Danette Dye - Gastonia's new 'dream catcher'
It’s easy to see why homeownership is called the American Dream. When you can afford a home, your household has achieved a level of accumulated wealth. When more households have economic stability, the positive effects tend to ripple across each neighborhood and the City as a whole.
But Danette Dye says the trend, both in Gastonia and nationwide, is economic INstability. The City’s new director of Housing and Community Engagement says, when wages don’t keep pace with housing costs, fewer people can buy homes. The American Dream slips away.
“You’re going to see a greater number of people who are not able to afford housing,” Dye says. “We see that every day in people not being able to purchase a home.”
The reasons fewer people are able to afford a home are varied and complex, most going back several decades. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, supply-chain issues, lack of housing inventory, and increased inflation only have made a bad situation worse.
Dye says housing demand far exceeds supply, especially for people on working-class wages. “With the sharp increases in housing prices, it decreases the number of families who are able to obtain affordable housing," she says. "As prices continue to increase, many households may have to make difficult choices between housing and other needs."
There also are homeowners who can’t afford to make necessary repairs. Dye says providing stability is important, so those residents can maintain their homes and continue living there safely.
Of course, the City does not set private wages, control global supply chains or regulate inflation – all big factors in housing affordability. It does, however, administer some federally funded grant programs to help educate and empower would-be homebuyers.
“We have programs that provide down-payment assistance,” Dye says. “And for individuals or families looking to purchase a home, we are a HUD-approved counseling agency offering pre-purchase homeownership counseling.” The City also offers a housing rehabilitation program to help low- and moderate-income residents repair their homes.
Renters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can get help from the City through a different federal grant program. And the City partners with many public and private entities on the multi-faceted challenges of housing insecurity.
Decades of experience
Dye is a native Gastonian, with her family tree rooted in this area for at least four generations. She started her career with the City more than 30 years ago, first working full time as a Police Records Clerk while attending college. Later, she transferred to the City's Community Development Department, where she started as an Administrative Assistant.
Her next position was that of Case Management Specialist, assisting low-income clients with housing needs. She also worked as a Compliance Officer and a HUD Administrator. She specialized in housing programs that get most of their funding from two types of federal grant money. HOME is the largest federal block grant program to state and local governments designed to create affordable housing. The Community Development Block Grant program supports community revitalization, including housing and employment opportunities.
Dye says her varying roles working with the department gave her the opportunity for increased growth and development, both personally and professionally, “because you see things from different perspectives and pick up so many different things in different capacities,” she explains.
Although the federal grant programs are complicated, Dye says she learned the ins and outs through a combination of hands-on experience and specialized training. And she spent decades building a rapport with community partners and Gastonia residents. “I feel those are long-lasting relationships that have allowed me to relate to and better understand the needs of the community,” she says.
City’s ‘forefront issues’ of housing and homelessness
It’s clear that Dye has a heart for people and a mind for the complex programs and partnerships designed to foster housing opportunities and thriving neighborhoods. She will tap into that compassion and knowledge while leading the City’s new Housing and Community Engagement Department and its staff of 11 people.
The department includes the new Alliance for Community Enrichment, along with Housing and Neighborhoods (Community Development), Keep Gastonia Beautiful and Gastonia Sister Cities. The various programs emphasize engagement, education, beautification, culture and coordination of services. “Gastonia has always had a strong sense of community,” Dye says. “We hope to build upon those existing relationships within the community to forge even stronger alliances."
As of 2022, the department is no longer called Community Development or Community Services. Transit and the airport have been moved under Public Works. The department’s new name, Housing and Commmunity Engagement, reflects the City’s increased emphasis on the growing challenges of housing and homelessness, which Dye calls “forefront issues.”
“The two are tied together,” she explains. “You can’t address homelessness without addressing the affordable housing component.”
Dye hopes to begin meetings with residents in the coming months to create a better assessment of what the needs are and what types of partnerships are necessary to address those two related concerns. But she emphasizes that the City alone cannot fix either problem. “It’s not a governmental issue,” she says. “It’s a community issue.”
According to Dye, the City and her department will be an “integral part” of coming up with viable solutions. But it will take collaborative action from many people in both the public and private sectors to help bring the American Dream into the grasp of more residents’ hands.
Dye says one of her biggest challenges will be managing expectations that the City has a quick fix to create affordable housing and strong neighborhoods. She doesn’t have a magic wand. But she may have the equivalent of what Native Americans call a dream catcher – a web-like hoop hung over the bed to catch and keep good dreams. Working with a web of other people and organizations, her department may help a few more Gastonia residents catch the American Dream. At least she’ll give it her best shot.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Dye says of her new role. “I look forward to it because it is new, it’s challenging and it’s one that I think is needed for the City. I feel very fortunate.”