As part of the “Our Vision, Their Stories” project, the Initiative is featuring the stories of our affordable housing partners across the state. We recognize this important work cannot be done in a vacuum, and we are honored to have worked alongside these champions in the critical mission of preserving affordable housing spaces in our community.
Click to watch the full interview here.
Tucked between Franklin and Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, you’ll find a group of passionate individuals on a mission – to preserve their community by preserving affordable housing.
EmPOWERment, Inc. was founded in 1996 when two MSW students from UNC-Chapel Hill saw a need to maintain their community in the midst of change and development. Chapel Hill has been and continues to be a vibrant community dwelling at the intersection of university culture and rich local history. While this poses an opportunity, it also poses a threat: that long-time residents and their history would slowly get pushed out by high housing costs, low quality housing and low incomes (situations that aren’t just prevalent in Chapel Hill but across our country).
It was under these circumstances that EmPOWERment, Inc. was established to build homes and build lives. With a multifaceted approach of their Midway Business Center, community outreach programs, housing and rental counseling and affordable rentals, this powerhouse group began to tackle the issue of affordable housing one home and one family at a time, eventually making waves in the preservation of key communities like Northside, Pine Knolls, Lloyd Street and Carr Court.
Delores Bailey has been Executive Director of EmPOWERment since 2005 but has been a resident of the area much longer than that. She connected with EmPOWERment’s mission because she herself had experienced changes in the area and knew there was a need to empower individuals and families to reach their housing dreams.
“Our mission is to empower individuals, families and businesses to realize their destiny,” Delores shares.
One of the ways they do that is through free housing and rental counseling. Especially in situations when there is a death in the family, those individuals quickly become at risk of losing their homes. By functioning as the middle person, EmPOWERment helps those individuals navigate through the piles of paperwork and ultimately find ways to stay in their home, at least temporarily.
But EmPOWERment is not just helping individuals and families. They also are providing affordable rental spaces for local, small businesses at their Midway Business Center, Chapel Hill’s first small business incubator. Since opening the business center in 2000, they’ve had over 250 businesses rent for a season to get their business off the ground – everything from hair salons and cell phone companies to seamstresses and masseuses.
“It gives them the chance to feel like a real business,” says Sarita Nwachukwu, who manages the applicants and renters.
Community outreach is also a key component of their work, and they’ve established themselves as a safe space and a resource for people in the area who may otherwise feel overlooked. They regularly host community gatherings where people can come together and voice concerns. They run a Career Explorers Program in the summer that pairs young adults with internships that often turn into jobs. They also own five mobile homes available for rent, which has made a notable impact on the immigrant population in the area. And, they have a MOM fund that helps people cover their utility bills when they need it.
EmPOWERment, Inc. has become a true beacon of hope in their community. They are paving the way for other organizations to follow in their footsteps, and we are excited to see how they continue to leave their own legacy in the community they care so deeply about.