Statesville Thrives: Leading a Prosperous Community Conversation on Housing

Population growth and the increased cost of living in the region continue to impact housing affordability for local communities. According to the American Community Survey’s five-year estimates, the population in our regional community of Statesville increased by 8% between 2016 and 2021. Moreover, monthly housing costs have increased by 13.5% over the same five-year-year timespan. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Affordability Strategy data estimated that in 2022, 33% of households in Statesville had at least one of four housing problems: incomplete kitchen facilities, incomplete plumbing facilities, more than one person per room and were considered housing cost burdened. In fact, 32.5% of total households in Statesville were considered housing cost-burdened last year, meaning they spend more than 30% of their annual household income to remain in their home. After hearing first-hand from Statesville residents who experience housing issues, Darbah Skaf, CEO of Statesville Housing Authority (SHA) and its nonprofit affiliate, Iredell/Statesville Community Enrichment Corporation (ISCEC) began brainstorming ideas for an event that could gather community members and service providers to address these issues. With collaboration among SHA, ISCEC, the City of Statesville and Centralina Regional Council, Darbah’s ideas were brought to life in the form of Statesville THRIVES on June 29th, 2023.  

Planning the Event

These stakeholders worked together to organize a community affordable housing forum that aimed to both educate and connect with residents about how they can work together to support a thriving community. The goal of this event was to create actionable items community members can implement individually and collectively to enhance the quality of life of all Statesville residents. Ideally, these action items would be easy to replicate for other communities in our region and beyond experiencing similar issues. The planning process included assessing community needs and challenges regarding availability, adequacy and accessibility of local housing. The organizations were then able to develop a comprehensive agenda for the event that involved local experts thought leadership and time for collaborative brainstorming and communal reflection.  

The Big Day

The Statesville Thrives event was attended by over 75 local leaders who provided critical and insightful feedback and suggestions to improve housing in the community. Darbah Skaf signified the importance of the event, stating that, “As housing providers for people of low to moderate income, it is apparent we can no longer separate these issues of affordable community and social development. The starting poverty rate, the low income 66% and the need for enhanced services are interrelated and cannot be addressed with one common solution.” 

Participants kicked off the day with an educational component – a housing and community development session with Sarah Odio from UNC School of Government Development Finance Initiative. This session was uniquely tailored to Statesville housing needs and urged Statesville to focus on the key elements associated with housing affordability: availability, adequacy and accessibility. 

Following the community development session, Matthew Pierce with the City of Statesville facilitated a peer-to-peer learning panel and a housing authority spotlight, which consisted of local communities of similar size and housing needs, including representatives from Hickory, Mooresville and Winston-Salem. Bruce Johnson, SHA Board Chairman, discussed the importance of housing authorities, stating “When we talk about housing, we’re talking about people. We’re talking about quality of life. We have to ensure that we’re also providing the right avenues and safe environments for our children and youth to grow and express themselves in the community.” Kevin Cheshire, Housing Authority of Winston-Salem’s Executive Director, expanded upon the need by clarifying the role of housing authorities. “Our primary mission is to catch people before they hit rock bottom” he said. “We have been successful in this regard, but where we have fallen short is creating pathways for individuals to bounce back and improve their situations. Our goal is to not only preserve individuals’ well-being but also to help them grow and achieve self-sufficiency.” 

Centralina then led an interactive THRIVES session followed by an action-challenge report out. Attendees broke off into groups led by Centralina staff to discuss how to support a community that THRIVES. Each letter of THRIVES represents a prompt: Technology access, Housing mechanisms, Regionalism, Infrastructure equity, Vibrant communities, Engagement & education and Sustaining partnerships. Each group discussed varying action challenges, such as who are the responsible entities, what specific activities should be carried out, necessary resources for success, when it is achievable and why it is important. Partners of the event stressed the importance of collaborative solutions in order to resolve ongoing housing affordability challenges.  


The Statesville Thrives event successfully gathered community members to:  

  1. Reach a community consensus on what a thriving community looks like
  2. Assess and evaluate community tools and challenges 
  3. Network with other community members and service providers
  4. Highlight the successes of peer communities 
  5. Apply all learned skills to tailored scenarios with peers 
  6. Develop action steps that can be taken on an individual and coordinated level to sustain a prosperous community 

After the event concluded, Centralina developed a final report reflecting on the event and how the community can move forward. The report includes a detailed agenda, event materials, key takeaways from each event session, an overview of actionable steps community members can take both collectively and individually and quotes and event feedback from participants. Noteworthy feedback aligned on the importance of collaboration across sectors and that future Thrives events should extend beyond housing to discuss interconnected issues such as transportation and homelessness. Overall, the majority of participants indicated that the event was educational and beneficial, and they would recommend this event to colleagues in other communities. Most participants stated that they know what actionable steps they can take to further a prosperous Statesville and that they are now increasingly more aware of the services offered by different providers and where different stakeholders come to play. 

Lessons Learned/Conclusion 

Crucial next steps for stakeholders include: 

  1. Local and regional collaboration across public-private sectors 
  2. Data-driven decision making
  3. Continuance of conversations and partnerships
  4. Support for cohesive action plans
  5. Utilize the Thrives playbook for communities of all sizes and backgrounds to create their own THRIVING community! 

The collective solutions proposed at the Thrives event do more than solve immediate challenges; they pave the way for a future where equitable access to technology and safe, affordable housing are the cornerstones of our community. It is crucial to acknowledge that the responsibility for the required response lies on the shoulders of local officials, community members, and city, county, state and federal authorities. We firmly believe that creating lasting change requires the active involvement of multiple parties and that we must continuously evaluate and improve our internal processes to foster a collaborative and holistic response.  

If you’re interested in learning more about Statesville Thrives, click here to access the finalized report. Centralina members interested in putting on a similar event in their communities may reach out to Christina Danis, Director of Community Economic Development, at