10In a long work session Aug. 7, the Fayetteville City Council approved funding for a “transitional housing” project for people experiencing homelessness that will involve a conversion of the Night Inn motel into an apartment community with residential support services.

Chris Cauley, director of the Economic and Community Development Department, presented the council with five affordable housing projects, four of which the council approved in the meeting. The projects call for renovation of existing properties.

The council began its foray into affordable housing in June 2021, when it commissioned the first affordable housing study for the city. The study found an “extreme need” for rental units for people making 30% or less of the local median income, which was $48,923 in 2021.

The study also revealed a 10% decrease in homeownership.

“To sum that up, out of about 60-ish thousand households in Fayetteville, 20,000 of them pay too much in rent,” Cauley said.

“And so, it’s a significant problem here, just like it is in most large municipalities across the country,” Cauley said.
In June 2022, the council adopted policies that have enabled the city to work with developers on affordable housing projects, including small-scale developments and nonprofit organizations that provide support services, Cauley said.

In July 2022, the council officially launched its affordable housing program.

For the past 13 months, Cauley and his team have been meeting with developers to finalize a list of projects that are funded through federal and state grants already in place, including funds provided by the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“If it were not for these federal funds, I don’t think we would have the ability to do any of these projects,” City Manager Douglas Hewett said.

The council agreed to support the transitional housing project, Step Up on Eastern, with federal ARPA funds, including $3.4 million in direct financing and $2 million in operating support over three years.

This will not cover the entirety of the project, as Cumberland County is expected to contribute the rest of the funding.
Of the properties the council approved for affordable housing, Step Up on Eastern got the most buzz. The project will see the conversion of the Night Inn at 511 S. Eastern Blvd. into 137 single-family units with supportive mental health and case management services on site.

The developer, Step Up, is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness.
Along with its partner, Shangri-La, Step Up has developed 25 properties geared toward extremely low-income individuals, CEO Tod Lipka said at the meeting.

“What we’re really trying to do is help people acquire the skills of daily living,” Lipka said. “You don’t have to cook when you’re on the street. You don’t have to clean an apartment. You don’t have to really budget or shop for groceries. These are all things we’ll do hand-in-hand with each individual to help them make the change, adapting from living on the street to actually being a housed individual.”
Lipka said the organization has taken on motel conversion projects such as this one across the country and is currently working on similar projects in Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

“This is a tried-and-true practice of converting motels,” Lipka said. “What we do is convert the motel unit into a studio apartment. We add a kitchenette. We do a complete refresh and turn it into permanent housing.”
According to Lipka, Step Up has achieved a 98% retention rate with prior motel conversion projects aimed at individuals experiencing homelessness.
He attributes the success to a “very intensive service model” that equips residents with the necessary skills to reintegrate into society.

“That is, we have live-in staff who are the property managers, who are the eyes and the ears, 24/7 for individuals,” Lipka said. “And we also put on staff in the motel — supportive services staff, case managers, if you will — whose job is to do nothing but work with the tenants on a day-to-day basis. And we typically have one full-time staff for about 20 residents.”

Members of the City Council were generally supportive of the project, and it was approved unanimously Monday night.

“I drive by that property almost every day as it’s in my district, and so this is a full yes for me,” council member Shakeyla Ingram said.

“One of the biggest gaps for our homeless population is the transitional housing,” council member Deno Hondros said.

“So, the more we can get and the quicker we can get it, the better it would be for our community.”

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