Extreme home makeover
The city of Asheville will be forced to evict and relocate 41 families from a failed affordable-housing development near McCormick Field to make room for potential new development city staffers hope will be a success.
McCormick Heights currently operates as an affordable-apartment complex owned by Asheville Mountainside, LLC, a corporation that includes a subsidiary of Progress Energy and an affiliate of the city’s Housing Authority. The development sits on about eight acres and has 100 housing units, nearly 60 percent of which are vacant.
The city, which was poised at its Dec. 12 formal session to purchase the site for $2.5 million, wants to combine the property with two adjacent city-owned parcels for a total of 20 acres. Officials then envision partnering with a private developer to construct a mixed-income community on the site that could offer between 200 to 350 units of affordable, work-force and market-rate housing.
“Asheville Mountainside has decided to sell the property because it has been unable to reach its full market potential and has become financially unsustainable,” said Progress Energy spokesman Ken Maxwell. “However, it’s important to our members to seek a buyer that would preserve affordable housing at that location, and the city’s proposal will do that.”
Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford said if the city doesn’t act, the site risks sale to private developers, who would likely seek to build upscale housing, further exacerbating the city’s lack of affordable housing. “The site has the potential to combine both affordable rental and homeownership opportunities with market-rate homes to achieve a true mixed-income development,” he said.
Until then, the city will be faced with relocating 41 families that would be displaced by any new development. It took the unusual step this past Friday of scheduling private meetings between Shuford and other city staff with local media reps to explain how the city plans to handle the difficult and sensitive task. Community Development Director Charlotte Caplan told Xpress the meetings were to answer questions and dispel potential rumors. For its part, the city plans to establish a housing-counseling program that would assist the families in finding a new place to live. The city also is ready to pony up as much as $85,000 to help the families with down payments, security deposits, utility transfers and other potential costs associated with a move.
In a series of e-mails to City Manager Gary Jackson, Council member Carl Mumpower questioned the city’s motives in meeting privately with individual reporters and media outlets. In what he termed a “whitewash” and “dog and pony show,” he told Xpress the city was trying to spin a proposed development that does not need to be built in the first place. Mumpower said the city has had a bad history working with private developers, and added that the project would distract the city from its core services. He said he also believes it is the city’s fault that McCormick Heights never lived up to its potential. The problem isn’t the lack of amenities or the layout of the existing units, as city staff have said, it’s the fact that residents and potential residents simply don’t feel safe there, he said.
“We failed in our primary responsibility, which is public safety,” Mumpower said. “We let criminals and thugs and drug dealers terrorize that community, and I mean that literally. And now we’ve lost it. So now we’re going to look away from our failed public safety and get everybody distracted by this new, exciting housing ‘Disneyland.’ And I think that’s just nonsense.”
— Hal L. Millard
Rolling into town: See No Evil films
Not only can the founders of See No Evil films reach you almost anywhere in the world, they can do it in three languages. Monica Sosa and Rogelio Cordovez, both alums of MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon, have settled into a base office in Asheville, but cutting-edge technology gives them a worldwide presence.
“We can work anywhere and with anyone from Asheville,” says Sosa.
The two moved here from Miami, and have established a presence in the Hispanic entertainment industry, including the production on a Miami filming of a Ricky Martin Unplugged episode for MTV Latin America and the Spanish-language soap opera Nuestra Barrio. On their international assignments, the team can speak not only English and Spanish, but also Portuguese.
Before relocating to Asheville five months ago, the two were increasingly enthusiastic about setting out on their own, and technology finally caught up with their vision, Sosa says.
“We left corporate America on purpose,” she says.
The company is only two-strong in Asheville, but it works with a crew salted all around the country using high-tech hardware. That trend bodes well for people outside the New York/L.A. paradigm.
“More and more, I find I am hiring people in remote places,” Sosa says, while acknowledging that the new technologies do require a learning curve. “Sometimes we have to explain to people how to do it.”
While living and working in Miami’s urban environment, Cordovez and Sosa anticipated the day when technology would allow them to set up shop anywhere. Asheville, which has taken strides to improve its communication infrastructure and pitches itself to high-tech business, was a natural choice.
“It was important for me to get away from the metropolitan vibe,” Cordovez says.
“Why not here?” Sosa agrees.
Check out See No Evil films on their Web site at www.snefilms.com.
— Brian Postelle
New birds in the neighborhood
The Carolina Parakeet was a lovely green-bodied, yellow-headed, red-masked bird that was once plentiful in the southeastern United States. But after a couple centuries of being pursued by hunters, the bird disappeared in 1920. It was North Carolina’s only native parrot.
So it’s fitting, in a way, that a parrot-rescue organization has taken up residence in present-day North Carolina to aid non-native parrots in captivity.
In 1999, Ann Brooks, founder of the nonprofit Phoenix Landing Foundation, bought land in Madison County with plans to eventually establish an education, housing and flight facility for homeless parrots. Last year she retired to Asheville from Washington, D.C., and currently she is expanding her parrot-rescue outreach program on an ever-widening circuit that touches Roanoke, Charlotte, Raleigh and D.C. — offering parroting education and finding foster or adoptive parents for her colorful charges.
“As soon as I got my Phoenix — a large, green-winged macaw — I said, ‘My goodness, what have I done?'” Brooks says of her first parrot. Nobody had told her the birds live up to 100 years, and at 60, Brooks was suddenly responsible for a young bird that could well outlive her. She searched unsuccessfully for an organization that could care for the parrot in the event she predeceased it. Finding none, she created her own, and Phoenix Landing took flight.
It’s not just the death of caretakers that makes parrots homeless. Brooks explains that people may simply be in awe of the exotic birds and want one for their living room, never realizing that in their natural habitats, the birds are messy with a purpose (to feed the forest floor) and are loud for a reason (to call to their flocks). When new owners discover these traits in the confines of a house, their awe sometimes dissipates — along with their treatment of the birds.
But the most common complaint Brooks hears from owners is: “We can’t give them enough time and attention.” That’s just because they haven’t learned how, Brooks declares, so she runs training classes on parrot care. As for surrendered or homeless parrots, “We’re at about 750 birds now,” Brooks says after three years of outreach to provide foster care and adoption for parakeets, macaws and parrots. In Asheville, those classes take place at the administrative headquarters of the Asheville Humane Society, 180 Merrimon Ave.
“We do want people to think before they make a decision,” Brooks says of adoption. As for foster parents: “We let the birds pick.”
— Nelda Holder
Public policy meets economic reality
State economic trends and their social implications were in the spotlight Dec. 6, when United Way of Asheville/Buncombe hosted its annual legislative briefing in preparation for the 2007 General Assembly session. Under the scrutiny provided by several veteran analysts, some clear financial stresses were evident.
The morning featured presentations by Elaine Mejia of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center and Jill Cox of United Way of North Carolina. Mejia documented a projected $1 billion “early” shortfall in state revenues in 2007; an estimated five-year, $9 billion need for school construction with only an anticipated $850 million available in lottery funds (dedicated to construction and falling behind income forecasts); a downhill slide in statewide job security; and the longest-ever waiting list for child-care subsidies (almost 40,000 children).
Mejia pointed out that the negatives, which also include a decline in hourly wages (adjusted for inflation), are in juxtaposition to dramatic corporate profits and an ostensibly low unemployment rate. North Carolina’s official unemployment rate went from just below 4 percent in 2000 to a still-low 5.2 percent in 2005, she said, but for the same period, the percentage of jobless facing long-term unemployment (more than six months) almost doubled. Workers in the categories of underemployed and “part-time for economic reasons” (part-time workers who prefer but cannot find full-time positions) increased to 9.9 and 17.8 percent, respectively — the latter being a particularly troubling indicator, in Meija’s estimation.
Cox spoke to the public-policy implications for housing, including homelessness and affordable housing. She commended Asheville for “leading the charge” in creating a 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and becoming the first of now 15 communities across the state to make similar plans. In the affordable-housing arena, Cox said there are some 2 million people — a quarter of the state’s population — “struggling with housing at any given time,” and 43 percent of renters cannot afford a fair-market rate, two-bedroom apartment (which, statistically, requires a household income of $12.15 per hour). The policy agenda for organizations working in coalition with N.C. Justice is to reach a goal of $50 million annually for the N.C. Housing Trust Fund.
After the presentations, area Reps. Bruce Goforth and Susan Fisher briefly addressed an audience question regarding mental-health providers and the closing of more facilities. Both spoke of progress in bridge funding and a slowdown of the elimination of facilities. “We’re finally connecting the head with the body,” Fisher said of the legislative thinking in this arena. “It’s not only a money rethinking, it’s a systems rethinking. We do have a long way to go.”
— Nelda Holder