Commissioners approve $4.9M for pre-K expansion, affordable housing

Reimagining Deaverview project concept rendering
ON THE HORIZON: The Reimagining Deaverview project, which aims to construct roughly 80 affordable units in Asheville’s second-oldest public housing community, got one step closer to becoming a reality after Buncombe commissioners approved $935,000 in ARPA funds. Rendering courtesy of the Asheville Housing Authority

Efforts to bring more affordable housing and early childhood education to Buncombe County got a big boost May 3. At its meeting that evening, the county Board of Commissioners unanimously approved nearly $4.9 million in allocations from Buncombe’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to three projects in those areas proposed by community partners. 

The three applications were the first to be funded out of 105 projects that had been submitted in response to the county’s latest request for proposals, which closed April 12. According to a presentation by Rachael Nygaard, the county’s strategic partnerships director, funding for the housing projects was accelerated because of looming tax credit application deadlines, while the prekindergarten project was funded early to align with the start of the 2022-23 academic year.

The largest grant awarded May 3 was $3.2 million to the nonprofit Buncombe Partnership for Children to expand pre-K availability and accessibility. The pilot project will employ six strategies for increasing access to pre-K, such as boosting pay to attract more teachers, supporting additional education and licensing for pre-K staff, and working directly with families and providers to address barriers such as transportation. The partnership’s application for the two-year project estimates that the funds will help roughly 1,180 children starting this school year.

“What this means in the lives of people in Buncombe County is that we have the chance to take a bold step towards better serving more children and ensuring that more kids in our community have access to the quality education, care and learning that happens in pre-K. And particularly, we’re doing that with an approach that’s informed by equity around both racial justice issues and economic justice issues,” said Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. “We know that pre-K can be a game-changer in the lives of children. And we know that to make it a game-changer, we have to seriously invest in it.” 

Commissioners also voted to award roughly $720,000 to Mountain Housing Opportunities for its Lakeshore Villas project, which will create 120 affordable rental units. According to MHO’s application, the units will be affordable for those earning between 30% of the area median income ($1,580 for a single person; $26,500 for a family of four) and 80% AMI ($42,100 for a single person; $60,100 for a family of four). The proposal also estimates that as many as 20% of the units will house residents who are currently homeless. 

And more than $935,000 was approved for Phase 1 of the Asheville Housing Authority’s Reimagining Deaverview project, which aims to construct roughly 80 affordable units as part of a larger plan to demolish and rebuild Asheville’s second-oldest public housing community. The project includes apartments that would be affordable to those earning 30% to 60% AMI. The AHA’s original ask was $1.2 million; the organization is also seeking support from the city of Asheville. 

“Looking at these two issues this evening, they really go hand in hand in terms of providing a supportive environment for families and children in Buncombe County,” said Commissioner Amanda Edwards.

Buncombe County was awarded a little over $50.7 million in ARPA funds from the federal government. After the latest round of grants, the county has allocated more than $27.9 million of that money, or a little over 55%.

Commissioners criticize occupancy tax 

The commissioners unanimously approved a budget amendment that boosted the county’s budget for occupancy tax revenue income and expenditures by $11 million. The move was made to meet accounting requirements: Because occupancy tax revenues are expected to exceed $36 million this fiscal year — about 34% more than the roughly $27.2 million the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority budgeted for in June — the county needed sufficient budget headroom to collect that money and pass it through to the BCTDA. 

But some members used the opportunity to blast the current occupancy tax situation. State law requires that 75% of revenue generated by the tax be spent on advertising for tourism, with the remaining 25% must be spent on tourism-related capital projects.

Board Chair Brownie Newman called that distribution “outrageous” and a “disservice to this community.” He and Beach-Ferrara both called for more of the tax to go toward community needs, citing Asheville’s affordable housing crisis. Meanwhile, Commissioner Parker Sloan maintained that the county should stop levying the tax altogether.

“That negotiated position that’s been debated in the legislature for years now, it’s really too late for that, in my mind,” Sloan said, referencing previous discussions between government officials and tourism leaders to reduce the portion of the tax dedicated to marketing. “We’ve gone beyond that point to where we can expect that they’re still negotiating in good faith with us.”

“I think it’s time for us, as a board, to do what we need to do — what I think we have to do — which is to end the collection of the hotel occupancy tax as soon as possible,” he continued. No other board members weighed in on Sloan’s comments.

The N.C. General Assembly is expected to consider a bill that would shift some occupancy tax proceeds away from tourism marketing and expand their allowable uses during its short session, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday, May 18.

SHARE

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.

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.

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.