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State representative wants to make affordable housing a priority

Rep. Amber Baker

State representative wants to make affordable housing a priority
December 20
02:51 2022

By John Railey

State Rep. Amber Baker, who has intentionally made her home in the underserved Boston-Thurmond community in Winston-Salem, wants to make affordable, or workforce housing, a priority. A longtime educator, she served 13 years as the principal of Kimberley Park Elementary School in the community. “I saw first-hand how parents struggled. We continue to build housing outside the price range of working people,” she said.

Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) has extensively studied housing issues in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, most notably through research establishing the efficacy of the Forsyth County Homeownership Program, which has helped more than 1,000 families buy homes, often their first ones, over more than 20 years. Among the CSEM findings:  Every $1 spent by the county results in $5.70 in home equity for owners in their houses for nine years, and the program has contributed $5.9 million to the county tax base. 

Baker, who earned her undergraduate degree from WSSU, has served on the board for Habitat for Humanity, likes the work of the county homeownership program, and welcomes other ideas.

The Boston Community Network recently landed a $300,000 grant in American Relief Plan Act funding from the City of Winston-Salem to work toward affordable housing. CSEM has supported the residential engagement and participation of the network with its Economic Mobility Opportunity Award that resulted in the network being designated as a Purpose-Built Community, a national collaborative.

The Boston-Thurmond community includes about 3,000 residents in northern Winston-Salem. It is primarily African American, but also includes whites and Latinx.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines has said 15,000 new affordable housing units will be needed throughout the city over the next eight years. In August, the Winston-Salem City Council voted to pay a New Orleans nonprofit, HousingNOLA, $322,000 to craft an action plan for greatly increasing our city’s inventory of affordable housing. 

Baker wants to see more cooperation between the city and county on the affordable housing effort. She realizes that workforce housing is crucial. This is the housing for our key workers, ranging from those in biotech, law-enforcement, firefighting and food-service to education. This housing is also needed for seniors and those with mental and physical challenges.

Baker recently won re-election to a second two-year term in the state House. She has supported efforts for supporting affordable housing, including a solar-energy tax credit, and wants to do more in the legislature to support it.

Locally, she is an active voice on the issue, including at community meetings. Baker is working with others to create a new Community Development Corporation (CDC) in the area to work toward affordable housing.  

Born in Louisville, she grew up middle-class. Her mother worked for Brown & Williamson Tobacco. The company merged with R. J. Reynolds Tobacco in 2004 to form Reynolds American, Inc., headquartered in Winston-Salem. That brought the family here.

Many of the local factory jobs are, of course, gone. As new jobs open in biotech and other fields, Baker wants to ensure there will be options for those workers to buy homes, often their first ones, their initial steps toward upward economic mobility.

“We want to see faster progress on affordable housing. You have to get creative,” she said.

Solving the housing crisis will take actions like Baker’s, people who are on the ground and know first-hand the challenges and how to meet them.

 

.John Railey, raileyjb@nullgmail.com, is the writer-in-residence for CSEM, www.wssu.edu/csem.



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