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Cherokee tackles long-standing problems of housing and drugs

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has announced plans for an affordable housing development and substance abuse treatment center in Swain County.

The tribe plans to build an affordable multi- and single-family housing development on a 300-acre tract in the Coopers Creek area. The development could have as many as 175 homes on it, according to Chief Michell Hicks.

Though the housing will only be open to enrolled members of the tribe, the housing will help add to the base of affordable housing in the region. The lack of housing in general has been a problem for the Cherokee, who are hemmed in by the borders of the Qualla Boundary.

“We don’t have a whole lot of lower- or mid-income housing here,” said Hicks.

Hicks said of the tribe’s interest in purchasing the Coopers Creek tract, “we’re running out of buildable land, and the goal was to try to find land that had some prospect for multi-use.”

Hicks said the tribe hopes to keep home prices as low as possible.

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“(With affordable housing) we do our best to stay under $100,000 for homes. Then again, you have homes that will push the $200,000 mark,” said Hicks.

The tribe hopes to break ground on the project in 2010. There are no estimates of construction costs yet.

The tribe hopes to build a substance abuse center in the Kituwah area, which has special significance to the tribe. Kituwah, referred to as the mother town of the Cherokee, is thought of as the birthplace of the Cherokee people. A council house once rested on an Indian mound that is still visible on the property, and the area is listed as a National Historic Site.

The regional mental health center would be built across the road from the sacred mound site. It would serve not only enrolled members, but the general public. The center would specialize in treating adult and juvenile substance abuse — treatment that is sorely lacking in the region, Hicks said.

“It’s something that has been neglected in North Carolina and in Western North Carolina,” said Hicks.

Drugs are one of the leading crime problems in Cherokee, and by offering treatment for addicts, Cherokee could bring down crime rates. Hicks said the tribe will seek financial assistance at both federal and state levels to fund the project.

To operate the center, the tribe will need to hook it up to Swain County’s water and sewer infrastructure. Currently, the tribe has a 20-year, 50,000-gallon per day agreement to use Swain’s infrastructure. But the mental health center would far exceed that agreement, and would likely prove too much for the current system to handle.

“We can’t put that kind of facility on the system,” Hicks said. “The infrastructure would have to be upgraded.”

Hicks said the tribe would likely propose footing the bill to upgrade the water and sewer infrastructure currently in place in the county and in Bryson City.

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