Council approves grant for downtown microhousing

217 Hilliard Ave floor plan
LITTLE BOXES ON THE HILLSIDE: Each of the 80 units slated for a South Slope microhousing development will be no more than 250 square feet, which developer David Moritz says will make them more affordable than other downtown options. Graphic courtesy of the city of Asheville

By Nikki Gensert

A land use incentive grant application for an 80-unit microhousing development at 217 Hilliard Ave. prompted discussion about the grant program at Asheville City Council’s June 14 meeting. Although Council ultimately approved the roughly $593,000 grant in a 5-2 vote, with Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith and Antanette Mosley opposed, members questioned whether the award would effectively boost affordable housing in the city.

David Moritz, the project’s developer, described it as “reasonably priced workforce housing.” Each unit will be no more than 250 square feet and share a kitchen and living area with 14-17 other units on each floor. The smaller size and communal style, Moritz said, are designed to make the development more affordable than other housing options downtown.

According to the terms of the grant, 16 of those units would be designated as affordable for people earning at or below 80% of the area median income, which would cap rents at $1,053 per month with utilities included. However, Moritz confirmed that market-price rent for all of the project’s units would be about $1,000 including utilities, meaning that the city-subsidized units would not immediately be cheaper for their tenants.

Mortiz pointed out that the terms of the city grant would lock the rent for those 16 units at the 80% AMI affordability level for 20 years regardless of any rent increases to the market-price units. He would also be required to accept housing choice vouchers for eight of the affordable units. In return, he would receive a tax rebate of over $28,000 per year for 21 years, equivalent to a roughly $37,000 subsidy for each affordable unit.

A staff report available before the meeting noted that the development — the first microhousing project to come before Council — adhered to all of the requirements of the incentive grant policy, even though rent for its affordable and market-rate units would be the same. Council member Sage Turner, chair of Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, said that body was planning to discuss updating the policy to require more from future microhousing developments.

City staff pointed out that the current grant policy does allow Council to negotiate with the developer over specific terms. Both Mosley and Council member Kim Roney asked if Moritz would be willing to consider providing fewer affordable units at a deeper level of affordability, but he was not receptive.

“This is our genuine best attempt to bring reasonably priced housing to downtown Asheville,” Moritz said. He cited rising construction costs and said that his current offer was the best he could do, although he noted that he had not done the math to see if the project could provide fewer units affordable to those at lower income levels.

Council members also questioned whether the project went far enough toward the goal of affordable housing and asked how it might impact the nearby Southside neighborhood. Both Smith and Mosley said that the development did not meet the affordability level that residents in that community need and might also increase property values for nearby homeowners, thereby leading to higher tax bills.

Meanwhile, Roney said that, while she struggled with the decision, she voted yes on the grant on behalf of the eight people who would be able to use housing vouchers for the affordable units.

Residents comment on proposed budget

Council also heard public comment on the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022-23. In response to Council comments on City Manager Debra Campbell’s presentation of the budget May 24, city staff had made several additions in advance of the June 14 hearing.

Dawn Chávez
HAPPY TREES: Dawn Chávez, executive director of Asheville GreenWorks, thanks Asheville City Council for including funding to support an urban forester in its proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget. Screen capture courtesy of the city of Asheville

The budget now includes $108,000 in funding to create an urban forester position, boosts funding for reparations from $365,000 to $500,000 and allocates $300,000 to increase employee salaries in line with Buncombe County’s living wage beginning in January. Of the $543,000 in total additional spending, $408,000 would be paid for using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, with the remainder covered by expected revenue increases.

People who signed up to speak on the budget were pleasantly surprised by the urban forester addition. “I came here tonight under the impression that there wouldn’t be funding for an urban forester recommended for the FY23 budget, so now I am here to say thank you,” said Dawn Chávez, executive director of Asheville GreenWorks, “Having an urban forester on staff is essential to improving and maintaining a healthy urban forest in Asheville.”

Several speakers called for the city to cut police funding and instead use that money for other community resources. “I would like to urge Council to actually diversify public safety response instead of continuing to pour resources into the Asheville Police Department,” said Emma Hutchins. “We need paramedicine, community paramedicine, mental health resources that are not housed within APD.”

Council is scheduled to hold its final vote on the budget at its next meeting on Tuesday, June 28.


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8 thoughts on “Council approves grant for downtown microhousing

  1. MV

    If the going rate for 250 square feet is going to be more than a grand, then I (and other local landlords) should increase what we charge for housing rather than lower it. Gonna be a slippery slope.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      last 2-3 years rents up about 40% … my rentals are under rented until next year.

  2. CitizenBane

    This is the plan? What a weak, short-sighted, pathetic, unimaginative, flaccid, tepid, effete city council Asheville has. 1) Pass rent cap laws, 2) reform tenant rights in a way that empowers renters and takes power from landlords, 3) attack the power of the hotel magnates and tourist industry by raising minimum wage, health care, and retirement benefits for the protection and life improvement of all citizens. But no, some vapid, hip, trendy, ignorant solutions are the norm for this council. What’s next, reparations for the LGTBQ lmnop community? Luxurious spa retreats for at the taxpayer expense for dogs? Another Ingle’s? Sidewalk rejuvenation for Charlotte Street residents? At this point, when you hear the city council is in session, just make up the most incongruous, insipid, dumb decision they can make and prepare for it to actually become real.

    • NFB

      State law prohibits local governments from doing any of the three suggestions you have made.

  3. R.G.

    Asheville Landlords, Let’s Unite and Raise Our Rents! If this micro-housing plan is any gauge, I’ve offered my charming 900-square-foot bungalow at too low a price for too many years (and I’ve mowed the lawn and paid for water!). I used to care deeply about the community and kept rates below market value, but now that I’ve seen this plan (and council’s support for it), I realize that I’ve been a terribly ineffective and short-sighted capitalist.

  4. kw

    If you’re wondering about the math behind setting aside 20% of housing as ‘affordable’ for workers to serve swill to tourists, the facts below from our great nation’s past might enlighten you as to why we the people need about 1 out of 5 or 6 humans to lead such subservient (lives?) so that the economy can flourish.

    “There were almost 700 thousand slaves in the US in 1790, which equated to approximately 18 percent of the total population, or roughly one in every six people.”

    Reparations much?

  5. MV

    Highway robbery! Moritz is gonna make out like a bandit with those subsidies. Read this more closely.

    I’ve been an area landlord for more than 20 years. I’ve always rented my place far below market value, but this Moritz project definitely encourages me to raise my rent.

  6. K

    Finally! Human storage units! And they’re almost as big as the ones you can rent at that Storage place on Riverside. They don’t have kitchens either, but they’re walking distance to some cool bars.

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