needed to address local housing
A growing community college is one of the keys that Clarendon can use to grow in the 21st century, but steps must be taken to aid and encourage that growth.
For many years, rural America in general has suffered from a declining population and the resulting toll that takes on local economies. But things are a bit different in Clarendon thanks to two main factors – recreation revenue brought in by visitors to Greenbelt Lake and the economic impact of Clarendon College.
While it’s true that Kearney Street is not quite what it once was, this city is far busier that most towns of similar size. And, most notably, our population has been relatively stable over the last 40 years. Census counts from 1970 through 2000 have consistently been right about 2,000 people, and that will likely be close to the tally this year.
Dry conditions have dropped the level of Greenbelt Lake, but college enrollment has been on an upswing lately and has been setting records. Dorms have been filled beyond capacity at the beginning of each fall semester the last few years.
A big part of CC’s growth is coming in Pampa where new workforce programs are attracting new students to the Gray County campus and spurring the construction of a $3 million workforce education center on that campus.
College officials believe the Clarendon campus could grow more also, but one thing is holding it back – affordable housing.
Twenty years ago, students would travel from many area towns to take classes in Clarendon, but today the price of gas and the popularity of online classes have created a situation where students only commute to Clarendon from about 30 miles – i.e. from Claude or Memphis. For CC to grow on its home campus, students will have to be able to live here. The college has 295 beds available, and CC President Bill Auvenshine told the Enterprise this week he believes another 50 beds could easily be filled.
So what’s holding back the development of more housing?
The newest dorms at the college were built with student revenue bonds, but Auvenshine says CC needs to either pay down those bonds or get more students before it can issue new bonds.
In the private sector, potential housing developers may want to see potential renters who could be here throughout the year rather than the nine months of a fall and spring semester. That could possibly be rectified with the offering of more summer and night classes and the development of a system that awards an associate’s degree in 12 or 18 months. (With so many students taking dual credit classes in high school these days that ought to be do-able.)
But what’s really lacking is a comprehensive plan or effort to address this issue. Officials from the college and the city ought to meet with rental property owners and other interested parties – such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation – to see what incentives could be offered to develop new housing.
This is not an issue that solely affects Clarendon College. School officials and others will also tell you that it is hard to find housing in Clarendon. Homes are for sale; but teachers, students, and others who prefer to rent are limited on their selections.
Local Housing Authority Director Tammy Christopher told the Enterprise that she has more than 20 people on a waiting list for single bedroom apartments. She said that list was over 30 before the fall and also said many people don’t apply for housing through her office because their income exceeds federal guidelines.
The need for more housing for low- and middle-income people and families seems clear. The city is already looking at annexation and other avenues to spur growth. Ways to encourage the development of new housing needs to be part of that discussion.
With a cooperative plan, college enrollment could grow right away, which in turn would spur more economic activity in Clarendon, and eventually lead to population growth in the decades to come.
Following last week’s stunning election of a Republican to fill the Massachusetts seat in the US Senate formerly held by Ted Kennedy, President Obama has suddenly become a fiscal conservative and, at press time, was expected to call for a spending freeze during this week’s State of the Union address.
The spending freeze would not affect defense spending, Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. According to FoxNews.com, the federal government currently has a budget deficit of $1.35 TRILLION, and Obama’s proposal will save “up to $15 billion the first year.” Which means the government would still be spending about $1.2 TRILLION that it does not have.
I like a sense of humor in a president, and this is certainly the most laughable thing to come out of Washington since way back in 2009 when they said spending an extra trillion dollars on nationalized health care would save the country money.
The White House clearly still does not get it.