By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
With growth and steady improvement overall in Cherokee has come a need for housing. Affordable housing needs have been an issue on Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians land for decades, but with the increase in employment, particularly with the casinos, the workforce needs somewhere to live. These needs compound the housing needs that were already in place. These needs were addressed at a meeting of artisans and business owners at the Cherokee Phoenix Theatre on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 27.
EBCI Secretary of Housing Travis Smith stressed this need as the Tribe gets into the planning stages for 200 acres of land purchase in the Camp Creek area, near the reservation. With a casino expansion in Cherokee, and the success and expansion of the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy, the need for workforce housing is growing. Smith said some of the workforce travels from as far away as Atlanta, partly because of the housing shortage. “We don’t have enough of it.”
Smith also stressed the need for housing to be affordable, which given the average yearly salary in Swain County of $33,000, finding a place to live is difficult. “Housing is affordable when your income is not compromised by 30 percent.” With that kind of income, housing costs wouldn’t leave much afterward, especially since in recent years, housing costs, along with costs of living, have greatly outpaced income.
Smith also said, “We’re looking at all types of housing.” Rentals are another need, particularly among those in the workforce not looking to own a home.
Smith said the land in Camp Creek was purchased with gaming money, and home would be constructed with tribal money or possibly tax credits. While these structures would be built for profit, that’s not the goal. “If we can break even, we’re good.”
General Grant, owner of Traditional Hands Native American Jewelry and Art Gallery, suggested spending money on investments that he said would pay the tribe back. “We need something to be competitive.”
Smith answered that the need to house the workforce would still be there. Without that, “It does us no good.” Secretary of Commerce Paula Wojtkowski, reinforced that. “If we don’t build more workforce housing, we can’t staff. Now it falls back to us.”
Other business discussed at the meeting was concerns over getting consistent signage, controlling speeding in Cherokee’s downtown area and free wi-fi access downtown.