Buncombe seeks staff expansion for affordable housing

Buncombe County seal

The three new employees the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners seeks to hire won’t be hammering nails, sawing wood or framing roofs. But board members argue they’ll be just as necessary as construction workers to the expansion of affordable housing.

During its meeting of Tuesday, Dec. 7, the board will consider a budget amendment to create three new full-time positions in Buncombe’s Planning Department. At a cost of roughly $164,000 per year, the staffers would help the department’s Community Development Division manage housing feasibility studies and oversee other work.

As outlined in a Nov. 16 presentation to the board’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee, Buncombe hopes to address affordability in part by redeveloping county-owned property in downtown Asheville. Properties on Coxe Avenue and Woodfin Street currently used for county parking lots or small buildings, for example, could instead host dense housing available to low- and medium-income residents.

The subcommittee’s members — board Chair Brownie Newman, as well as commissioners Amanda Edwards and Parker Sloan — say Buncombe needs to conduct feasibility studies for those properties, a task they believe the county can’t accomplish at current staffing levels. They draw comparisons to another study currently underway for county-owned property on Ferry Road, which could be slated for mixed-use development, including affordable housing.

If the new positions are approved, hiring would begin in January. The employees would then develop a request for proposals for an outside firm to conduct the feasibility studies starting in July. Estimated costs for the studies themselves are not currently available.

$1M in COVID pay for county employees

Having previously approved over $1 million in pandemic premium pay for county staff as part of their federal American Rescue Plan Act grants, commissioners will now consider the details of how that money will be doled out. A policy up for approval at the Dec. 7 meeting outlines four payment tiers for employees based on their involvement in the pandemic response.

The biggest bonuses (up to $3,000) would go to “core COVID” employees, those who spent at least 75% of their time on managing Buncombe’s approach to the coronavirus. High-risk workers making direct contact with the public, such as first responders, would be eligible for payments of up to $1,500, while customer service staff and other “medium-low risk” workers could get up to $1,000. Employees who were reassigned to COVID-19 response would get an extra $1.44 per hour, up to a total of $1,000.

The county estimates that 757 workers would be eligible for at least some bonus pay. If approved, the money would go out at the end of December.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 13 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. before the regular meeting to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 response and other matters. On Nov. 30, the county renewed its indoor mask mandate through Wednesday, Jan. 5; in a Facebook post the same day, Newman cited the potential for high viral transmission during holiday shopping and uncertainty around the omicron variant as reasons for the extension. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

3 thoughts on “Buncombe seeks staff expansion for affordable housing

  1. Lou

    Employees who spent their time “managing Buncombe’s approach to the coronavirus”…you mean ignoring calls from concerned citizens and looking the other way while trump supporting businesses refused to enforce mask mandates? Okey dokey.

  2. Censor this!

    More highly paid staff to request expensive studies, paid for by higher taxes on property, rental property included, which will be passed on to tenants. Great plan!

  3. jordan

    So we are spending *more* money to outsource the same job that has been delegated to their purview over and over. This is not a new issue. This is a typical game financial hot-potato the city of asheville where they pass the bag, and keep the money.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.