A report released last week documents the tremendous pent up demand for rental and for-sale housing in Wilkes County and should prompt action by county and town elected officials.

Patrick Bowen, president of the Ohio-based company that conducted the five-month study that resulted in the report, didn’t mince words when he summarized the impact of this deficiency on economic development in Wilkes.

In terms of housing, said Bowen, there is little in Wilkes that would make a business owner want to move a company here. For several years, there have been anecdotal reports of the lack of housing handicapping Wilkes-based companies trying to grow and add (as well as retain) employees.

Nearly half of local employers surveyed as part of the study said they have experienced difficulty attracting and/or retaining employees due to housing issues and challenges in the last couple of years. Almost a quarter of them weren’t sure.

While summarizing the study’s findings in a presentation on Sept. 22, Bowen repeatedly pointed out housing development opportunities in Wilkes.

Local government officials in Wilkes have labored over what to do to draw and keep young people and young families. Jobs are a key, but desirable housing goes hand in hand with that.

Adequate and affordable housing is essential in leading a healthy life — physically and emotionally — and upward mobility. The many ways housing is important to a community’s well-being are too numerous to go into here.

The important decisions are whether and how to address this issue in Wilkes.

The new report recommends certain strategies and includes feedback from local business leaders interviewed as part of the study by Bowen National Research.

Housing assistance strategies mentioned by respondents include abating property taxes, reducing or waiving development fees, changing zoning policies, using public resources to provide land and prepare sites, assisting with infrastructure, making low cost loans or grants to repair homes and helping with down payments. Low cost loans ranked number one.

Lack of employment was cited most often when they were asked about barriers or obstacles that limit residential development in Wilkes. Costs of land, labor and materials were also often mentioned. Close behind were a lack of infrastructure (including water and sewer lines), local government regulations and low potential for property values to appreciate.

There are many other ways local government officials and others in communities can help the private sector capitalize on residential development opportunities in Wilkes.

The most important thing is to have the resolve to make it happen instead of being content with continuing with the status quo.

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