Priced out

Having lived here my entire life, I know firsthand that independence, pride and hard work are the cornerstones of mountain culture. I learned by example to take care of my neighbor and to stick up for the little guy; I also learned that hard work pays off.

For generations, that approach enabled people to carve out a good life. Having a job meant having a home, and most families got by on one income. My father’s salary as a railroad brakeman afforded us a three-bedroom house on a corner in West Asheville.

But those days are over. Many people now work full time yet still don’t make enough to afford a safe, decent place to live — one of life’s necessities. And while housing costs in Asheville rank among the highest in the state, wages remain low. Many local service-industry workers, police officers, firefighters and public-school teachers can’t afford to live here.

During my 10 years as an attorney at Pisgah Legal Services, I’ve seen many people forced to choose between paying their rent and getting their car fixed or filling prescriptions. It’s a Catch-22, as the person needs the car to get to work but needs those same funds to keep a roof over his or her head. Oftentimes these people fall behind in the rent and, facing eviction, turn to Pisgah Legal Services for help. But it’s the lack of affordable housing that causes folks to fall further and further behind till they reach a crisis point.

Yet few people here really seem to comprehend the extent of the problem. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, 44.5 percent of renters in the city are already paying more than they can afford, and given the projected population growth, we’ll need an additional 14,000 affordable residential units by 2020.

Meanwhile, we’re just beginning to understand the environmental impacts of a lack of affordable housing. A study by the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill concluded that workers who commute to jobs in Asheville from outlying areas spend around $5,000 a year doing so, while contributing to ever-worsening traffic congestion and pollution problems.

This problem isn’t new, and some efforts have been made to address it. Mayor Bellamy is to be applauded for convening an Affordable Housing Task Force, whose recommendations (now incorporated into the city’s 2008 Affordable Housing Plan) outlined ways to encourage the construction of affordable-housing units. Task force members worked very hard to reach consensus. And we achieved it, in part, by basing our decisions on our common values, such as:
• A stable work force needs housing that’s affordable by people at all wage levels.
• Affordable housing deserves aggressive, committed public-policy development and support.
• People who grew up in Asheville or who work here should be able to live here if they wish to.
• Solutions for affordable housing must be supported by the entire community: Success requires communitywide investment.

The task force’s recommendations were the result of a diverse group reaching across their differences to find commonality and balance. For example, while we recommended concentrating the highest density along traffic corridors, we also called for spreading a somewhat lesser density citywide rather than concentrating it in a few areas. Historically, every neighborhood in Asheville had a mix of all housing types.

Density has become a dirty word, but the reality is that without it, there is no affordable housing. It’s a basic principle of economics that the unit cost goes down the more units one produces. Currently, private, for-profit builders simply cannot produce enough truly affordable housing to meet the needs. Since 2001, private builders tapping the city’s Housing Trust Fund have managed to construct only 37 rental units, according to Asheville’s current housing needs assessment. Many builders say they’d love to build more affordable homes, but they can’t make a living that way. Allowing increased density for developments that include some affordable units would make this more feasible.

The task force’s proposals for implementing its recommendations aren’t due to come before City Council until later this summer or fall, yet already people are claiming that they would eliminate single-family housing. That is simply alarmist and untrue. What is true is that the person who takes care of your child in day care, the police officer who responds to your accident and the librarian who loans you a book deserve to be able to live in the same city where they work.

It’s time for Asheville to decide that housing matters more than sidewalks, Beer City USA honors or whether the fountain in the park is spewing water. As the economic downturn stretches out and gas prices continue to rise, more and more people who might make it under other circumstances are being forced to choose between food, gas for their car, rent or medications for their children. Political pressures need to take a back seat to the moral concern about placing an additional burden on the shoulders of those who should not be made to bear it.

It’s not hard to imagine a day when firefighters and police officers start looking elsewhere for jobs because Asheville’s cost of living is too high, and commuting from places like Mars Hill or Hendersonville simply isn’t worth it. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, we as a community need to take action now. If we truly believe in our espoused mountain values — including everyone’s freedom to choose their path in life — we need to make some of those basic choices possible. Expanding affordable housing in Asheville will enhance everyone's quality of life.

[Marshall resident Robin Merrell is a staff attorney at Pisgah Legal Services.]

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38 thoughts on “Priced out

  1. J

    Robin’s letter is sad in nature. It reminds me of Jimmy Carter’s economic malaise chat. She presumes that we’re on a constant course economic course, and that 14,000 people will be underpaid in the near future. Instead of conforming ourselves for that dead end future, why not engage in new policies that will attract higher paying jobs?

    As Tom Sullivan so eloquently pointed out in the AC-T this past Sunday, building affordable housing is “treating the symptom”. Too much affordable housing just attracts even more low paying jobs – it creates a pool of cheap labor for employers.

    Okay, now to light a match: http://stopthelarchmont.wordpress.com/

  2. Kay H.

    These repeated attempts at the ‘housing crisis’ propaganda everywhere in the media have become predictable.

    “I learned, by example, to take care of my neighbor..” By cramming too many buildings and people around them in too little space? And to ‘stick up for the little guy’? That is, unless the little guy doesn’t agree with Merrell & Co.’s density campaign.

    Who is one of the ‘workers who commute to jobs in Asheville from outlying areas’ and thus ‘contributes to ever worsening traffic congestion and pollution problems’? It would appear that as an attorney living in Marshall, working in Asheville, Merrell has no economic excuse.

    According to Merrell and her cohorts, ‘density’ is the only solution to the problem. Where are her mountain values of rugged individualism, privacy, and respecting traditions? Which mountaineers would choose to live next to an over-crowded mega-complex with added traffic, noise and pollution? No, you can’t convince me that forced ‘density’ is a mountain value.

    But the best is saved for the closing argument:

    “It’s time for Asheville to decide that housing matters more than sidewalks, Beer City USA honors or whether the fountain in the park is spewing water.”

    A classic but transparent false dichotomy.

    Really, who would compare the enormous appropriations recently made from the CDBG and HTF for affordable housing construction to the $0 in public money spent on Beer City hype?

    And anyone who reads the local print and online media has been inundated daily by the over-the-top PR campaign, orchestrated to ensure that all citizens are terrified by this crisis.

    Really, public school teachers can’t afford to live in Asheville? We’re losing our police and fire protection because we aren’t dense enough?

    Who’s the alarmist?

  3. Robin—do you live in Marshall and commute to Asheville by choice, or is it because you can’t afford to live in the city where you work? Not snarking, just curious……..

  4. hauntedheadnc

    Actually, J, a pool of affordable housing keeps Asheville from becoming the yuppie hellhole so many on here already accuse it of being. There will always be a need for affordable housing. Right now, Asheville has “luxury” oozing out its ass and we need to start doing something for the people who work here, not just play here.

    And yes, in addition to building houses that normal people can afford, we need to attract jobs that pay more. Good luck with that, however, as the chamber of commerce has admitted defeat. “We don’t have the land!” they say and throw up their hands, and then get back to the very important business of kissing tourist ass. The notion of attracting big employers to our existing abandoned industrial sites does not occur to them, nor does attracting numerous smaller employers, nor does attracting white collar jobs that could easily locate in office space downtown or in Biltmore Park. Nor for that matter, does it occur to anyone to beef up our educational offerings around here in order to attract the scientific jobs we’re always talking (but never doing anything) about — no, we’re content to let it all coast along as is.

    For some around here, I can see why, though. If things ever noticeably improved in Asheville they would have fewer things to complain about, and thus would have no reason to keep on living.

  5. robinmerrell

    David,

    My family moved from Asheville to Marshall when I was still a child. Both of my parents became disabled while I was away at college, my father severely so. When I moved back to WNC after school, I needed to be close to them to help care for them. My father died two years ago, and my mother’s health is still a concern. I’m working from home right now so I can take her to the hospital later for surgery. I suppose someone could say I’ve made the “choice” to live near my family, but somehow choosing anything else would be turning my back on them.

    However, I know from talking with my colleagues at Pisgah Legal Services about their own experiences, that I would not be able to afford to live in Asheville.

    Also, I have talked to hundreds of people each year for the past 10 years, and am very well aware of the struggles people face trying to live in Asheville.

    Thanks for asking.

    Robin

  6. J

    Hauntedheadnc,

    I agree with what you’re saying. Wouldn’t it be easier to offer direct financial assistance to those in need? It seems a lot easier than building new buildings (frequently paid for through public money anyway) for 20% of the city to live in.

    In the book “Remembering Asheville”, by Milton Ready I believe, he says the Aston Apartments on Church street were once designated affordable. But once the owners realized how much they could get after downtown had been revitalized, the whole affordable concept was tossed out the window. So what’s to say that all of these new “affordable” developments will stay affordable?

    Several studies seem to indicate that construction of affordable housing can raise surrounding property values as well. The rise of 14,000 units around town could have the ironic effect of pinching out the teachers, firefighters, (insert other civic hero here), who have managed to buy houses in Asheville by raising their property values – or making those houses unaffordable in the future. I’d like to think I’m wrong, but I feel it’s a question worth asking.

  7. alotobuncombe

    If the poor can’t afford to live in Asheville, then why aren’t they dead? It’s good that they are being kept alive in affordable housing, though, since, as J points out, they raise surrounding property values. That should be some comfort to Larchmont Red when those rotten City Councilmembers are at the ribbon cutting, choked up with pride at the children playing there, and he has his nose pressed to the chain link, cursing the ones who stole his view. But seriously, these people should all just go away and come back when the union plants open.

  8. Kay H.

    It’s interesting that Merrell alone can justify her commute and hence, her contribution to pollution and congestion, but in the Chapel Hill study, the 74% of low wage workers who did not agree to consider moving closer to their work were concluded to be cast out of the Asheville culture due to economics.

    Also interesting is the ability to know first-hand the woes of PLS Asheville clients while working from home in Marshall.

    Most interesting, however, is that a paid staff attorney claims that Asheville rents are out of reach for her. I know the family history was provided to deflect accusations of hypocrisy but it had the unintended effect of calling into question the legitimacy of that essential claim.

  9. travelah

    The “haves” will win. The “have nots” might have to move unless they embrace a change in philosophy that motivates them to become a “have”

  10. GetRealNeighbors

    Of those who don’t want more blue-collar working families in their neighborhood, some say it will cause a problem by decreasing their property values, and now here comes J saying it will cause a problem by increasing hers. And these are neighbors who live on the same block.
    Ok, thanks for the thoughtful analysis.
    “We love affordable housing” but just not in a density that would make it affordable.
    We saw a for-rent sign so there must not be a true affordable housing need here, no matter what the real experience of thousands of workers looking for a safe apartment.
    I’m sensing a high degree of density here. But it’s not in the buildings, it is in ourselves.

  11. artart

    “Affordable housing” csn clearly be seen as nothing more than another redistributionist agenda item. Where does the money come from to subsidize housing to some to “make it affordable?”

    Under the concept of personal responsibility I grew up with, if a person could not afford a house, they could upgrade their skills to increase their income or move to places where housing costs less. As long as Asheville is filled with lower paying service industry jobs and market forces make housing costs than most other places in the state, people with will always have problems affording housing here.

    If they want a house, they can move to where they are cheaper. Contrary to what the moochers in our society believe, there is no right to the housing you want in the area in which you want to live. I don’t live in NYC cause I cannot afford living there. Don’t look to my taxes to pay for your housing just because you do not have the skills to earn enough in the Asheville area to afford the kind of house you want in the location you want.

  12. scottbey

    Robin, thank you for your considerate and factual representation of affordable housing in Asheville.
    When public servants such as police, fire, EMS workers cannot afford to live in the city in which they work it creates a morale gap for those employees.

    Asheville is an innovative and caring community. Issues such as this can be resolved. It begins with intelligent conversation such as this commentary by someone who knows the issue.
    Scott

  13. Kay H.

    Merrell is asking for an understanding of her choices and sympathy for her circumstances – a graciousness she and her allies did not extend to those neighbors who opposed the overly-dense rezoning of the Naval Reserve (Larchmont) site.

    Neighbors, too, had legitimate, personal, sometimes tragic stories to tell to explain their positions, had rich histories of generations belonging to the working class in Asheville, and had informed, alternative solutions to offer to solve the housing problem. But all it took was collective shout of NIMBY to silence the opponents, woo the media, sway the politicians, and squelch the debate.

    Instead, those teachers, immigrants, social workers, nurses, single (and bereaved) parents, the elderly, were collectively demonized, and their concerns were mischaracterized and stereotyped as racist. It became clear that in order to have a seat at the ‘Asheville’s future’ bargaining table, extreme pro-density sentiments were required.

    So here we are being lectured that anyone who opposes over-crowding is squelching the American dream. This brand of stridency apparently accumulates power, but surely there are other ways to preserve our city and extend its livability in the long run.

  14. Thank you, Robin, for your answer.
    A direct question and a direct answer go a long way towards dispelling assumptions, especially on line.
    Thanks also for the work that you do at Pisgah Legal.

  15. J

    This is just me with a lot of time today. Let’s look at the whole situation this way.

    The Larchmont is an $8,000,000 enterprise. It’s publicly funded through a combination of loans and grants from the Housing Trust Funds of the County and City, state and federal monies. It’s going to have 60 units. Since everyone is so full of praise about the sensibility of this project, we’ll consider that $8 mil tag as an fair price. That comes out to an average of $133,333.33 cost per unit of public money.

    If we want to accomplish Ms. Merrell’s goal of building 14,000 units by 2020, we’re going to need $1,866,666,620.00 of public money. In other words, we need about two billion dollars over ten years – or just two hundred million per year. Keep in mind the City of Asheville Budget is officially a little over $90,000,000 a year.

    Providing direct financial assistance, or some sort of renter tax credit, seems dramatically easier and efficient. Oh, right, but then the developers wouldn’t get their two billion dollars – that’s the whole point. Never mind.

  16. Sondra

    I grew up here and moved away twice, but returned here because this is my home. I appreciate the comments of this article, and said shortly after moving back here in 2001, that the housing market here will eventually crash in on itself. I see the problem as a massive problem. The property taxes here are much higher than the Raleigh area. This creates a problem for those who rent their homes. Asheville taxes its citizens to death, wasting money on things like the downtown project, and traffic circles, which, if I am correct went way over budget. The pay scale here is a shame. Asheville conducts itself as if it is San Diego. However, there is no pay, no health care, and the cost of living is unbelievable. I see Asheville as this Corporation that keeps its citizens in poverty, and gets away with it by rescuing them with more public housing and other charity works. It pains me that I see it this way. I came back here to live out my life, but am beginning to see that as an unhealthy choice. I embrace much of the progress here, but I am so dissatisfied that so many of us who have lived here most of our lives, can hardly afford to live here.I don’t see this changing anytime in the near future. While Asheville prides itself on all of its Non-Profits, which I, too, am so proud of, isn’t it interesting that there is such a need for it? I find it unbelievable, that the only answer anyone can come up with, is to build affordable housing.

  17. Unaffiliated Voter

    If the city wants to promote higher density housing, WHY are the FEEs so much higher say for a 4 plex, than for a duplex? We want to build multifamily housing but city connection fees are outrageous. Im ready to build up to 64 units, land paid for, zoning RM-16, but cant get financing. We dont want ANY government restrictions on who to rent to.

  18. Build Density

    Lets just build a bunch of skyscrapers and give the apts rent free, we can make the Biltmore House put up some and the Grove Park or is it all just on the backs of the working class. The only studies that cry “desperate need” are funded by the people who stand to profit the most from this push. Are all the City and County Boards controlled by developers? You bet they are, and they have all their people in place to push their agenda from the Mayor (MHO) and City Council to the TRC and don’t forget the Planning and Zoning Boards own MHO Leader. Get ready for much bigger projects on the backs of the taxpayers. I think I should quit my job since the only house I could afford was only $70K, I could quit and upgrade. I love Asheville!

  19. SnapOut

    Is it J or Kay H. that commutes to Madison County to work? I forget. But maybe both J and Kay H. are one and the same?
    If the one who attacked the op-ed writer for commuting from Madison County is the one who herself commutes to Madison County, that would be particularly sweet, wouldn’t it? You guys are a such fun!
    Attack PERSONALLY anyone who is brave enough to stand up and speak for — and work her a** off for — the working stiff.
    You want apartments emphatically “Not In My Back Yard” but “Don’t call me NIMBY.” And, “I’ll accuse you of bad faith for suggesting that I want this Not In My Back Yard. But that’s exactly where I want it: Not.”
    … Yes, we love affordable housing as a general concept, but we deny the need for it. But if it were needed (which, remember, it’s not), then the affordable housing providers of America have their methods all wrong…. And the only reason we’re not stepping up to offer our own time to help them so they will do their work smarter and better is …. Wait, didn’t I just tell you, I deny the need in the first place?

    With all due respect and more, your intently narrowly focused tag team needs to “snap out of it” as Cher would say. Get a little perspective, so you won’t seem so casual and callous to the financial circumstances of dozens of thousands of people who serve your daily needs — in shops, restaurants, schools, buses, squad cars, and beside the sickbed.
    “(Insert other civic hero here.)”
    C’mon Atone, tell us you didn’t say this. Tell us you didn’t say, “Insert other civic hero here.”
    Tell us that the two of you are really one, not two, that there aren’t two people as callous and/or lacking perspective as your comments suggest that you, for one, are.

  20. cindy smith

    Let me start by saying I appreciate Robin Merrell’s article and, more so, appreciate the work she does for our community. And, as someone from a local non-profit that works hard to house very low or no income people I understand where she is coming from but would like to take her commentary a step further.

    Many of the people our agency works with are not capable of earning the money they may need to live in the city. Consider a person who has physical handicaps, has a severe mental illness or maybe both. Most likely, they are “earning” $674 each month through the Social Security system. Sure, they don’t have the income to live in the city but they also don’t have the ability to “upgrade their skills” and earn more money. I certainly wouldn’t consider them to be “moochers” and exile them to some community where the rent would be affordable for their income (around $200/month). Placing people in an area where rent is affordable would most likely mean there is no or inadequate transportation to get these folks to appointments , the grocery store, church – I could rant on and on and on……

    If you have no sympathy for your public servants or for the hard working folks you see when you eat out or go to the grocery store, think about those who will never be able to afford a place to live without affordable/subsidized housing.

  21. Asheville Dweller

    Is it the fact its affordable housing or is it affordable housing down town because that is a different story. No matter what the town is there is going to be folks that can afford to live in a down town and others that cannot but can live within city limits. Because we all know that the further you get away from Downtown Asheville the rent gets cheaper, same goes for most cities in America.

    Which is it? I live within the city limits of Asheville but not downtown, I can be downtown in 10 minutes and My lving expenses is reasonable. You can almost anywhere in the city limits and reach downtown in 15-20 minutes, so the affordable housing is there, you just have to find it.

  22. Gordon Smith

    I appreciate all the thoughtful comments here, and I’m glad to learn where some folks are on this issue. I wanted to drop in to elucidate an important point in the debate.

    The current items that will soon come to Council are NOT about increasing funding for Affordable Housing. They are about increasing the density allowed to builders, so those builders can invest their private money in ways that meet this important community need.

  23. JonN

    I make less than police and firefighters and I can afford to live in Asheville with little problem. My wife and I rent a small house in a great neighborhood within walking distance of a post office, a library, a lake, 2 supermarkets, banks and tons of restaurants. We love the quality of life we can have here without being wealthy. I’ve lived in Chicago and NYC and a town of about this size in the midwest and it’s not signifigantly harder to live here in my experience. You can allways get more for your money the further out you go from the more metropolitan areas but that’s the same everywhere.

  24. J

    Gordon does a good job of explaining half the picture. The City of Asheville enacted a policy in 2007 where they help subsidize the costs of waterline upgrades to affordable housing (read: less costs to developers) :http://oldweb.ashevillenc.gov/minutes/2000/m080722.htm

    I’m sure no developers anywhere will try and take advantage of that program…So by increasing the building of affordable housing, and increasing densities, it is highly probable that several waterlines will need replacing; which the city apparently plans to pay for.

    While these plans themselves do not contain specific requirements for public funding, they trigger other policies that do.

  25. Build Density

    I think we need to clarify, is there some kind of expectation that I should be able to afford to live in any area I am able to find a job in? Think Biltmore Lake for example. Or is it just that we should all be able to afford a house downtown. It amazes me how most of the “affordable” housing owned by the people who cannot afford to live in Asheville costs about 10 times what I can afford and I live in the Asheville area.

  26. J

    I had another post that apparently never made it to readerdom.

    Anyways, Snapout’s accusations are wrong. Just because J and Kay show up next to each other in the alphabet doesn’t mean they are the same person, and in this, they are not. This isn’t an Edgy Mama/AFG sort of thing – we’re different people.

    I used the phrase (insert other civic here) satirically. While teachers and people who can save your life are being used as the face of this debate, their frequent mentioned carries a political subtext. Recovering addicts, re-habituated felons, formerly homeless veterans, and high school drop outs are all people that are just as equally deserving of good housing as teachers, EMS workers, patron saints, and generally infallible people (there’s that satire again). Merrell et al avoid mentioning those “others” for I think fairly obvious and cynical reasons. It’s a shame to create a permanent underclass, but alas, the foundation has been laid.

    So hopefully in the future, SnapOut will advance an argument instead of just being upset that people disagree. That is what makes America great.

  27. Unaffiliated Voter

    WHY does it take so long for comments to post here?

  28. Margaret Williams

    Unaffiliated Voter: 1) Most comments at mountainx.com are moderated and require review by editors before posting. We do our best to keep them moving along, but review is not 24/7.

    2) Some of the pending comments in this thread have veered toward personal attack (and a few that were allowed are borderline). Personal attacks — whether aimed at the article author or at individual commenters — do not promote civic dialogue.

  29. Build Density

    Comments that lean toward the new buzzwords like “affordable housing” and “workforce housing” seem to be acceptable only when they are “pro” this new welfare system. I seriously doubt all the hype will do little more than fatten the wallets of the big affordable housing builders who have to shield their “for profit” building of affordable/workforce housing units with limited liability corporations which by their definition in NC are NOT non-profit. We will watch all the City/County and possibly State owned property become developed and go into LLC’s where they can move the profits where they want and still NO home ownership. It is a conversion of tax dollars to wealthy developers who have figured out how to scam the system. Sounds like the new “Credit Default Swap”. Lets everyone jump on board at 9-10% unemployment!

  30. Peter Brezny

    Asheville could really tackle this problem by basing property tax on a property’s sale price, rather than an annual appraised price.

    This encourages folks to stay in their home, discourages real estate speculation and “flipping” homes for profit–part of what caused the ridiculous real estate bubble which contributed to the depression we’re in now.

    San Francisco did this years ago, and has made it possible for folks who grew up there to actually afford to live there.

    Yes the city will have to get creative on other ways to raise income, but a little hard work and creativity can go along way.

    I’ve watched Asheville grow from a sleepy little economically depressed town to a real shining gem of culture and creativity. Asheville’s lost and gained a lot in the transformation. With the amount of money coming in from outside, it really seems like there’d be a way to make sure those that serve the wealthy who move into town could also afford to live here.

    Increasing housing density is a good way to help make this happen, a way that can if done properly, enhance a community. Just look at the changes taking place on Clingman Ave. And what happened to the promises made by Wall-Mart at the former Sales Bleachery site? There are lots of opportunities for appropriate increases in density that will add affordable housing to the mix in Asheville, without detracting from its charm–not to mention all the benefits of reduced environmental impacts both in building efficiency and reduced commuter needs.

    Proper ZONING (there I said it), not the ridiculous patch work quilt of “the developer with the money gets to change zoning at will” that we have in place now is critically important.

    Nearly all good examples of balanced cities have good, clear zoning laws that are strictly enforced–insuring a balance between urban and rural environments. Without this, we’re left with sprawl, and we all know how that’s working out for the country with 1/4 the global population, still consuming 3/4’s of the globes resources.

    I live in one of the more dense older neighborhoods in Asheville, and I walk/bike to work downtown exclusively.

    Thanks Robin for your thoughtful Article.

  31. Kay H.

    SnapOut: Sorry to disappoint, but not guilty on all counts. Conspiracy theories are fun, though.

    It was Merrell who quoted the Chapel Hill study in writing, “…workers who commute to jobs in Asheville from outlying areas spend around $5,000 a year doing so, while contributing to ever-worsening traffic congestion and pollution problems.” I avoid characterizing those commuters as ‘polluters’ because, like Merrell, they have their legitimate reasons for choosing where to live. All those I know do so to escape the in-town congestion and over-crowding (density) and pollution, or to be near family, or for any number of non-economic reasons. Exceptions? Of course. But where is Merrell’s evidence that Asheville is about to be endangered by the exodus of its police and fire fighter force because of high housing costs? Unfilled vacancies? Increases in crime? Slower response times? Even so much as a post from those being used to justify the (public school teacher, police officer, fire fighter) claims? The only real evidence I’ve seen is that there were teachers, fire fighters, social workers and nurses in the Larchmont neighborhood who went on record to oppose the rezoning for increased density. It sounds like they’re being used in the abstract to support the density argument but being dismissed when their truths contradict it.

    Honestly, the type of stridency being advanced by some of the density alarmists, and the apparent lack of tolerance for good-faith debate, lead me to believe that fanaticism isn’t under the sole ownership of the political right.

  32. Kay H.

    Peter B:
    “Proper ZONING (there I said it), not the ridiculous patch work quilt of “the developer with the money gets to change zoning at will” that we have in place now is critically important.”

    “Nearly all good examples of balanced cities have good, clear zoning laws that are strictly enforced.”

    Thank you. The rezoning opponents I referred to earlier put a lot of effort into trying to make those identical points. Preventing developers who have the money and, I would add, the political connections to ‘change zoning at will’ and having ‘good, clear zoning laws that are strictly enforced’ would lead us in the direction of smart growth and neighborhood preservation.

    Housing that is affordable and neighborhoods that are ‘livable’ should not be mutually exclusive.

  33. Nancy

    Has anyone else wondered why articles, editorials, letters, features and TV spots about the affordable housing crisis have appeared almost daily in Asheville over the past month, culminating with this piece by Robin Merrell? While the local media has given the problem its share of coverage in the recent past, what could be driving this frequency and tone? It wasn’t like a catastrophic event caused this flurry. It also seemed curious that so many people, whether they were experts or not, were technically conflating the affordable housing crisis with a crisis of too little density. While I know that ‘increasing density’ is part of the new urban planning dialect, it seemed unusual that radiologists and neighborhood advocates and attorneys were talking that way.

    I think the explanation is that the controversial zoning amendment, known as ‘Use By Right,’ will come before the Planning & Zoning Commission on July 22. The amendment, formally titled ‘Use By Right, Subject to Special Requirements (USSR)’ [City Planning staff irony, not mine] provides incentives, bonuses and waivers for the construction of multi-family affordable complexes in single-family home neighborhoods where existing zoning classifications otherwise prohibit them. The practice of notifying neighbors in advance will be eliminated; instead a ‘Good Neighbor Agreement’ should be executed. Final approval for these zoning waivers will be granted by planning staff rather than Council.

    The USSR was largely based on recommendations from the 2008 Affordable Housing Plan, which was staffed and drafted by Robin Merrell. I guess that’s how things are supposed to progress – from committee to plan to ordinance. With this article, it’s come full-circle.

    While I strongly oppose the amendment, I am in awe of the machine that was so effective, it has largely persuaded the people that opposition is tantamount to ‘squelching the American Dream.’

    http://www.ashevillenc.gov/uploadedFiles/Business/Development_Services/Boards_and_Commissions/Planning_and_Zoning/sustainable staff report.pdf

  34. Mariah Bellello

    We are each and every one of us responsible for all people, especially children.
    Until all our children are safely housed, fed and cared for do we have the right to justify the sprawling and wasting of a community its land and its resources.

    I agree totally with Ms Merrell!

  35. kim

    Thanks to all who are making this an informed and thoughtful discussion and I pray the powers that be listen and are moved to heartfelt action.

    I live next to the Hudson Street urban Eco-village in West Asheville. When the broke ground, in our single use residential neighborhood, many were dismayed. Three plus years later,I am proud to live in a city that has such for site. Edible landscaping, $12/month electric bills, communal water catchment and an interactive community, make it a shining example of what urban living should be.

    PETER, thank you for your insiteful citation of models that do and don’t work. This is a multifaceted problem that does not have one or 10 solutions. Creating a sustainable model of what WE, the people want Asheville to look like and senting benchmarks to get there is essential.

    Having a zoning plan that models sustainable, low impact building techniques in a town filled with such ingenuity would not only seem reasonable easy but a huge boon for the city’s marketability as GREEN continues to be Americas new favorite color.

  36. Peter Brezny

    Stat’s correction. Earlier, I alluded to the US having 1/4 of the world’s population yet consuming 3/4 of the globe’s resources, which is obviously incorrect. I believe I was remembering statistics for developed nation’s per-capita energy consumption back from classes I had in college, now ages ago.

    Correct current figures:
    The US has 4.6% of the world’s population, yet we consume more than 25% of the globe’s resources (source, e2 design, Season1, Episode 1, “the green apple,” available on netflix).

    My apologies for the earlier error. Now, for a really incredible resource showing off just what can be done with intelligent design even in single family dwellings see:
    http://thenauhaus.com/

    Just imagine the energy savings if this concept were applied to a multi family dwelling?

  37. Laura K.

    All I can say is, “Well said”. More should have this standpoint for the well-being of theirself; as well as humanity!

  38. Funny how these planner morons need a UNCCH study to tell them the obvious, that ZONING causes commuter pollution. I have been screaming the same thing for years and I just get censored for it.

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