Watauga Housing Forum Kickoff Recap

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News ,

One of the most important and potentially transformative discussions in our community in decades got started last night as the series of Watauga Housing Forums kicked off at the Watauga County Recreation Center. This community-led work session was focused on housing safety and featured over 100 in-person and 60-virtual attendees.

Lead organizer Kellie Reed-Ashcraft moderated a panel discussion that featured Melissa Soto, Executive Director, W.A.M.Y. Community Action, Yolanda Adams, Watauga County Schools & Que Pasa Appalachia, and Danielle Smith, Executive Director, The Bridge International. Each discussed how their agencies interact with community members who are seeking safe housing conditions and how lack of availability leads to deeply limited options to vacate dilapidated housing or even find emergency housing to get away from toxic physical and mental situations.

The audience viewed a video presentation produced by the event’s community voices sub-committee that featured nine Watauga County residents sharing impactful stories about their experiences. These snapshots were taken from over 15-hours of interviews with 20+ residents that was distilled into a nine-minute presentation. The stories included a wide range of subjects, from an elderly resident whose rental house was recently sold, to families with small children that live in deteriorating structures.

Small groups spent over an hour on facilitated discussions that touched on lived experiences, take-aways from the evening, and key data points to consider in future conversations. The notes taken from these discussions will be analyzed by a group of students at Appalachian State, who will provide feedback from the data that can inform future forums and discussions. Dinner was provided free of charge to attendees thanks to Stick Boy Kitchen and the contributions of over a dozen community supporters and event sponsors.

The next forum in this series takes place Monday, March 28thfrom 5:30-8:00pm at the Watauga Recreation Center, and will focus on accessibility. The events are free to the public, though registration is required to ensure space and food is available. More details and registration links are available here.

Someone asked me last night, “Is this just really for information, or are we going to get to the solutions.” To me, these forums provide both options. As a community, we can’t know how to solve issues until we take them out of the anecdotal state. We all know someone that is struggling with housing concerns, yet until you sit across from someone that describes the situation they are going home to, it’s hard to fully realize how close these issues are to all of us.

The final event in this series will be focused on solutions, based on feedback from the previous sessions. In the meantime, the hope is that more people get tuned-in to this conversation. Employers large and small are encouraged to come to the table to discuss these important topic, and identify ways to help support those that contribute great things to our community, and are simply seeking stability in their housing. For those that can’t attend in person, virtual attendance options are available for each forum, featuring similar breakout discussions that were organized for those in attendance.

Our community is made up of people and organizations with tremendous brainpower, community focus, and a capacity to lead in these conversations. Don’t let the idea that is not brought to the discussion be the idea that could provide significant momentum in creating solutions for issues that have lingered for decades.

David Jackson

President/CEO

Boone Area Chamber of Commerce