We Don’t Need More Low Income Housing -Getting it Right With What We’ve Got

“Converting an existing property into a new use is fiscally friendly. If you create a building of value, where before the building was of no value, you’ve added to the overall economic worth. You’ve made something viable that wasn’t viable before, a place people can live or work.”                                                    -Marianne Zickuhr, Executive Director     Preservation Louisville


The Telegram published (2-21-19) that the City Council is Studying Housing. The council prioritized workforce housing over residents transitioning from public housing and first-time home buyers. Mr. Joyner brought up the 2014 housing study that listed neighborhoods needing improvement. Rocky Mount Mills is the only neighborhood to have advanced. Councilman Tom Rogers said the housing study was put on the shelf, and now it’s time to be more proactive. At a Council meeting, it was announced that there is a move to build a workforce, affordable housing near the Smokehouse. WHY?  We have an inventory of shotgun houses that continues to deteriorate, adding to the blight of our wards, in neighborhoods calling to be renewed, made safe, and appreciated again.

We’re picking up the wrong end of the stick on this issue and hanging on to an unexamined idea left over from the 1960s and ’70s. Many shotgun houses built in the 19th and early 20th centuries fell into disrepair over time and were demolished during urban renewal efforts.  At that time, city planners and politicians began to view the houses as symbols of poverty and substandard housing conditions.  Shotgun houses gradually fell out of favor until the early 21st century when they began to draw attention from scholars and historic preservation groups. We now view them as significant architectural structures. It is short-sighted here in Rocky Mount to treat shotgun housing as insignificant, allowing our inventory to languish and allowing people to live in their disrepair. Thank goodness investors like Jesse Gerstl recognize their value and is buying and preserving them. We do not need to build affordable housing on Atlantic Avenue. We have plenty of affordable housing that must be saved.

We need to advocate for the historical significance of the shotgun house. If one follows the guidelines set out by the United States National Register of Historic Places to evaluate a site’s potential for preservation, a historically significant piece of built heritage must retain its integrity for it to be protected from demolition or neglect. And integrity, according to the Register, is the ability of a property to convey its significance. It is imperative that a crucial part of the historical significance of the shotgun house lies in the construction of its historical evolution. Scholars have engaged with the historical origins of shotgun houses, acts of conflict, whether in the form of revolution, slavery, cultural resistance, or adaptation. This vernacular tradition manifests the dynamics of history and race in the United States that elevates its status, a built heritage worthy of protection.


“Preservation can be more than just making sure the new shutters on the windows match the original style from 1890. Preservation can also be about keeping people safe, warm and dry. In the end, that’s a much more noble mission.”     -Marianne Zickuhr, Executive Director Preservation Louisville

These watercolor images are found on Pinterest. Why not look at this link to my Shotgun House board to make your heart sing. CLICK HERE

Don’t miss the comments below. Scroll Down.








9 thoughts on “We Don’t Need More Low Income Housing -Getting it Right With What We’ve Got

  1. Amen, Stepheney!! Once again, you have hit the nail on the head! Why, why, why build new structures when there is so much history in these wonderful shotgun houses to be saved, admired, and revered. And kudos to Jesse! Thank you both!!


  2. Love this article. My Mom, Dad and I lived on a 3 room, shotgun house on Arlington St. Ext., back in the mid 50’s (I was @ 8 or 9 years old). We were poor and that’s all we could afford, at the time. No bathroom, or running water. (Johnny house in the yard and a water pump on the back porch).

    I would, of course, suggest renovated shotgun houses to have at least 4 rooms, including a living room; kitchen; bathroom on one side of a room, with closet space on the other side of the same room; bedroom, with enough width and length on each side of the doorway, to allow a for a queen size bed and a night stand on each side. The bedrooms should also have enough space to fit opened dresser drawers at the foot of each bed, while still allowing walking space between the foot of the beds while the drawers are opened.

    Since people are choosing to live single and not start families at early ages, I would think shotgun house would make a great comeback, especially in elderly neighborhoods, with people on fixed incomes and and college students. Renovated Shotgun Houses sounds like a great investment for rental property owners, while providing affordable housing to elderly and young people, especially if owners provide services, such as repairs and yard maintenance.

    Look at the growing popularity of Tiny Homes, advertised on the internet. . https://www.thespruce.com/super-affordable-tiny-homes-that-will-inspire-3017220


  3. Countless studies by highly regarded universities and colleges, as well as, government data, explores and proves that building “affordable” or “project” housing fails. Always. It is a statistical fact that governments should not be in the business of housing–their focus should be on the sustainability of economic growth. The rest of the problems correct themselves when people have homes, jobs and the fabric of a neighborhood. There are several white papers that discuss this topic in detail, and they are replete with the data to prove this point.

    Cheers Stepheny. Saving existing housing makes financial sense and it BUILDS neighborhoods instead of slums. As my grandmother LaVerta said:

    “Roddy you can tell a lot about a person by the way they keep their yard and home.”

    If LaVerta drove down Main Street and through the neighborhoods I know she would shake her head and say:

    “Roddy, you can tell a lot about this city and who manages it. Look at the way they keep it.”



    1. Once again you have added to the discussion with these insights and FACTS. Thank you for this information which adds great support for what I am trying to say without your brain and expertise. I NEED you to prop me up. Can’t thank you enough for this input. I am going to cut and paste it elsewhere to be sure others see your comment. You get a star in your crown today!


  4. Thank you for advocating for restoration and reuse of shotgun houses. In my second and spiritual home, New Orleans, the shotgun house is highly valued.



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