Greensboro Housing Coalition's Brett Byerly Reflects On His Tenure
Greensboro Housing Coalition Executive Director Brett Byerly is stepping down from his post. During his five years there, he made a name for himself advocating for safe and affordable housing, and educating people on the consequences of soaring eviction rates. He oversees homeless prevention and rental housing counseling, mortgages and foreclosures, healthy homes and tenant advocacy, and community-centered health and organizing work.
Byerly tells WFDD’s David Ford that the need for these services has never been stronger.
How did we get here?
You know, what we're dealing with is an affordable housing crisis that's really based on income and wages not keeping up with rents and market forces. You have a situation where incomes are growing at, you know, four or five percent and over a couple of year period of time, rents are increasing by 30 or 40 percent, which really drives home the need. There are so many people out there in this vulnerable area that make extremely low incomes, folks that are making Social Security disability income and people that are working one or more jobs at minimum wage that are just barely able to kind of scratch by. And that situation is getting worse and worse. We had that housing crisis in 2008 that was a homeowner housing crisis. And now we're having a substantial rental housing crisis because also at this moment, when you look at vacancy rates in the rental market, you have one percent or so for apartments and houses that are less than, you know, eight [or] nine hundred dollars a month, which would be considered the only thing that people would be able to get to be able to consider affordable and not spend all of the money that they make on their housing.
On the 2018 tornado and the Greensboro Housing Coalition's response:
I knew immediately that because of the neighborhood and its dynamic of being mostly renters that we were going to have a situation where renters were going to be stuck in these houses with trees on them or half the house was torn apart and they weren't going to have a way to get out of that property. The landlord wasn't going to be able to help him and get the house fixed in time and they were going to need to go. So we worked very quickly with the Community Foundation [and] the United Way in Greensboro to establish a pool of funds. The first pool of funds out of the close to a million dollars that was raised was to pay for relocation of renters who were storm impacted.
On lessons learned:
Trust and relationships are key to everything that you're going to do. When the news of my resignation came out, some of the calls and emails that I got from people that I fight with on the landlord side of things that said, "Hey, man, I'm really sad to see you go," were pretty impactful. But it shows that Greensboro Housing Coalition is seen as a fair arbitrator. And I think that's really important.
When I came to this work, I was in a totally different mindset. I thought that, you know, everybody was getting Section 8. Now I know that 25 percent of the people who could get assisted housing actually get it. The other 75 percent are on their own. I used to think that there were a lot more resources that people were getting. If somebody said this guy is homeless, I would say, well go to the homeless shelter. Well, there's no bed in the homeless shelter. The homeless shelters on a wait list, and everything's on a waitlist and the resources are stretched beyond capacity. And we really need to think about this — as people in this country and people in the city — about how we want to take care of our brothers and sisters who were out there and might not be as lucky as we are.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.