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Study: rental and for-sale housing shortage is severe

Severe shortages of rental and for-sale housing in Wilkes County for various income levels were identified in a five-month-long study completed in mid-August.

“There are communities where the need is heavy for some income levels or for one segment versus another. You’ve got it across the board,” said Patrick Bowen, whose firm did the study.

“That’s both good and bad. It’s good for opportunity, but it’s bad that you have such a need,” added Bowen, speaking about the study’s findings in a Sept. 22 presentation at the Stone Center in North Wilkesboro.

“There is tremendous pent up demand for affordable as well as market-rate housing” in Wilkes, Bowen told local government and business leaders at the event.

Only three vacancies were found in 871 apartments and other rental units in 22 multi-family properties identified in the study, conducted by Pickerington, Ohio-based Bowen National Research.

The 871 included 328 rental units that are market rate (non-subsidized) or allow housing tax credits in 11 complexes and 543 government-subsidized rental units in another 11 housing complexes. The tax credits are for people with 80% or less of area median income.

Among 22,487 owner-occupied houses in Wilkes, the study found only 186 (0.8%) for sale. “This is an extremely low rate and likely indicates a shortage of for-sale housing,” stated a 106-page report on the study, with additional pages of data.

Well-balanced markets normally have an availability rate of around 2-3% of all owner-occupied units in the market, it said.

Bowen is president of Bowen National Research, which has conducted thousands of housing assessments, market feasibility studies and similar work for private and public entities.

The report said another 995 rental and 1,511 for-sale residential units in diverse price ranges are needed in Wilkes in the next five years to meet needs and support growth.

“Whatever you do, housing issues should be addressed in conjunction with economic initiatives and plans,” said Bowen. “There is not a lot (in terms of housing) that would attract a business owner to come here.”

The recommendations section of the report said the county’s housing needs create a variety of development opportunities in Wilkes. These include:

• housing for smaller families, such as millennials, empty nesters and seniors. Examples of considerations include amenities for younger households and accessibility for older adults. It includes “walkability” for all ages;

• housing to encourage some of nearly 10,000 people who work in Wilkes and live outside the county to move here. “I think there is a great opportunity to try to capture some of those people and get them to stay here, but you need the housing,” said Bowen. The report said that among 22,553 jobs in Wilkes in 2017, commuters filled 44% (9,993) and residents filled the other 56%;

• rental housing with tax credits for households with incomes up to 80% of area median household income, generally earning below $47,000 a year;

• using local government funds to assist residential property owners with home repairs, bring properties up to code or help remove blight.

“Given the financial challenges often associated with development of affordable housing alternatives, local government may want to explore initiatives to help make the development of such housing more viable,” the report said. Example are gap financing, infrastructure aid, reduced development fees and density bonuses.

The report identified 30 potential sites in Wilkes, both with and without existing buildings, for all types of residential development. It recommended that the county market development potential and particular sites to developers and investors.

The report said a large percentage of older rental units and a lack of large apartment projects create opportunity for new rental housing. About 60% of rental housing in Wilkes was built before 1980 and only 6.6% in the last 20 years. Over half of the rental units are within structures of four units or less and almost a third are mobile homes.

Median residential monthly residential rents are $757 in Wilkesboro, $619 in North Wilkesboro and $682 in the rest of Wilkes. In very few instances is it above $1,000 a month.

The report said most government subsidized rental housing projects in Wilkes have a waiting list of up to 10 households.

According to Realtor records, 468 homes were sold in 2017 and 520 (11% more) in 2018. There were 524 homes sold in 2018, a 0.8% increase over the prior year’s total. The average year these homes were built is 1978.

Median sales prices were $130,000 in 2017, $149,900 in 2018 and $149,000 in 2019. The report said these prices represent the more affordable part of the market, but many of the units may have extra costs due to repair and accessibility issues.

It said homes are selling relatively fast (typically in three to four months) at virtually all price ranges in Wilkes. A little over half of estimated home values in Wilkes are between $100,000 and $299,999. The average construction date of a house on the market is 1978. Nearly three-fifths of available homes have three bedrooms, with an average size of just over 2,100 square feet.

“Residential (building) permit activity in Wilkes has declined over each of the past five years” ending 2019. “Based on our interviews with planning representatives, it was determined that there are no residential housing projects of notable size planned within Wilkes,” the report said.

Wilkes County’s population is projected to grow about 1% by 2025 (768 more people and over more 300 households) if no major economic shifts or initiatives occur. About 90% of the growth is expected outside the Wilkesboros.

Bowen said that by 2025, the age group with the most growth will be current residents 65 and older and the greatest renter growth will be households earning $60,000 to $100,000. He said this will fuel demand for maintenance-free rental housing for one or two people, but more for larger households is also needed.

Bowen cited a projected decline among people 25-34 and said this is likely due to the draw of larger metro areas.

The bulk of annual household income growth in the next five years will be in the $40,000-plus category, which Bowen said should create opportunity for higher end rental housing.

The report cited a decline in lower income households. “I don’t know where those folks are going, but affordability and availability is a challenge here in Wilkes County and I suspect some of the lower income folks are getting priced out of the market here and they can’t stay,” said Bowen.

The study was funded by the Wilkes Economic Development Corp., with $9,500; the Winston-Salem Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, with $5,000; and the N.C. Homeowners Alliance, with $3,500. Wilkes EDC Board Chairman Brett Cothren introduced Bowen.

Helicopters started flying around the Duke Energy transmission line that runs 27 miles from just east of North Wilkesboro in the Antioch community and through Alleghany County this week as part of the installation of shields to protect transmission towers from vultures. A helicopter is lowering a worker to a transmission tower Monday morning in this photo. The shields, also delivered by helicopters, are made of corrugated high-density polyethylene pipes cut lengthwise into quarters.

Lovette, community leader, dies Tuesday

Blake Lovette, former president of Holly Farms and a community leader in Wilkes County, died Tuesday morning with his family present at Forsyth Memorial Hospital in Winston-Salem. He had had a brief illness.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

In addition to holding top corporate positions with poultry companies, Lovette served in Wilkes as a member of the Wilkes Board of Education (elected in 1996), on the boards of Wilkes Regional Medical Center for eight years (including five years as chairman), Wilkes Economic Development Corp. (including as chairman) and Wilkes Art Gallery. He also was on the Wilkes Social Services Board.

At the time of his death, Lovette was chairman of the Wilkes County Republican Party. He was the owner of Foothills Auto Spa in Wilkesboro.

Lovette, one of the seven children of C.O. and Ruth Bumgarner Lovette, was born on Dec. 19, 1942. He was raised on the family farm and sometimes spoke of the work ethic he learned from his parents and from working with his siblings.

Lovette graduated from West Wilkes High School in 1961. After graduating from North Carolina State University in 1965, he went to work in quality control for Wilkesboro-based Holly Farms. His older brother, the late Fred Lovette, was the primary founder of Holly Farms.

Two years later, Lovette became a Holly Farms plant manager in Temperenceville, Va. In 1976, he returned to Wilkes when he was named Holly’s executive vice president.

In 1978, Lovette left Holly and moved to Russellville, Ark., to be executive vice president of Valmac Industries Inc. He was named chief executive officer a year later. Lovette developed a line of prepared products for Valmac during his six years with the poultry company.

He left Valmac to work for Perdue Farms in 1985, where he served as president of Perdue’s Shenandoah Products Corp. Lovette returned to Holly Farms in 1988 as Holly’s president and chief operating officer.

Lovette held this top Holly position through the period in which Tyson Foods acquired Holly. He left Tyson in the fall of 1990 when he bought Lovette Egg Co. from Wilkes native Terry Bumgarner.

Lovette renamed the company, which his father started, the Lovette Co. He owned and operated the wholesale meat and poultry distributor until he sold it to Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Poultry Co. in 1998.

Lovette was president of ConAgra Poultry from 1998 until he retired in 2003, the same year Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride became the nation’s second largest poultry producer when it acquired ConAgra Poultry.

Lovette served on the boards of Pilgrim’s Pride and Morris & Associates Inc., which makes refrigeration equipment used in the poultry and other industries. He also worked as a consultant in the poultry industry.

He also was on the boards of numerous industry-related organizations, including the National Chicken Council (including three years as chairman), U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, American Poultry Export Council, N.C. Poultry Federation and Arkansas Poultry Federation.

Lovette was inducted into the N.C. Poultry Federation Hall of Fame in 2010.

He was a member of the First United Methodist Church of North Wilkesboro and was a strong supporter of Wilkes Community College, Rainbow Center of Wilkes, Health Foundation, Yadkin River Greenway, Old Wilkes Inc. and other local organizations.

Their children are Sena Lovette of Conway, Ark., Angela Lovette Ware of Winston-Salem and Amy Lovette Lankford of Madison, Ala. Lovette has six grandchildren.

Lovette married his high school sweetheart, Julia Wooten Lovette of Millers Creek, on June 30, 1963. Mrs. Lovette died in December 2008.

He is survived by their three children, Sena Lovette-Crafton and husband Hal Crafton of Conway, Ark.; Angela Lovette Ware and husband David Ware of Winston Salem; and Amy Lovette Lankford and husband Ted Lankford of Cary. He is also survived by six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Byrd: Wilkes elementary schools switch to Plan A on Oct. 20

Wilkes County’s elementary schools will transition from operating under Plan B (partly learning remotely and partly in classrooms with teachers) to Plan A (entirely in classrooms with teachers) when the second grading period begins Tuesday, Oct. 20, announced Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd late Thursday afternoon.

“While we would have liked to have started Plan A earlier, this date is necessary to allow us to best serve your child,” said Byrd in a statement to parents. Elementary schools consist of grades K-5.

Many other school districts across the state, including some of the largest, have also announced that their elementary schools will also transition Plan A on Oct. 20.

He said parents should contact the schools their children attend by Friday, Oct. 2, to state whether they plan to have their children in Plan C (all remote learning) or Plan A.

“Those who choose to utilize remote learning are committing to doing so through the end of the second grading period, which ends Jan. 14, 2021,” said Byrd. The grading periods are about nine weeks long.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Sept. 17 that North Carolina’s public school districts and charter schools can implement Plan A in elementary schools starting Oct. 5. Masks are mandatory for all students, teachers and staff under Plan A, as well as social distancing, health screening (including daily temperature checks) and other safety measures.

The Wilkes schools started the year on Aug. 17 with all students in Plan C, but switched to Plan B on Sept. 8. Plan B limits schools to operating at 50% of student capacity. There is no such limit under Plan A.

In the Wilkes School District’s version of Plan B, students in each school who didn’t opt for full-time learning the first nine weeks of school were split into two groups. Both groups alternate between remote learning and in-person learning each day but never the same on the same day.

Wilkes middle schools (grades six to eight) and high schools (grades nine to 12) are continuing with Plan B in the second grading period, which requires masks for teachers, students and staff, social distancing, health screenings and other precautions.

Taylorsville man, Wilkes teen face 5 counts of murder

A Wilkesboro teenager and a Taylorsville man, already facing three counts each of first-degree murder, have been indicted on two more counts apiece of the same offense.

Heidi Darlene Wolfe, 18, and Areli Aguirre-Avilez, 31, were served true bills of indictment for two counts of first-degree murder each on Sept. 18 for the murders of Juan Carlos Mendez-Pena and Luis Fernando Sanchez, stated a press release from the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office.

Wolfe and Aguirre-Avilez were already in the Alexander County Detention Center in Taylorsville with no bond after being charged with murder in the deaths of Maria Calderon Martinez and her son, Angel Pacheco, and daughter, America Pacheco.

Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman said he believed the murders were execution-style. Bowman said the case was unlike any he had been involved with in his 40 years in law enforcement in Alexander and was unusual for the small, rural county.

According to court papers, Martinez and the two children were murdered on the night of June 15, 2019, in their mobile home near the northern end of Black Oak Ridge Road in the Vashti community of northern Alexander. Martinez was 38, Angel was 11 and America was 12 then.

Firefighters found the badly burned bodies of the children in the mobile home after extinguishing a fire there late that night. Autopsy reports say the children, students at Hiddenite Elementary School, died from one gunshot each.

Bowman said Aguirre-Avilez and Martinez were once married and that Mendez-Pena was Martinez’s boyfriend at the time of the murders. Mendez-Pena and Sanchez were co-workers in construction outside Alexander County on weekdays, but they were building an addition to Calderon’s mobile home when they disappeared in June 2019 and were feared murdered.

One of three sets of skeletal remains found by a deer hunter in the bed of a burned pickup in the Mouth of Wilson community of Grayson County, Va., on Nov. 4, 2019, were identified as those of Martinez. Authorities said they believe the other remains are those of Mendez-Pena and Sanchez and that the pickup belonged to Pena.

Alexander deputies searched for Pena and Sanchez, 33 and 36 respectively when they became missing, in Wilkes and Ashe counties because they were known to have connections there.

According to court papers, Wolfe said in an interview that Avilez killed two people in the mobile home in Vashti when she and Avilez went there the night of June 15. The papers quote Wolfe as saying that when a third person ran out, Avilez told her to run over the person and she did, killing the person. Bowman said the two killed in the mobile home were the children and Martinez was the person who ran out.

Avilez and Wolfe are also charged with first-degree arson due to the June 15 mobile home fire, plus Avilez is charged with violating a domestic protective order with a deadly weapon and statutory rape of a child age 15 or younger.

A judge issued the protective order on behalf of Martinez against Avilez on Jan. 16 after Avilez threatened to burn down her home. Avilez was convicted of assaulting Martinez earlier in 2019. Wolfe apparently is the victim in the case in which Avilez is charged with statutory rape.

Bowman said earlier that his understanding was that Wolfe would be tried as an adult. She was 16 when the murders occurred. She formerly lived on Old N.C. 18 just south of Wilkesboro, but more recently had lived in Taylorsville.