Editor’s note: This essay is part of a series in which local experts were asked: “What would it take to solve the Asheville area’s affordable housing problem?”
Here at Pisgah Legal Services, we talk to thousands of people every year who pay too much for rent, live too far from work and/or live in substandard conditions. We see that our local affordable housing problem is complex and will take creative, multidimensional solutions.
The solution to the affordable housing problem is political and community will. Everyone — families, neighborhood groups, politicians, nonprofits, business leaders, etc. — must commit to making affordable housing a priority and evaluate every decision based on how it affects affordable housing.
Here are some approaches that can have an impact quickly:
- Significantly increase density in zoning districts (when a developer can build more units per acre, the units cost less).
- Make affordable housing at least 15 to 20 percent of every multifamily development.
- Incentivize affordable housing development and make it easy for developers to build it. Instead of creating complicated regulations, simplify them.
- Put 1 cent of the city’s tax revenue into the Housing Trust Fund. Establish a similar county fund.
- Waive all fees for affordable housing development; increase fees for market-rate development.
- Work with employers to create housing on underutilized land, and/or funding streams that can subsidize employees’ housing costs.
- Develop new strategies and try those that have worked elsewhere.
- A key part of the solution is having the Chamber of Commerce use some of the room occupancy tax for affordable housing. Tourism is a big local industry, and the workers that support it deserve safe, decent housing.
Some elected officials have proposed building affordable housing on the outskirts and busing low- and moderate-income workers to their jobs rather than developing it in convenient, central locations throughout our community. There’s no denying the link between transportation and housing costs, or the need for more transportation choices. But pushing large categories of people to the fringes of the community is not an acceptable option. It is segregation, and it hurts everyone. Our community benefits in many ways from having all types of people living together in communities.
— Robin Merrell and the
Pisgah Legal Services Housing Team