In the process of compiling information for the Strategic Plan to improve our communities, it became clear there was a need for housing in Pocahontas County. With that in mind, Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Cara Rose formed the Housing Task Force.
“I reached out to who I thought would be the primary stakeholders in a Housing Task Force in March,” she said. “Those people included our larger employers, essentially, and then a few other organizations that play a role. Everybody immediately understood the importance of it and were on board to start learning about housing and how we can facilitate improvements in what housing means to the workforce in our county.”
Since then, the task force has met five times and has made strides in forming partnerships and creating plans to solve the housing issue.
“Really, these five meetings have been educational,” Rose said. “Most of us are not in the business of housing, obviously, so we’ve really spent the last five meetings learning a lot about housing. One of the organizations that we brought on board immediately from the get-go was the Woodland’s Development Group. They have been priceless in helping us begin to navigate this housing issue.
“We’re not alone,” she continued. “Pocahontas County is joined by every single county, community, in the entire United States. It really is a nationwide problem, so we’ve learned that. We’re just trying to explore the best routes to begin solving these housing issues.”
The task force is also working with the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation to formulate a strategy to conduct a formal housing assessment for the county, as well as the greater Greenbrier Valley.
Rose said the assessment could take up to two years, but it is a valuable piece of the puzzle to know exactly what the county needs in regard to new construction and housing upgrades.
“We’ve gotten some baseline information directly from the employers which can be very helpful,” she said. “We’ve also identified potential projects so that we can have some model projects underway while these assessments are being completed, which could take a year or two.
“That seems like a long time, but there’s no immediate resolution to the housing issue,” she continued. “But I do think we have a really good understanding of potential projects. We need to evaluate these potential properties, communicate with the property owners and determine if they fit the criteria for some of the potential resources that are available to help rehab buildings into housing.”
While the task force was initially formed to tackle the workforce housing issue, Rose said the housing problem is much larger and the task force plans to address housing for all residents.
“We need to ensure that we are filling a gap that our workforce has right now, but in reality, what we have also learned is that this is much bigger than just a workforce housing issue, and that’s why the task force has been formed,” Rose said. “We understand there’s an immediate need right now by all of our larger employers for housing for employees – whether it’s existing employees or the opportunity to recruit employees – housing is a key factor in that.
“We understand that part, but also understand that there is a vast need in our population to provide more low income housing opportunities for residents of all demographics and there is a need for more inventory for new housing,” she continued. “Inventory is a real big problem, that’s widespread. We’re not alone. Our role right now is really to just facilitate the development of affordable housing in the greater Greenbrier River Valley.”
The housing task force will look at housing for seasonal and year-round employees, as well as needs of residents for low-income housing.
“There’s a lot of resources out there, we just have to figure out how we connect identified projects and properties, and those owners to the right resources as long as they fit a gap that we have,” Rose said. “Our task force members are eager to make change.”
In the past six months, Rose said the process has been very educational and eye opening in regard to the housing situation in the county. She hopes that the task force can not only help people find housing, but find a home here in Pocahontas County.
“Dave Clark, who works with the Woodland’s Development Group said something early on that has really stuck with me is that we want to build wealth through homeownership and that really resonates with me; it’s true,” she said. “What better way for us to work with our community members than to help foster that.”