Development board proposes cash incentive for Erwin home builders

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Sep 26, 2019 at 7:00 PM

ERWIN — The Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County is proposing a new pilot program to stimulate home construction in Erwin.

As an incentive to address a significant shortage of workforce and retirement housing in the county, the board on Wednesday introduced a proposal for a pilot program to encourage new home development.

Known as the Residential Infrastructure and Guaranty Fund, the program would offer developers one-time reimbursement grants equal to 2 percent of the assessed value of a newly built home or substantially improved existing home.

For a new home valued at $195,000 the rebate would be $3,900 to be paid in equal shares by the town and county governments. Eligible properties must be located inside the town’s corporate limits on lots with existing infrastructure for utilities.

JEDB Executive Director Tyler Engle said the program targets vacant tracts in residential areas, or what a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded study of the community by SmartGrowth America calls “Erwin’s missing teeth.”

According to Engle, a computer overview of the town shows approximately 50 or more such lots where the study recommends infill development.

The study specifically cites Erwin’s manufacturing-based economy and a need “to create workforce and professional housing in and around Erwin that the next generation of employees will require” as well as a need to expand housing options for a “growing population of retirees who will continue to increase over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Engle said the study identifies an overall shortage of hundreds of both single- and multi-family housing units. “We need everything. There is a huge need for housing in Unicoi County,” he said

In reaction to the study, JEDB Chairman Lee Brown said the board was suggesting the pilot program inside the town limits as “a good place to start.”

While Lee conceded the proposed pilot program will require more discussion with the town leaders, Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said it “may be hard to sell” to the town board and County Commission.

“I feel like it will take more study and more input,” she said.

Engle emphasized the proposal “is not set in stone” but rather “a recommended starting point.”