Featured photo: Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy speaks to council during the May 16 council meeting. (photo by Gale Melcher)

City leaders in Greensboro are discussing the possibility of using the former Regency Inn to create much-needed permanent-supportive housing in the city.

As has been reported by news outlets in the past, the Regency Inn, which is located at 2701 N. O. Henry Blvd., has been used during the winter months for the past few years to shelter unhoused people. The building is currently owned by Partnership Homes, but during Tuesday’s city council meeting, council members discussed the possibility of a new owner and finally moving to convert the building into permanent housing. The move is something that the city has been discussing for years.

According to the city, the new owners would be Step Up on Second, a nonprofit which offers permanent supportive housing, supportive services, and workplace development support to people experiencing serious mental health issues and chronic houselessness.

Step Up on Second would convert the motel rooms into 57 permanent supportive housing units, and would provide a site-based case management team according to the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy. 

The city would commit funding for case management services and would request that Greensboro Housing Authority consider committing housing vouchers to support the rents of the anticipated units.

The plan to create permanent supportive housing has been a goal of the city for years.

As reported by TCB in the past, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment skyrocketed in the last few years and homelessness continues to rise. Approved in 2020, the city’s 10-year Housing GSO plan encourages the city to dedicate funding to support an approach called “Housing First.” The goal is to house the homeless as soon as possible and build an understanding that “permanent, safe housing is a necessary first step toward connecting them with community services to address their homelessness.”

What’s the hold up?

While there was significant talk about the plan to move forward with the Regency Inn on Tuesdays, the resolution was ultimately tabled until the May 23 meeting after council members signaled they needed more time to consider the resolution. 

The conversation around this project and Step Up’s proposal to acquire the Regency Inn goes back to an Oct. 27, 2022 work session. Greensboro Housing Authority’s potential to provide vouchers for the project was also discussed during that meeting.

Councilmember Sharon Hightower said on Tuesday that she wished that they’d had more discussion and expressed confusion. 

“I hate that we’re sitting here having it right this minute,” she said. 

Hightower was present during the Oct. 27 work session.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan expressed frustration after Hightower’s statement, saying that she wants to “get people in this permanent supportive housing,” but that they’ve been going “round and round for a year.”

Before tabling this item, councilmembers unanimously approved a resolution that pledged to focus on the development of permanent supportive housing and encourage “cooperation” from governmental agencies, housing and care providers and the community in the development of permanent supportive housing for the chronically houseless. The resolution calls on trusted community service providers such as Cone Health, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Guilford County, PACE of the Triad, Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine, non-profit agencies and housing providers and the Greensboro Housing Authority to “work together in the development of permanent supportive housing.”

Currently, Guilford County has a targeted need of 250 permanent supportive housing units within the next year, and the city has committed to providing 175 of those units according to Kennedy.

How do housing vouchers work?

The resolution to create the permanent supportive housing project states that the Greensboro Housing Authority has been “requested to consider committing vouchers to support the rents [of] an anticipated 57 studio units.” The housing choice voucher program is a federally-funded and income-based program that helps low-income individuals and families, the elderly and the disabled afford housing.

Greensboro Housing Authority could potentially contribute unused vouchers to the housing project. But Councilmember Sharon Hightower said that she was “confused” about why there were available vouchers.

“Do you have just unused vouchers?” Hightower asked Greensboro Housing Authority CEO James Cox, adding that she gets calls “every day” from people looking for housing. 

“They could use a voucher,” she said. “And you’re sitting with an unused voucher, why is it not being made available to the individuals looking for housing? I don’t get that.”

Cox answered Hightower saying that there are more than 300 individuals with vouchers who are “on the street right now searching,” but there is no housing to use them on.

Even with housing vouchers, locating available units in Greensboro is a struggle due to the city’s limited housing stock and housing that will accept vouchers. 

“It’s not really the use of the vouchers, it’s really the housing stock and supply,” Cox replied.

Cox added that the vouchers are valued in the millions of dollars and that it would require extensive approval from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to convert some of the tenant-based stock of vouchers that Greensboro Housing Authority has into project-based vouchers to be designated for the suggested permanent supportive housing units.

Kennedy added that this issue of unutilized vouchers is happening across the country.

“We know that nationally and locally we are facing some of the most difficult housing conditions in terms of affordability, particularly for people at the lower level of the income spectrum,” she said. “There are folks that look for a year plus and can’t find anything.”

She noted that if the vouchers are converted, the vouchers could “live with the project,” so that if a resident leaves, “the next person will have that voucher sitting there waiting as they come in.”

What else has the city done?

The city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Department has been working diligently to increase affordable housing options by moving toward the development of a community land trust, a community-based land stewardship that focuses on providing housing with long-term affordability as well as preserving community assets such as affordable housing. 

According to the city’s website, many Greensboro properties are “vacant, abandoned, or tax delinquent,” and these properties are worth less than the amount of money owed in taxes, liens and property repairs. A community land trust would be a means of freeing up the properties to provide affordable housing for current and future generations. The initial focus areas for the community land trust will be in Council Districts 1 and 2. A timeline for this project has not yet been released.

When it comes to the issue of houselessness, the city received some backlash when they purchased 30 temporary Pallet shelters as a means of addressing the severe cold weather threatening the city’s houseless population last year. The shelters stood for less than three months, occupied 64 square feet of space each and could house two people each. However, some residents told TCB that they didn’t have a roommate during their stay. 

Residents were provided with around four bus passes per day. The Pallet shelter community was located approximately four miles from the city’s downtown where several services for the houseless are located. Food was not provided to the residents, and the onsite showers were unreliable at first according to residents and onsite case management staff.

The city also received pushback after passing amendments last year that many in the community saw as targeting the houseless. Some of those ordinances state that anyone who leaves objects in the street or in a public space or obstructs pathways or entrances could be charged with a misdemeanor and a $50 fine, which some said amounted to punishing people for being houseless.

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