches, The Duke Endowment since 1999 has supported efforts that help people live in safe and affordable homes.
“This work is at the intersection of two important goals for us,” says Duke Endowment Trustee Dennis Campbell, who chairs the Committee on Rural Church. “It helps strengthen churches by engaging congregations in an important program that serves others – and it addresses a critical need in North Carolina.”
In North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Housing Coalition, one in five homes is substandard. More than 10,500 households go without heat in the winter. And more than 16,500 homes don’t have indoor plumbing.
Living in those conditions can compromise the health of every family member. AARP research shows that the leading cause of death from injury among older adults is from falls, and one-third of those falls occur because of unsafe conditions in the home. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study found that 40 percent of diagnosed asthma in children is caused by exposure to mold, mildew or other hazards in the home.
Many families can’t find housing that’s safe and affordable. The generally accepted definition of affordability, according to the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development, is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay beyond this for housing are considered “cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.”
National estimates show that 18 million renters and homeowners now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. Perhaps more alarming: A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.
In North Carolina, nearly 48 percent of low-income households pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.
The Duke Endowment began supporting housing projects after floods from Hurricane Floyd devastated communities in eastern North Carolina in September 1999.
Churches were among the first organizations that answered the call for help. Congregations rebuilt homes and repaired damages. They helped thousands of North Carolinians — and gained a wealth of experience.
As the need for replacement housing eased, the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church began discussing ways that their home-building momentum could be sustained. Both conferences had built capable support systems for coordinating and managing volunteer teams across the state, and they had facilities and equipment to help in construction work.
In 2002, each conference received a $1.5 million grant from the Endowment to help provide housing for needy families. The conferences used their staff and volunteer teams from area churches for home construction; grant funds supported the program infrastructure and were used to purchase home sites and building materials.
The Western North Carolina Conference’s program — Rural Affordable Housing Inc. — evolved into its own nonprofit, the Wesley Community Development Corporation. The Endowment also supported affordable housing programs through the Hinton Rural Life Center, a mission of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.
Filling a Need
Since those early grants, The Duke Endowment’s focus on affordable housing continued. In 2006 and 2007, the Endowment awarded nearly $4 million to support 14 affordable housing programs. Fifty-nine houses were completed in those two years with an estimated total value of about $7.1 million.During the recent recession, the need for affordable housing, particularly in rural North Carolina, grew. In response, the Endowment’s Rural Church program area shifted its affordable housing focus from constructing new units to renovating existing, substandard housing. Between 2011 and 2015, the Endowment awarded more than $1 million to support affordable housing efforts.
In 2012, for example, a $30,000 grant supported the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, an organization known as WARM. Since its founding in Wilmington, N.C., WARM has worked to restore and repair hundreds of homes for low-income neighbors in coastal North Carolina. Thousands of volunteers, mostly from the faith community, have donated time and muscle.
Grants made in 2015 and 2016 included several efforts to provide safe and affordable housing for retired United Methodist clergy and low-income seniors. A $233,000 grant to Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, N.C., for example, was directed toward a home repair program that allows low-income seniors to safely remain in their homes.
In 2016, a $4 million award went to Givens Estates in Asheville, N.C., to support affordable housing for seniors. Givens is a senior living organization affiliated with the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. The expansion will target middle-income seniors, allowing them to age in place.
Participating Sites in North Carolina
- North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church, Raleigh
- Western North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church, Charlotte