Housing the Homeless
High Point, North Carolina 2021
Building homes for the homeless
High Point, North Carolina
In 2021, Building Humanity is partnering with Ray's The Roof to assist their House The Homeless Foundation in breaking ground on a prototype housing project in High Point, North Carolina. The project will take a previously unused plot of land and transform it into a multi-family home and prototype micro-accessory dwelling unit (ADU), both to be used as transitional housing for families and individuals looking to exit homelessness.
Ray’s the Roof Foundation, founded in 2019, currently focuses on feeding the hungry and assisting the elderly, veterans, and people with disabilities. Ray’s provides food to local shelters through their affiliation with the Food Donation Connection and Outback Steak House. They hold an annual clothing drive on MLK day to feed and provide clothing to the homeless. Their long-term plan is to build safe, affordable housing options for those looking to exit homelessness.
Ray Lacen, founder of Ray’s the Roof Foundation, had contacted Building Humanity in 2018 after reading about Building Humanity’s 2018 Thailand Build where an international team of volunteers built a bakery and basketball court for Felix Family Orphanage in Surat Thani, Thailand.
Building Humanity works with communities that are addressing systemic issues such as housing, education, girls & women, nutrition & healthcare and economic stability & growth. Working side by side with a community, Building Humanity helps facilitate the construction of their project using local resources, community involvement, and a team of international volunteers and donated funds. Projects have included homes for young families available through micro loans, a dormitory for girls to live and study during the school year, an eco-toilet facility, a community health center, a greenhouse to grow and sell vegetables, and a bakery that will employ local women and provide financial benefit to the community. Building Humanity focuses on projects that can address root issues within a community with short term action through the form of self-contained projects.
The collaboration between Ray’s The Roof Foundation and Building Humanity is a great opportunity for these two charities to come together and complete a project that showcases alternative housing options.
The property being developed was purchased by Shonda Sutton, CEO of Dignity Housing Co. She is allowing Ray’s the Roof to develop the site with the intent that Ray’s eventually buys her out and takes ownership of the property.
Together, Building Humanity and Ray’s the Roof Foundation will showcase two new types of construction, Emmedue and Innovative Building Technologies (IBT), that will provide affordable, durable options for the city to consider as a solution to their housing needs. High Point’s Mayor, Jay Wagner, is interested in exploring affordable housing options that the city can build and provide to individuals and families looking to escape homelessness.
The transitional home is intended to be a transitional housing opportunity for individuals or families who are working to exit homelessness. There are a backlog of individuals and families currently waiting for a home through the Community Development and Housing Department's Homebuyer Assistance Program. This particular home will be a transitional opportunity until permanent homes become available. This home will also be fully equipped to house individuals who are disabled.
The micro accessory dwelling unit will be a 225 square foot home for an individual who is also working on exiting homelessness. If they are not already on the CD&H's Homebuyer Assistance Program waitlist, they will have the opportunity to apply.
The United States has a significant population of people who are currently experiencing homelessness. From the very first settlements, the promises of freedom and opportunity have been hampered by the steady growth of inequality. Through our countries history of systemic racism, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, and the reworking of the welfare system in the 1990s, the vulnerability of select populations are now most likely to experience homelessness.
Fundamentally, homelessness is a problem of income versus cost of housing. However, it is also a complex social matrix of a person’s background, informal networks, education, employment, location, and luck, and its victims come from all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds. Homelessness affects all demographic groups and can be a one-time experience or a cyclical one. The only characteristic shared by people experiencing homelessness across the United States is persistent poverty. However, research illustrates disproportionate rates of homelessness by demographic.
Even though there are many factors that may lead to homelessness, at its core is what is referred to as the affordable housing gap – the mismatch between incomes and housing costs. Affordable housing is often defined as not costing more than 30% of gross income. Cost burdened households often pay a much higher percentage, and they are often one paycheck or family emergency away from eviction.
“African Americans are considerably overrepresented among the homeless population compared to the overall U.S. population. While accounting for 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans account for 40 percent of all people experiencing homelessness and 51 percent of people experiencing homelessness as members of families with children.5
People with disabilities comprise 42.9% of the sheltered homeless population but only 15.7% of the total U.S. population.”6
Each year the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publishes a report on the state of homelessness in America. The report includes a point-in-time count conducted in January, when the largest possible number of homeless individuals seek services to shelter from winter weather. According to HUD, a homeless person is anybody who lacks “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”7 According to the most recent report for North Carolina:
IMPORTANCE OF A HOME
The desire for home, to be at home, is a perennial human need. In the words of contemporary philosopher Thomas Moore:
“The need for home lies deep in the human heart: when our homeland is threatened we go into action to defend it, and when our family house is violated we are profoundly offended. We spend our lives trying to ‘make a home’ – building, buying, renting, borrowing houses, staying in the old family homestead or moving from house to house according to the winds of fate. Few things are more important than finding a home and working at it constantly to make it resonate with deep memories and fulfill deep longings.”₂
Home is the center of our lives, the hub from which we may depart but always return to, a place that shelters our bodies and nurtures our souls. As protection against the uncertainty of our lives, the home serves as the hub of our personal world and its safety and stability are essential to our sense of wellbeing. The feeling of “being at home” describes a condition of ease and comfort, and so it is not unusual that people tell guests to make themselves “at home.” But home is not simply a physical container of our lives, but one we appropriate, personalize, and express ourselves through. We may rent or buy a house or housing unit, but it is through occupation and personalization that the house becomes a home.
Inhabiting a home establishes an identity in the world, while communicating this self-definition to others. As Claire Cooper Marcus states, “A home fulfills many needs: a place of self-expression, a vessel of memories, a refuge from the outside world, a cocoon where we can feel nurtured and let down our guard.” ₃ Our homes are an important means of orientation, safety and ease, and individual identity and expression. To experience homelessness is to be disoriented, exposed, and anonymous, bereft of these essential physical and psychic needs.
Those experiencing homelessness have no place to return to at the end of the day, no address for job applications and mail, no neighbors to rely on, no location for their lives. Recognizing the disorientation and even terror of being homeless prompts us to care for those without homes, to insist that we all share the responsibility to house our fellow citizens. Housing, as has often been stated, is a basic human right. The answer to homelessness has always been getting people into housing
The idea of revitalizing vacant and neglected properties is not new, but it is not done nearly enough, even though viable properties are in abundance. Older industrial cities in the Midwest and Northeast are commonly associated with blighted and abandoned properties. In fact, it is estimated that roughly ten percent of residential structures are vacant. The Brookings Institution found that in 60 cities with populations over 100,000, there are an average of two vacant buildings for every 1,000 residents.
AFFORDABLE, LOW INCOME HOUSING
In Alamance County, where High Point is located, the minimum wage falls far short of what’s needed to afford the fair market rent for a 2- bedroom housing unit. The housing wage needed for a two-bedroom house is 2.26 times higher than the minimum wage. (Alamance County Community Assessment). Twenty-three percent of the population of Alamance County has an income less than 125% of the poverty level, and 48% of renters were unable to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom housing unit in Alamance County (Alamance County Community Assessment). Four in ten low-income people in North Carolina are experiencing homelessness or pay over half their income for rent. Most don’t receive federal rental assistance due to limited funding. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
The National Low Income Housing Coalition's 2019 Out of Reach report, which documents the significant gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing throughout the U.S., found the national Housing Wage - the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a rental home at HUD’s fair market rent without spending more than 30% of his or her income on housing - is $22.96 for a modest two-bedroom rental home and $18.65 for a one-bedroom rental home. A full-time worker with a standard 40-hour work week earning the federal or prevailing state minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent in any U.S. county and can afford a one-bedroom rental in fewer than 99% of counties (28 out of more than 3,000 counties) nationwide. On average, a worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour must work 127 hours every week (3 full-time jobs) to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home ($1,194/month) or 103 hours every week (2.5 full-time jobs) to afford a one-bedroom rental home ($970/month).
AND THEN, A PANDEMIC
Before the pandemic began, rates of homelessness were on the rise across the entire United States. While data is still forthcoming, it’s hard to imagine that the pandemic wouldn’t have worsened them. Experiencing homelessness has always been a dire health risk, and Covid-19 has only worsened that danger. Unhoused people are disproportionately affected by health conditions that can make coronavirus cases more severe, and are often forced to shelter, eat, and access hygiene in congregate settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
The project site is located at 514 Newton Place in High Point, North Carolina. It is in a great location for families, across the street from Ferndale Middle School and a block from High Point Central High School. It is also situated roughly 3/4 of a mile from the nearest train station and a 1/4 mile from the nearest bus stop.
COST & PLAN COMING SOON
2 Thomas Moore, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996.
3 Claire Cooper Marcus, The House as Symbol of Self, Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1995, p. 4.
4 National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (2019). [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].
5 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development OFFICE OF COMMUNITY PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT. (2018). The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. “Part 1 Point-inTime Estimates of Homelessness”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2018].
6 National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (2019). Homelessness in America: Overview of Data and Causes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019]
7 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development OFFICE OF COMMUNITY PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT. (2018). The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report
(AHAR) to Congress. “Part 1 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2018].
8 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development OFFICE OF COMMUNITY PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT. (2018). The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. “Part 1 Point-inTime Estimates of Homelessness”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Nov. 2020].