Lake Norman & Mooresville

Mooresville nonprofits work to move more homeless into permanent housing

Two Mooresville nonprofits working to reduce poverty are moving forward with an initiative to offer stability to more low-income people, particularly those on the verge of homelessness.

The initiative, called Homeless to Homeownership , is meant to help those who are struggling to pay rent or are without a home, helping them improve their financial situation and find permanent housing.

It is the first such collaborative effort between Christian Mission of Mooresville/Lake Norman and Community Foundations Inc., which have applied for a grant totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars that would help them serve more people.

“Home ownership is a big hope,” said Valerie Chamberlain, executive director of the Christian Mission.

The long-established nonprofit provides a range of services, including transitional housing, financial support, food assistance and job training and other educational programs. It helps about 5,000 low-income families, many of them facing a “constant risk” of going hungry or running out of money, Chamberlain said.

Community Foundations develops affordable housing and offers financial counseling services to moderate- and low-income families, including those seeking to buy a house after experiencing foreclosure.

Despite their similar goals, it was not until last year that the nonprofits started developing the initiative, after collaborating on a financial literacy program.

To help carry it out, they applied for a $450,000 grant last week that would go toward not only transitional housing and financial support, but also acquiring and rehabilitating houses for low- and moderate-income tenants. The grant, from Wells Fargo and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, would help an estimated 1,500 families over three years.

The idea is to help them “get to a point where they can be self-sustaining,” said Kathie Brantley, executive director of Community Foundations. The nonprofits plan to hire a full-time employee to help carry out the initiative, posting them in the Christian Mission office, in downtown Mooresville.

Mooresville commissioners have thrown their support behind the initiative, endorsing earlier this month the grant application and considering a separate request by the nonprofits to set aside nearly $225,000 in federal funds for transitional housing. If approved, the town would use that money to build or rehabilitate a house, eventually turning it over to the foundation to seek permanent tenants.

The town receives an annual $75,000 in those funds, said Tim Brown, senior planner for Mooresville. Designated for low- and moderate-income housing, the funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Partnering with Community Foundations and Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, the town has used that money to help develop affordable housing. Over the past five years it has rehabilitated three houses and built four, with plans to rehabilitate one and build another this year, Brown noted.

But like other places, addressing homelessness in Mooresville is a considerable undertaking.

“We don’t have the resources,” Brown said, adding that the initiative “meets a critical need in our community.”

The extent of chronic homelessness here is relatively low. But the number of people slipping in and out of poverty is significant, said Chamberlain, the Christian Mission director.

And while many the nonprofits serve are employed, it is not uncommon for these people to spend more than half their monthly income on housing, making it difficult to save.

“There’s no way for them to catch up,” Chamberlain said.

To help them lift their fortunes, the nonprofits are working together to offer financial counseling services, focusing on things like saving, improving their credit scores and reducing their spending on housing to no more than 30 percent of monthly income. That is about the ratio required by mortgage lenders.

That, however, could prove difficult in a town where the average rent is around $1,200 a month, said Brantley, the foundation director, citing a report by the Centralina Council of Governments.

“Most of our families can’t afford that,” she said.

The foundation, which also receives funding from HUD, has helped one family purchase a house over the past six months, with another in the process of doing so, she noted. She added that it also is seeking permanent tenants for another before the end of the month.

The average monthly rent for low-income housing is far less, about $750 a month, Chamberlain noted.

Even so, preventing homelessness has remained a focal point of the Christian Mission, which helps with rent and utility bills.

“If we can prevent people from becoming homeless, then we all win,” Chamberlain said, noting that the nonprofit last year served nearly 190 people facing homelessness.

Jake Flannick is a freelance writer. Have a story for Jake? Email him at jacobflannick@gmail.com.

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