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?”
Through my research and work as chair of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and my own struggle to find affordable housing over the last dozen years, I know that we can and must do more to address our affordable housing crisis. People working one or more jobs (as I did for years) should be able to find a decent rental or home to buy.
There are proven strategies for increasing affordable housing: 1) increase density; 2) increase funding; and 3) mandate inclusivity. Moving forward will require skin in the game from government, nonprofits, private developers and neighbors. The good news is that all stakeholders recognize this crucial need, and most also recognize the communitywide rewards these strategies provide.
First, by increasing density, we get the greatest return on our investments while having the lightest impact on our environment. Specific ways we can achieve this include:
• Tasking all city boards and commissions with developing policies, programs and procedures that increase density, to provide the needed tax base and encourage affordable housing.
• Examine the underutilization of available density bonuses and fix any barriers to usage.
• Implement fee waivers or increased rebates for high levels of density and affordability.
• Increase the amount of land available for affordable housing; evaluate city-owned property to identify suitable sites.
• Create an affordable housing land bank to reserve properties near transit lines, grocery stores and other services, and those that would make local projects more competitive for state and federal tax credits. Allocate additional funds for this purpose.
• Offer affordable housing sites for sale through a competitive bidding process.
Second, increasing the annual allocation to our Affordable Housing Trust Fund will further drive development of high-quality units. The fund subsidized the Larchmont and Glen Rock projects, providing attractive, permanently affordable rental units in North Asheville and the River Arts District.
Third, mandating that housing be inclusionary is a strategy that’s working across the state and nation. This policy requires every new development to include a percentage of affordable housing. An added benefit: inclusionary zoning strengthens neighborhood resiliency and builds community across income levels.
— Lindsey Simerly
Chair, Affordable Housing Advisory Committee