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How Charlotte is providing affordable housing. Should Greenville try?

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A trend growing in popularity around the country is converting motels and hotels into affordable housing.

When Greenville County officials condemned the Economy Inn in January, 80 people who considered the motel their home found themselves without shelter.

The Greenville Homeless Alliance stepped in and helped, beginning with arrangement of living quarters.

Leaders of the organization that works to increase options for homeless people in Greenville County say a lack of affordable-housing options is one reason people live in motels. Additionally, if someone has poor credit or a criminal background, it can be difficult to be approved for a lease on an apartment. 

But motels can be relatively expensive and sometimes have poor living conditions amid higher rates of crime.

An alternative growing in popularity around the country is converting motels and hotels into affordable housing.

Roof Above, a homeless service provider in Charlotte, North Carolina, is in the process of doing just that. 

The organization bought a former Quality Inn in Charlotte at the end of 2020 with all the furnishings and was able to use it immediately as an emergency shelter for women and children during the cold months of winter.

As temperatures have warmed, the hotel is no longer being operated as emergency shelter and is now under construction to be converted into permanent affordable housing that’s expected to open in December, according to Liz Clasen-Kelly, Roof Above’s CEO.

More on Greenville’s affordable housing: The ‘affordable housing’ planned in Greenville largely ignores those who need it most

The hotel has 88 rooms on 2.6 acres of land and sold for $5.45 million. It was built in the 1980s and was renovated in 2017.

The cost of the hotel, renovation of the rooms and creating a wing for additional support services will cost $12 million in all, with $2 million coming from the city of Charlotte and the remainder from private philanthropy.

“In terms of how much motels like this cost — that varies widely,” Clasen-Kelly wrote in an email. “The way these assets are appraised typically depends on their revenue stream, but if you are purchasing to convert to housing, that changes the appraisal.”

Texas, Colorado and California are converting motels, too

Charlotte isn’t the only city attempting a motel conversion like this. In January 2021, the city council of Austin, Texas, voted to purchase a hotel for $6.7 million to use as transitional housing for the homeless. The money came from the city’s police budget.

Read more: Austin is buying a hotel to house the homeless. The money is coming from the police budget

Housing officials say this is a trend in states like Colorado, California and Minnesota as well.

“It is not a brand-new concept,” said Donald Whitehead, president of the National Homeless Coalition. “I think what’s brand new is the scale that it is being done.” 

It’s possible to happen in Greenville. To further incentivize developers to invest in affordable housing, City Council approved a zoning change in November allowing for hotels and motels to be repurposed into affordable housing. The change allows hotels and motels in commercial districts to convert into long-term residential use if a percentage of the units are geared toward people making at or below 80% of the area median income.

Greenville’s area median income is $56,609, according to U.S. Census data.

Left out in planning: The ‘affordable housing’ planned in Greenville largely ignores those who need it most

You might be surprised: What does it take to afford ‘affordable housing’ in Greenville?

The ordinance cites affordable housing as “the essential foundation upon which to build a more sustainable future for the city of Greenville.” 

Greenville City Council member Lillian Brock Fleming sees the zoning change as one tool among a range of options to create more affordable housing in Greenville.

While the council has not explored whether any hotel inside city limits has low enough occupancy to make conversion feasible, Fleming said she believes there are more options outside city limits in the county.

At its last meeting, County Council approved $10 million to go toward affordable housing over the next two years. A plan breaking down where the money will go is to be announced in the coming weeks. 

“Five years ago, I wouldn’t bet 50 cents that County Council would vote unanimously to something like this,” County Councilman Ennis Fant said. 

There are two reasons county government isn’t likely to be interested in purchasing a motel and converting it to affordable housing, Fant said.

One, county officials would consider converting a hotel or motel to be a big undertaking that they would rather leave to private and philanthropic communities, Fant said.

And two, Fant is already working on a redevelopment plan for the Gantt area, where the Economy Inn was condemned and a number of other motels that Fant has described as problematic are located.

Fant said he is working with the county Planning Commission to foster commercial and residential development in the area, including low-income housing for those with criminal records or bad credit who have trouble renting elsewhere. 

Read more: Greenville’s leaders still working to define what ‘affordable housing’ means

The Greenville Housing Fund, a nonprofit organization that works with both the city and county to provide affordable housing, has not shown interest in purchasing a hotel to this point.

“I think the question is going to be, when they sell, can the new owner actually comply with the (affordability) requirement,” said Bryan Brown, CEO and president of the Greenville Housing Fund. “That’s the question I have, because the affordability requirements, they do reduce your revenue. And if a buyer overpays for this project for this property, I think it’s going to be tough.”

To make a project serving those residents worthwhile to the developers who’d build it, extra subsidy would be needed to make up for what tenants don’t pay in rent, Brown said. And the subsidy that’s available is limited.

Susan McLarty, the Greenville Homeless Alliance’s coordinator, said the Homeless Alliance is interested in converting a motel into housing. The question is where the money would come from.

Homeless shelters often break up families if they have rooms with bunk beds or if the shelters are designated specifically for men or women. Hotel rooms set up for a shelter or transitional housing could be a way to keep homeless families together where people could bring as many belongings as they need to and even a pet.

“I think that’s something Greenville could consider,” McLarty said.

‘We bought a hotel’: Location was especially attractive in Charlotte

Clasen-Kelly with Roof Above in Charlotte presented her organization’s undertaking to the Greenville Homeless Alliance at a meeting in April. 

“We bought a hotel,” Clasen-Kelly said. “This is a neighborhood that’s been a lower-income neighborhood, but it’s becoming very trendy.”

The hotel is located in Charlotte’s Lower South End, informally abbreviated by many to “LoSo.”

Other neighborhoods with catchy acronym nicknames have been in the process of gentrifying, like NoDa across town in Charlotte, short for North Davidson, and RiNo in Denver, Colorado, short for the River North Art District.

The LoSo location for Roof Above’s new project was important, Clasen-Kelly said.

“Young professionals are coming and moving in. But there’s traditionally been a lot of affordable housing there,” Clasen-Kelly said. “Not only was it centrally located, it’s walking distance to light rail, but we also know this is a neighborhood that’s going to be deeply impacted by gentrification. There’s something powerful about being able to put a footprint there.”

Homelessness solutions: New Greenville homes offer beds for men recovering from addiction or homelessness

The Quality Inn had low occupancy, so the owner was interested in working in partnership with Roof Above to make Clasen-Kelly’s dream a reality, she said. 

Roof Above has done something similar before. 

The organization built Moore Place, affordable housing created specifically for those experiencing chronic homelessness. The apartment complex offers on-site case management and medical care for its residents. 

Roof Above seeks to do the same at the Quality Inn, where it will provide 88 new units for those in Charlotte who need housing most.

The Greenville Homeless Alliance is interested in something similar, but the biggest challenge will be finding funding.

The organization is a coalition made up of 75 partner organizations and more than 1,000 individuals who donate and volunteer. For the Greenville Homeless Alliance to purchase a motel, it would take a capital campaign composed of donations from the many philanthropic organizations and government agencies that partner with the group. 

Genna Contino covers affordable housing and gentrification for The Greenville News. Contact Genna at gcontino@gannett.com or on Twitter @GennaContino. Subscribe to The Greenville News at  greenvillenews.com/subscribe.

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?

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When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances

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Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit

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Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.

 

 

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