No easy fix for affordable housing at CIBO breakfast

CIBO affordable housing panel
ANSWERS ON THE TABLE: Asheville Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, right, speaks on a panel about affordable housing at the Council of Independent Business Owners Dec. 6 breakfast meeting. Photo by Daniel Walton

In the complicated landscape of affordable housing for Buncombe County, says real estate developer Kirk Booth, only one thing is sure: No project gets done without some extra help. “Unless you are using the city and county tools and financing from either the city’s housing trust fund, the county’s affordable housing fund or some kind of funds from a taxpayer project,” he told around 40 people at the Council of Independent Business Owners’ Dec. 6 breakfast meeting, “it’s not going to happen.”

Booth joined Asheville Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, Buncombe County Commissioner Joe Belcher and Bill Oglesby of the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to discuss the barriers that developers face when trying to create affordable projects, as well as local government’s approaches to the problem. The diversity of tactics they shared was encouraging, Booth said, because “there’s no one solution or silver bullet.”

On the city’s end, Wisler recapped the existing Land Use Incentive Grant program, which forgives property taxes for certain projects, as well as less restrictive density regulations for affordable housing complexes. She added that developers of affordable housing “go more toward the front of the line” in the city’s permitting and approvals process.

In response to an audience question, however, Wisler admitted that getting developers to sign up for affordable projects has been a challenge. “Not many people have successfully used the LUIG; two or three projects have actually qualified for it,” she said. “We continue to tweak it to try to find the best mix for the developer and for what the city is willing to fund.”

Wisler was also asked about an affordable housing project at Asheville’s former Parks Maintenance Facility on Hilliard Avenue, which had originally planned rental units underwritten in part by LUIG but shifted to a for-sale condominium model due to the developer’s concerns over rising construction costs. She said the city would ensure 50 years of affordability through some sort of deed restriction on the condos, although the “nitty gritty” details had yet to be worked out.

“The owner won’t be able to get the entire market increase, but they will be able to share in part of it,” Wisler said. Council members had referenced equity building among low-income communities as a key reason for their support of the revamped Hilliard project.

Belcher said the county hopes to encourage equity by allowing new manufactured homes in residential zones that do not currently permit such housing. He argued that in areas such as Swannanoa, Leicester and South Asheville, lower-income community members are being robbed of the chance to build the house they can afford.

“The only thing their family has is that land, and they give the land to their child, who wants to stay here and work here,” said Belcher, who is retired from manufactured housing maker Clayton Homes. When these affordable homes are denied, he continued, “That land will be sold. … A more expensive house goes on there, and the cycle doesn’t work. You drive poor people out.”

Finally, Oglesby pointed out that helping people pay for housing can be a critical piece of the affordability puzzle. He said his organization, which works with lenders to provide fixed-rate mortgages, mortgage credit certificates and down-payment assistance, has helped approximately 2,200 Buncombe County residents.

But Oglesby also suggested that Buncombe’s government could be doing more. “I would like to see the county put up about $4 million every year for affordable housing,” he said. “We haven’t gotten to it yet, but I’m going to be lobbying for you to do that.”


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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5 thoughts on “No easy fix for affordable housing at CIBO breakfast

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    city and county each just GAVE $4.2 MILLION x 2 = $8.4 MILLION to the housing authority for LOTS MORE affordable housing! That’s plenty and was taxpayer THEFT!

    Time for these folks to start INCLUDING the VAST amount of affordable housing we have here in the form of public housing. Start factoring that in and you will see we have more than our share of affordable housing!

  2. luther blissett

    “Buffett’s mobile-home empire promises low-income Americans the dream of homeownership. But Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance…”

    Though it’s hilarious that Belcher is primarily looking out for “families with land.”

    ‘[Wisler] said the city would ensure 50 years of affordability through some sort of deed restriction on the condos, although the “nitty gritty” details have yet to be worked out.’

    Uh huh. Once you switch from a rental model to a condo model you are dealing with third-party property rights. Good luck with that. Pay someone to build housing. Rent it. It’s not rocket science.

  3. Curious

    Has anyone looked closely at what skyrocketing real estate values, which mean skyrocketing property taxes, have done to lower income/elderly homeowners? In the past 20 years, the appraised value of my home has increased 325%. Taxes have risen commensurately. But in that same period, I have retired, am living on a pension and Social Security (fixed income), and my income has certainly not increased but decreased. And there is no “homestead exemption” for people making over $28,000. We need to raise the homestead exemption for retired people living on fixed incomes so the elderly can stay in their homes. We also need to seriously look at controlling the rise of property taxes for people over, say, 70 years of age. Is it time for a taxpayer revolt and a Proposition 13 for Asheville/Buncombe taxpayers?

    • Lulz

      LOL and the reason that taxes should be tied into values and go up is why? Do we get more services? Does it costs more?

      Why should anyone be exempt? What’s the difference if you’re 40 or 70 and your income is under 30K?

    • luther blissett

      “We need to raise the homestead exemption for retired people living on fixed incomes so the elderly can stay in their homes.”

      Why? Sitting on your children’s inheritance is not a valid reason for a tax break. Prop 13 robbed the young to pay the old.

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