Rumors, lies divide communities

Published 8:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2022

Two big lies have been spread in our communities. That calls for a cup of truth to rinse them out.


One of those lies has been circulating in Polk County while the other in Rutherford County.

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First, the Polk County lie, spread both digitally and verbally,  goes something like this: a large, 63-acre Section 8 housing complex is going to be built in Polk County for both the poor and illegal aliens, creating a mass of cracker-box houses that will bring down property values.


Since a lie is more easily swallowed if truth is mixed with it, the rumor tied the housing lie to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plans to widen Highway 9.


This came to my attention when a friend suggested that I look into it.


“There is no such plan. Period. That is not true,” Polk County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tommy W. Melton said. “That kind of stuff gets people going. It’s very disturbing to me that we have people in our community who want to start these vicious rumors.”


If you examine this lie, or if you prefer the polite word “misinformation,” a few code words designed to incite people stand out. “Section 8” has long been a code word for the place where poor people, often minorities, live on government subsidies. Illegal aliens also is code for people who come to our country without proper documentation. Cracker-box houses is yet another code word suggesting the size of a house determines the quality and virtue of its dweller.


Polk County is, however, working with Housing Assistance Corporation, a Hendersonville-based private, non-profit organization committed to providing safe and affordable housing for people of limited income to develop such housing on Highway 108 south of Mill Spring. In layperson’s terms, it’s a “sweat equity” development that would require homebuyers to agree to perform a certain number of hours each week involved in the actual build of their homes in order to qualify for long-term, low-interest mortgages for these starter homes.


And what occupations would those houses be aimed at but certainly not limited to? Are you ready for this? Teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, municipal and county workers. The county needs affordable housing in order to attract and retain these professionals.


In Rutherford County, rumors that homeless people were being bused into that area from Asheville became so rampant that local law enforcement officials, government leaders and those in the county who work to help the homeless had to publicly put down the falsity that was spreading through various institutions, including churches, and over social media.


The Rev. Jason Toney, a pastor at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Bostic, whose church has played a key role in helping the homeless, disputed the rumor.


“I don’t believe there are outside groups of homeless people being sent to Rutherford County. No one has been able to offer any proof,” he said.


Rutherfordton Police Chief Clint Ingle echoed that.


“The homeless population appears to be more visible, and it could be growing, but I have seen no evidence at all that homeless people are being sent in groups to Rutherford County.”

What could be driving an increase? Could it be because nearly 20 percent of Rutherford County residents live in poverty, and many of them are only a few dollars away from being homeless?

Lies, misinformation and half-truths can rip the stable fabric of a community. Truth and facts can bind it tightly. Let’s stick with the truth.

Larry McDermott is a retired local farmer/journalist. Reach him at