Federal program to aid Hinton with affordable housing

Feb. 20—A town in southern West Virginia is among a small group of municipalities selected for a federal program focused on enhancing small communities and economic development.

Earlier in the month, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), a national nonprofit that supports affordable housing efforts throughout rural America, announced that the city of Hinton was one of 10 communities selected for the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) program.

Candice Helms, the executive assistant to Hinton's mayor, said the city's focus will be affordable housing.

"That's where Hinton is really going right now is to create housing ... and long-term, we need people to stay here long-term, not just for the weekend, so that's something that we feel that we're lacking in is housing," Helms said. "Being part of this cohort, we'll have access to their resources, and it's just going to be a great avenue to help go in that direction."

The purpose of HAC's RPIC program is to engage communities in a curriculum that emphasizes placemaking as a tool for economic development and community cohesion while also focusing on community-identified needs to guide the process.

"Placemaking is a thread that binds so many local efforts to improve rural communities, from affordable housing to broadband to arts and culture," said Shonterria Charleston, HAC's director of training and technical assistance, in a release.

"Through RPIC, we will assess local needs, create a relevant curriculum, and provide coaching and capacity building as each community takes on a local placemaking challenge." Charleston noted that building on local assets, even in distressed communities, is a hallmark of placemaking.

In addition to focusing on affordable housing in Hinton, the RPIC will also assist the city with historic preservation and other opportunities — especially the prioritization of community needs.

Helms said the program will be a wonderful opportunity for Hinton.

"Sometimes you have to ask to receive, and we're just in a great position to ask, and we are asking now, and we do have the capacity now," she said. "I think West Virginia, in general, just kind of has a bright shining spotlight on it ... so we're striking while the iron is hot; we're ready to go."

She added that these types of resources are sometimes hard to come by for small communities, which makes them that much more valuable.

Hinton is one of two West Virginia towns selected to participate in RPIC. The city of Philippi was also selected and will be focusing on bolstering restoration efforts as part of a broader economic development and placemaking strategy.

The eight remaining communities are Tupelo, Mississippi; Sardis, Mississippi; Paxico, Kansas; Altamont, Tennessee; Delco, North Carolina; Supply, North Carolina; Seminole, Oklahoma; and Tallulah, Louisiana.

RPIC is a USDA program that funds planning support, technical assistance, and training to encourage placemaking activities in rural communities, according to a press release.

The 10 communities selected to be part of HAC's program will receive 15 months of capacity building support, connection to a peer cohort and seed grant funding.

HAC will also connect RPIC communities with broadband expertise and resources tailored to local needs throughout the RPIC program.

In May 2023, representatives of the group of 10 will gather in Newbern, Ala., to learn alongside Auburn Rural Studio faculty, students and partner organizations.

Rural Studio is an off-campus design-build program, rooted in Hale County and part of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture of Auburn University.

After the gathering at Rural Studio, RPIC communities will continue planning and carrying out their local placemaking challenges into 2024.

As the RPIC cycle concludes, HAC case studies featuring RPIC communities will contribute to a national dialogue surrounding rural placemaking and design.

Email: jmoore@register-herald.com