Strengthening Communities Through Affordable Housing

Strengthening Communities Through Affordable Housing

David Feathers steers his truck up a steep road and parks near a muddy construction site. Gray clouds hover over the nearby mountains. Tree branches tremble in a chilly breeze.

“Right over here will be a home for a family of six,” Feathers says, pointing to a stack of cinder blocks. “On that corner will be a family of five. The next house over is for a single woman raising her granddaughter.”

He drives his truck around a bend in the road.

Charles Penland, affordable housing coordinator at Hinton Rural Life Center in North Carolina, visits with a homeowner.

“And this house – this epitomizes why we do what we do,” he says. “This will be for a family of four. The father is disabled because he was injured in Iraq. The mother was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. They have two young daughters, and one has severe breathing difficulties. Right now they’re living in a trailer full of mold and mildew. This reminds me that what we’re doing is important.”

Feathers works for the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, N.C., a mission of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Through a program called Self-Help Housing, the center helps low-income families come together under the guidance of a construction supervisor and build each other’s homes.

With a new grant from The Duke Endowment, Hinton has expanded the program to include clients with debt and credit issues. By providing counseling and loans, the center supports families as they confront an all-too-common obstacle in Appalachia.

“It could be a $100 phone bill that has been turned into the credit bureau, or a $10,000 doctor bill,” says Feathers, the Self-Help Housing group coordinator. “And everybody has a car payment. In the mountains, you have to have a decent car to get to work – but if you’re making $18,000 a year and you’ve got a $258 a month car payment, that just kills your debt-to-income ratio.”

Charles Penland, the affordable housing coordinator at Hinton, explains further.

“We lost most of our mill jobs around here within the last 10 to 15 years,” he says. “Where people were making $16 to $18 an hour, they’re now making $8 to $9 an hour without health insurance. Fifty-three percent of our applicants are ineligible because of medical debt.”

“We’re not trying to give anybody anything,” Feathers adds. “We are trying to reward people for their willingness to change their own lives.”

Since 1990, the Hinton Rural Life Center has built nearly 50 houses, including 15 in the Wesley Meadows community in Warne, N.C. Another six are under construction this spring.

As Feathers continues his drive through Wesley Meadows, he describes how the program has made a difference.

Before moving to the neighborhood, one neighbor, a certified nursing assistant, was living in a trailer with high rental payments. Another – a soldier back on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan – was living with his grandparents.

Feathers stops in front of a green frame house with white rocking chairs on the front porch. Multiple bicycles lie in the grass. A basketball hoop stands next to the asphalt driveway. Feathers recalls that the homeowner and her husband wanted a house big enough for their nieces and nephew to visit.

“Well now they have their nieces and nephew living with them as foster kids,” he says. “Without this house, the kids would have been split up.”

Contact Us

Robert R. Webb III
Director of Rural Church


Related Work

Area of Work

  • Congregational outreach

Program Area

  • Rural Church

Areas of Work

  • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

    To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

  • Out-of-home care for youth

    To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

  • Quality and safety of health care

    Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

  • Access to health care

    Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

  • Prevention

    Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

  • Academic excellence

    Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

  • Educational access and success

    Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

  • Campus and community engagement

    Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

  • Rural church development

    Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

  • Clergy leadership

    Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

  • Congregational outreach

    Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities

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