Orange County has a new director of housing and community development as it tries to focus on affordable housing needs in the county.
The county appointed Emila Sutton as the new director of the Orange County Department of Housing and Community Development last week. Sutton said she has "always been interested in helping people."
She is definitely no stranger to the task: she’s dedicated her entire career to increasing affordable housing and ending homelessness.
Prior to her current position, which she started Monday, Sept. 23, she worked for seven years at the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, where she oversaw the policy and research team. The team was responsible for the evaluation and analysis of $48 million of federal and state affordable housing funding, including the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund, the HOME Program and the National Housing Trust Fund. In this role, she also led an effort to measure the impact of NCHFA’s affordable housing programs on North Carolinians.
Bonnie Hammersley, Orange County manager, said Sutton's experience will be of value to the county.
“We are excited to have Emila join our team,” Hammersley said in the press release. “Her extensive knowledge of federal and state guidelines and best practices relating to housing and community development will help us bring more affordable housing opportunities to Orange County.”
Before working with NCHFA, Sutton worked at the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness for two years, where she coordinated homelessness funding for 79 mostly rural North Carolina counties. However, her relationship working with homelessness and the housing industry started even before these two careers.
Sutton’s first exposure with affordable housing came through volunteering with AmeriCorps VISTA at a transitional housing facility in Tucson, Arizona, where many people were evacuated from New Orleans after the impact of Hurricane Katrina. The facility served as a food bank and a resource hub for those needing financial help, housing and connection to community resources, she said.
Sutton said her experience with AmeriCorps solidified her desire to dedicate her career to the field.
“I saw directly the impact of housing and providing quality safe, affordable housing,” she said.
Sutton’s experience in the housing industry has taught her many things, but one of the prime takeaways from her prior roles has been the importance of collaboration, not only with colleagues, but also community members and stakeholders. Through years of program-level work, policy work and research, Sutton said she has learned about the incredible impact of affordable housing.
“Housing is a social determinant of health, and has a significant impact on people’s lives — children’s development, educational attainment, mental and physical health,” Sutton said. “There’s a significant impact on communities and the economy in that affordable housing development provides tax revenues, jobs and also provides for neighborhood stabilization and revitalization.”
Sutton said she looks forward to bringing this knowledge to her new role as Orange County’s director of housing and community development. Sutton was selected for this role out of 31 semifinalists and four interviewees in a nationwide job search conducted by the national recruitment firm Baker Tilly, said Todd McGee, Orange County community relations director.
The prime responsibility of the position is to promote adequate and affordable housing, economic opportunity and a suitable living environment free from discrimination, McGee said. As director, Sutton will oversee programs such as the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program, Orange County’s new rental assistance program and many other efforts to provide housing opportunities for low to moderate-income families.
Sutton said her long term goals as director are to increase affordable rental housing opportunities for both middle and lower-income households, facilitate homeowner rehabilitation for low-income homeowners who are elderly or disabled and give more Orange County residents who wish to own homes the opportunity to do so.
“I hope that by working with our community, stakeholders and colleagues, the impact will be more affordable housing options overall, across the spectrum of need,” she said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.