Just the Facts

Board supports new housing in Highlands

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Dan Finnerty

Affordable and available housing – or the lack thereof – in Macon County has been an increasingly hot topic of discussion at local government meetings for the past few years. Little by little, proposals are being considered to try to remedy the dilemma. One such proposal is targeting housing needs of healthcare workers in Highlands.

According to Atlanta, Ga.-based Rea Ventures Group’s Vice President Breck Kean, “Operating a rural hospital is a particular challenge, and one of the greatest struggles is attracting and retaining its workforce. It’s particularly more challenging because there are very few housing options available. That forces healthcare workers to make long commutes and sometimes dangerous commutes, day in and day out.”

He also noted that the Highlands-Cashiers Hospital has a difficult time securing workers because of housing needs. 

At the May 14 Macon County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Kean addressed members on the Highlands-Cashiers Healthcare Residential Village Workforce Housing Initiative. His main objective was to gain county support through a resolution that stated, in part, that commissioners “strongly support the proposed housing development on the Highlands-Cashiers campus and the benefits it will bring to the region.”

The initiative cites the main problem as a housing shortage for the healthcare workforce in the area. Obvious existing obstacles include the usual culprits: high living costs, inadequate housing, and high construction expenses to build needed housing. 

Kean offered numerous design solutions and locations within close proximity to Mission Health Center, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, and the Four Seasons Hospice Corporation. Familiar goals of the initiative were sustainable, affordable housing that falls under 30% of income for residents. However, the proposed housing is not considered “low-income’ housing, as Kean pointed out. With the range of $900-$2,500 a month for rent, he clarified: “There are garage apartments in downtown Highlands [renting] for $3,000. However, these [proposed new housing] rents are affordable to that [healthcare] workforce.”

Also included in the May 14 presentation was a variety of housing designs that offered potential future expandability while still allowing residents the option of walking to work within the healthcare complexes. Housing sizes ranged from single-level efficiencies to three-floor, three-bedroom apartments. The project is scheduled for two phases; phase one would include 60 units and, if all goes well funding-wise, phase two will include an additional 20 units. Both phases could be completed concurrently. 

The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to support new housing in the Highlands area. Keane reported that the next step in the project will be community fund-raising efforts within Highlands and Cashiers, as well as negotiating water and sewer usage rights.