Council subsidies could bring more than 100 affordable units to Asheville

I NEED A DOLLAR: Ronn Stewart, facing City Council, senior vice president of development at Laurel Street Residential, said that purchasing the city-owned land for $1 would allow the developer to provide affordable units at a lower overall subsidy rate than other grant or loan programs. Screen capture courtesy of the city of Asheville

Earlier this year, members of Asheville City Council named affordable housing a top priority for the city. And during its meeting of Aug. 23, Council put that priority into practice by voting unanimously to back two projects that promise to add more than 100 affordable units to the city’s housing supply. 

While both projects aimed to increase affordable housing, they differed in their approaches to securing city support. The first, proposed by Charlotte-based developer Laurel Street Residential, will be subsidized by a $1 sale of 5.5 acres originally purchased by the city for $5.3 million in 2020. With 65 affordable units to be built, that support works out to roughly $81,500 per unit, higher than the $80,000 per unit cap set by Asheville’s Land Use Incentive Grant program.

Ronn Stewart, senior vice president of development at Laurel Street Residential, said that the company had originally planned to apply for both a Housing Trust Fund loan and a LUIG. However, he claimed that the effectively free land would allow Laurel Street to provide the units at a lower overall subsidy rate. 

The 65 units would be offered at rents affordable to those earning between 60% and 80% of the area median income ($33,750 to $45,000 for an individual; $48,188 to $64,250 for a family of four) for 30 years. The development at 319 Biltmore Ave., which will adjoin the existing Maple Crest Apartments, will also contain 150 market-rate rental units. (A previous proposal for the site by South Carolina-based Homes Urban would have built 75 affordable units in a 250-unit complex; that developer withdrew its proposal in February.)

The project received praise from three speakers during public comment, as well as members of Council, who also pointed out that Laurel Street Residential was the first majority Black- and women-owned development company that the city had worked with.

“This is a great opportunity. And it is particularly important because of the location with its proximity to Lee Walker Heights, the Southside, the East End neighborhood and the potential plans we have for the South Slope,” said Council member Antanette Mosley. “This is a big deal.”

Council then approved a request from Asheville-based nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities for an $850,000 Housing Trust Fund loan to purchase land at 16 Restaurant Ct. for a new affordable housing development. Terms of the loan include 0% interest and deferred payments for 40 years.

The proposed development will include 50 to 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments, all of which will affordable to individuals and families earning 30%-60% AMI ($16,900 to $33,750 for an individual; $27,750 to $48,188 for a family of four) for a minimum of 40 years. Of those units, 20% (10-12) would be reserved for young adults aging out of foster care.

MHO estimates that the total project will cost $11.1 million. Beyond the city support, the nonprofit is also seeking $1.5 million from both Buncombe County and the Dogwood Health Trust, along with more than $6 million in bank and equity loans.

Once that funding is secured, MHO plans to return with a request for another $661,100 from the city, which would bring Asheville’s total investment to roughly $1.5 million, or about $30,222 per affordable unit. Housing Trust Fund policy sets a cap of $1 million in loans per project, but city staff recommended overriding that limit based on the project’s merits. If all funding is received, MHO anticipates that construction will be completed by summer 2025.

Proposed plastic bag ban receives support from public 

Nine members of the public spoke out in support of a proposed ban on plastic bags. Developed by Plastic-Free WNC, a coalition of environmental nonprofits including MountainTrue and the Sierra Club, the ordinance would ban plastic bags and Styrofoam while establishing a 10-cent fee on paper bags. People using federal food benefits such as SNAP would be exempt from the fee; some commenters argued that the fee shouldn’t be charged at all but backed the plastic ban.

While the item did not appear on the Aug. 23 Council agenda, City Manager Debra Campbell said that the proposal would be discussed by the city’s Governance Committee Tuesday, Sept. 13, before coming before Council at a date to be determined.


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