BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Planning Commission has decided to prioritize researching the lack of affordable housing – and the factors that have contributed to it – in the Buckhannon and Upshur County area in 2024.
The Buckhannon Planning Commission addressed concerns about housing during their quarterly meeting Oct. 16. Dr. Susan Aloi, president of the commission, suggested organizing a meeting to start evaluating the situation.
“Maybe we focus our next meeting on housing and bring in stakeholders who know something about what’s going on in housing, like someone from the Realtor’s Association, someone from the Landlord’s Association, maybe Kathy McMurray (executive director of Mountain CAP of West Virginia) – someone who understands the unhoused population and what kind of services there are,” Aloi said.
“I think we need to get a better sense of what’s really going on, what the issues really are and then think about what we might recommend to the council or what we might research a little bit more,” she added.
Aloi said the commission should be the group to gather all the salient groups to determine the next step rather than guessing what solutions would be most effective. Mayor Robbie Skinner concurred that taking some kind of action is the next logical step.
“I feel like we’ve had a significant amount of discussion, and we’re at the point right now that there needs to be some direction,” Skinner said. “We recognize there is an issue in Buckhannon, so now, what do we do? What is our goal, and what are the tactics that are used to make things better?”
Skinner, also the director of the Upshur County Economic Development Authority, said the UCDA has begun the process of initiating a housing study.
“Now, they are expensive – they cost about $30,000 to do it right – but we are planning to make that investment because we know there’s really no way for us to go down the road of attracting any sort of potential housing in the community without the study,” Skinner said.
“One of the places that we have identified within the corporate limits as a potential housing opportunity is First Street,” he continued. “Once you cross the railroad tracks toward Fred Eberle, there is 11 acres of land unencumbered. It is flat, it has a utility hookup, but we need a developer, and we will struggle to get that because the first thing they’re going to say is, ‘We wish there was money available to help,’ and we can’t do that without a housing study.”
City recorder Randy Sanders said asking local landlords what they need to improve the housing situation would be productive.
“As a landlord, there’s a huge shortage, so if there is a group of us who take the initiative and develop the rentable buildings and ask them what their obstacles are, I think they would help us,” Sanders said. “I know everybody wants to lower rent, but we have to have safe buildings.”
Board member Curtis Wilkerson said city officials must also evaluate how many abandoned houses exist in municipal limits. Skinner suggested involving the Buckhannon Historic Landmarks Commission because of the numerous historical properties in Buckhannon.
Aloi said she would develop a list of relevant groups and invite them to their next meeting, slated for Jan. 16, 2024.