Asheville city bond will help create housing affordability

FULL HOUSE: This drawing from the 2013 Asheville/Buncombe Child Watch tour depicts the living situation of a local family. With rents continuing to increase in 2017, families and individuals are looking for new solutions to finding affordable places to live. Courtesy of Children First/CIS

Where we live affects our lives and our health. When our neighborhoods are safe and connected, we lay a foundation for a more equitable and thriving city, where families can live, work and play. Investments in infrastructure — such as sidewalks, bus shelters, greenways, parks and streets — can improve our health and support our families’ success by keeping us connected to resources and amenities.

This election, Asheville city residents have a chance to vote on a bond referendum to fund projects around sidewalks and streets, parks and greenways, and housing affordability. Local nonprofit Children First/Communities In Schools is endorsing all three bonds to boost housing affordability, but in the context of a city with amenities and safe routes for pedestrians, bikers, buses and cars.

When we live in homes that can access parks and greenways, exercise is easier. When we have access to healthy foods, it’s easier to eat healthy. If our homes have toxins, we can become sick. And when housing is really expensive, it makes it hard to find a safe place to live and afford food and health care. This can increase our stress and harm our children’s health.

It is no secret that Asheville has an expensive and tight housing market. This tight market creates a situation in which many of our teachers, nurses, social workers, and hospitality, retail and restaurant workers can’t afford to live in the city where they work. This can lead to increased stress as families confront financial insecurity and even homelessness.

Of the top 20 occupations in the Asheville metro area (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties), only six offer average wages sufficient to afford all of the categories of fair market rent apartments (based on the numbers of bedrooms), and five are insufficient to afford any of them.

In the accompanying graphic, Table 1 shows which occupations can and cannot afford rents based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of fair market rent for one-, two- and three-bedroom units. But fair market rent does not always reflect what the market will bear based on supply and availability of units. According to Apartment List’s Rent Report, which covers rental pricing data in major cities, their suburbs and their neighborhoods, the median rent for a two-bedroom unit in Asheville has reached $1,190 a month.

CHART Top 20 occupations and rentApproximately 47,940 of our local workers — enough to fill the U.S. Cellular Center six times over — cannot afford the cost of renting even an efficiency apartment. These people are employed primarily in our restaurant and building maintenance fields. In addition, 58,620 of our local childcare workers, nursing aides, retail workers, and office and administration staff cannot afford anything more than a one-bedroom apartment. This lack of affordability can lead to doubling up (overcrowding), living in unsafe conditions and even homelessness.

New partnerships and innovative thinking are being formed to address this critical issue. For example, Buncombe County Schools, Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County, the SECU Foundation, Eblen Charities and the Asheville Buncombe Educational Housing LLC, which falls under the Eblen umbrella, have partnered to create a 36-unit apartment complex built specifically for our local teachers. Here, our teachers will be paying $915 a month for a two-bedroom unit, which is about $275 less than the median rent at the current market rate. Teachers are expected to be able to move in by the 2017-18 school year.

Another example of a public/private partnership is with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, which recently completed Hudson Hills, a community made up of 25 single-family Arts and Crafts-style homes off Johnston Boulevard in West Asheville. This newly completed neighborhood reflects a wide variety of our local workforce — including those in the healthcare, banking, transportation, manufacturing, education, childcare, nonprofit and service industries. The cost to a homebuyer of a two-bedroom Habitat house is $136,000 (with no interest) compared to the median price of $205,000 for a market-rate two-bedroom house in Asheville. Many of these individuals purchasing a home through Asheville Area Habitat end up paying less for their mortgage and escrow than they paid in rent.

“In order to qualify for one of our homes, you have to show a need, such as you are living in overcrowded or substandard conditions, or are paying more than 30 percent of your gross income on rent,” says Greta Bush, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s communications coordinator. “We have seen that in the last five years, the primary reason our homebuyers qualify is because they are paying more than they can afford in rent. This lack of affordability can lead to living in overcrowded or substandard places.”

But we are still way behind the curve in being able to provide the number of units needed to fulfill the demand. The current need outstrips the current availability.

But the good news is that we can increase our supply of housing that is affordable by voting “yes” via early voting or on Nov. 8 for the Asheville city bond referendum. If you are an Asheville city resident, you will see on the back of your ballot three separate bond questions — one for parks and recreation, one for transportation and one for housing that is affordable. All three are important in creating a connected community with access to resources. These bonds will provide funding to build new homes and apartments all around the city that families can afford, as well as the infrastructure to connect neighborhoods to schools, work, grocery stores and parks — all at minimum risk for city residents.

Bonds are considered one of the safest municipal funding mechanisms, especially when a city has an excellent credit rating, such as the city of Asheville. When we have enough housing for everyone, we create safe, stable and diverse neighborhoods where our children can thrive, and all of our teachers, caregivers, protectors and service providers have a safe and secure place to call home.

Take action: Pledge to vote yes to the Asheville city bonds by going to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org and clicking on the bond pledge button and make sure you vote yes on Nov. 8! Together we can create a city that works for all its residents that we are proud to call home.

Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, a local nonprofit that believes all children deserve to reach their full potential. The organization helps achieve this by surrounding children and their families with supports that help them succeed in their schools, communities and homes. Whether that’s providing a food box, tutoring in school and after school, getting school supplies, teaching parenting skills or helping families meet basic needs, the nonprofit is there. Along with direct services, the organization advocates for policies that support families with local and state policymakers. To find out more, go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.

SHARE

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

37 thoughts on “Asheville city bond will help create housing affordability

  1. Lulz

    No it won’t. It’ll just make it harder for those that own to afford it. But people like you are disconnected from your wages and actual reality. In other words, you’re over payed.

  2. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    Since you referenced Habitat, what happens if someone buys a Habitat home at well under market value, and then decides to sell at market value? In all fairness, there should be some kind of deed restrictions to prevent this kind of abuse.

    How can we “increase our supply of housing that is affordable by voting ‘yes'” for the bond. Seems like a non-sequitur.

    • luther blissett

      “In all fairness, there should be some kind of deed restrictions to prevent this kind of abuse.”

      Well, you’ll be relieved to learn that Habitat is not as dumb as you think:

      https://www.ashevillehabitat.org/about/habitat-model/

      (You could have checked this yourself before tossing around speculative nonsense.)

      Your second point has more merit. The assumption behind the bond is that developers need incentives piled upon incentives to build and then set affordable rents, which is probably true. I think the mechanisms to do so from bond funding look like a Rube Goldberg machine. I’m far less worried about a parks or infrastructure project running over budget than an affordable housing project in the hands of a private developer.

      There’s a disconnect in American attitudes towards housing between “owning a home” and “having somewhere to live.” Both are entirely legitimate desires, but renters — who make up half the city’s population — get the short end of it. Addressing Asheville’s rental problem means taking a hard look at the needs of city renters, as well as the city’s residential property developers, landlords, and prevailing wages. There are going to be younger renters who want flexibility and affordability over square footage and homely comforts; there are other renters who don’t want to take on the maintenance burden of home ownership but would benefit from the stability of long-term leases.

      It also requires some thought about the city-county divide: if “affordable” means “out in the county but with good transit infrastructure” then so be it, but that’s going to mean working with the county. It will also mean that the “boo city, yay county” folks will have to come to terms with parts of the county looking a lot more like the city, and require services that reflect that change.

      • bsummers

        (You could have checked this yourself before tossing around speculative nonsense.)

        This is not always conducive to the agenda.

        • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

          There is no agenda. Just a question that popped into my head as I was reading, and asked without realizing someone would be so uptight and offended.

          • bsummers

            See, Luther? It’s your fault that you were offended by the assumption that Habitat doesn’t know what they are doing, and that people who get Habitat homes are only in it for a scam.

            The ‘ready-fire-aim’ sockpuppets are never technically “lying”, just oddly, repeatedly, demanding that you give them the benefit of the doubt when they get caught spreading misinformation.

          • luther blissett

            Oh, I’m happy to give Snowflake the benefit of the doubt here. I’m just annoyed that they didn’t bother looking at the Asheville Habitat website, because they spell everything out there. There’s another component beyond the second mortgage: a deed restriction that prohibits abandonment or rental. They have actually thought this stuff through.

          • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

            “I’m just annoyed that they didn’t bother looking at the Asheville Habitat website.”

            You sound like someone who possibly hasn’t spent a large part of their life staring at a computer screen resulting in information processing overload. People who spend their lives processing a lot of information learn to choose their battles. Why would I go look up the info when I can just ask?

          • “The ‘ready-fire-aim’ sockpuppets”

            Can you ever comment on anything without personal insults? Asking for a friend.

      • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

        My lazy bones thanks you for the link. This is cool.

        “Because Habitat homes are sold at-cost and not at market value, some people wonder if Habitat homeowners can re-sell their homes on the public market and make a profit. To protect our investment and to protect our homeowners from predatory lending, Habitat adds a “silent” second mortgage to the home which lasts for the duration of the primary mortgage – 30 years, or 360 months. This second mortgage is only in place for the purpose of protecting the homeowner and Habitat’s investment (and not for Habitat to make a profit). With each payment of the primary mortgage, Habitat forgives 1/360th of the second mortgage, allowing the homeowner to earn equity in the home.

        This means that when a Habitat homeowner pays off his or her mortgage after 30 years, the silent second mortgage is completely forgiven and the homeowner owns the home free and clear. The silent second mortgage only becomes due and payable if a homeowner decides to sell the home before the first mortgage is satisfied. At that point, the homeowner could sell the home but would owe (to Habitat) the remaining balance on both the primary and secondary mortgages.”

  3. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    Sounds like Habitat has a really good working system that really does address the affordable housing problem. Wonder why city/county officials don’t fund Habitat instead if throwing money at fixes that never solve the problem?

    • Virginia Daffron

      The city does provide funding to Habitat through its administration of the HUD Community Development Block Grant program. I believe (but would need to confirm) in past years Habitat projects have also received loans through the city’s affordable housing trust fund (but not in the current year; Habitat did not apply in the current cycle).

      Not sure about Buncombe County funding to Habitat, since I’m less familiar with the county budget process.

  4. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    I mean seriously. I can think of all kinds of things that Habitat could do to help solve the rental problem. It was mentioned that developers need incentives. Habitat doesn’t.

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      Think of all the tiny houses they could build on very little land, and offer rent-to-own kind of deals. Those things cost nothing to build and Asheville would dig it.

      • luther blissett

        An 1100 sq. ft. Habitat house answers part of one of the questions about housing affordability: how do families with adults in steady jobs but lowish wages get a home of their own, one they can turn into an asset after a couple of decades because they don’t plan on going anywhere? It doesn’t solve “the rental problem” because the solution isn’t always “home ownership”, nor should it be.

        The problem with “the rental problem” is that renting is treated as a problem, and if you treat all of Asheville’s renters as “temporarily embarrassed homeowners”, you’ll never fix things. Plenty of younger renters want a roof over their head, heat in winter, a fan or A/C in summer, and not much else. Plenty of older renters don’t care about having a large illiquid real estate asset, but would like not to have to move on short notice because their landlord got a cash bid from someone in Florida or NY, or decided that AirBnBing would pay off the mortgage faster. (Yeah, we’ll see how well the city polices that.)

        The efficient way to address that is density and flexibility and more diverse rental stock. And that fundamentally means apartments, not tiny houses. Apartments with small units with more basic fixtures and shortish leases; apartments with larger units and longer leases and greater flexibility to paint walls and put up shelves and make it homely. Landlords in it for the long term. (Hey, Jack Cecil. Think of your own legacy beyond the movie set that is Biltmore Park.)

        German cities got this housing mix because of the WW2 legacy, but it works well and contributes to dynamic cities: it encourages smart and creative people to come in; younger people don’t get tied down to houses; older people don’t fear eviction. About half the German population is fine paying rent and not a mortgage because owning a home is not considered the only way to survive retirement without resorting to a catfood diet, nor is it considered the main way to pass a lump sum to your kids.

        I suspect that means denser infill development, not just in the city but in Candler and Swannanoa and Fletcher and up towards Weaverville and Leicester. It’s a city issue that’s going to be a city-county issue sooner than later, in terms of zoning and infrastructure and taxation and the appropriate sharing of burdens to support growth.

      • luther blissett

        Just to add: Asheville Habitat has built 287 houses in total, with 14 more on the way. That’s a good thing, and long may it continue, but it’s a drop in the bucket.

        Even if you narrow down the focus from the Asheville MSA, which I think is a reasonable starting point, because it gets real rural real quick outside the city and then the county, the benchmark here is the Bowen Report, which estimates a 5,600 unit shortfall within the city alone. The Habitat model doesn’t work at that scale.

        • Lulz

          LOL, but if you can’t build multi units on land because it’s regulated as single family, how are you supposed to make up for the shortfall? Ooh I know, sing kubaya and dance around a tree lulz.

          • luther blissett

            Ctrl-F “zoning”. Reading is fundamental unless you’re a one-note bore.

            Regardless of whether the housing bond passes, there’s going to be a fight about zoning that will divide City Council in ways that impact elections for the next few cycles. If it fails, we’ll see more of it being fought out on the county level with a different kind of NIMBY crowd.

            For those who believe that the council is full of self-serving crooks and cronies, there’d be no better time to show the courage of their convictions and run for office. After all, only a blowhard and a coward would assert such things every day and still let them happen while chirping from the sidelines. Don’t you agree?

        • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

          When a place is popular, there is always going to be a shortfall. That’s reality. Build more affordable housing, and more people needing such will move to Asheville. Just the way it works. People just need to learn to deal with reality.

          Habitat is a model that works at its current scale. IMO, with creative thinking that could be expanded to address the rental issue.

          • luther blissett

            You’ve learned about a hammer and now you think everything’s a nail. Not so.

            “Build more affordable housing, and more people needing such will move to Asheville.”

            That’s a handwave masquerading as causation. The equation is job prospects plus housing, with a bonus for local amenities.

            As of right now, Asheville has thousands of jobs that underpin the city’s economy but don’t pay enough on their own to cover the rent. Sure, you can slice and dice those numbers (teens living with parents, people working two or three jobs, apartment shares) but somebody’s got to do the retail and food service and hospitality and health support work. How far should someone whose job is to change adult diapers at a nursing home have to commute? From Waynesville? Marion? The fact that Eblen feels the need to build under-market rental apartments for teachers shows the extent to which a lack of affordable housing tests a community’s basic human infrastructure. “Deal with reality” is just empty BS posturing as savviness.

  5. Deplorable Infidel

    encourage all these affected people to go vote for TRUMP and not that criminal female that wants to KEEP them eternally OPPRESSED and POOR, which is the democrackkk need …

    • luther blissett

      You would think that someone like Fisher Caudle who works in real estate would have something on topic to say about housing, but perhaps the presence of incoherent and dumb sloganeers in the real estate business is why Asheville has a housing problem.

      • Lulz

        No, it has a problem because of stupidity. Lot’s of land that can fit multiple housing yet it’s regulated as single family.

      • Deplorable Infidel

        Dude, I do NOT ‘work in real estate’, so would you PLEASE update your feeble mind. The AVL ‘housing problem’ existed here WAY before I arrived in 2000. Remember: AVL has the MOST public housing per capita than any other NC BIGGER city! Why IS that ? ? ? (democrackkk segregationists!) WHY does City Council REFUSE to OVERSEE the biggest blight on the whole city, the Housing Authority of AVL ? ? ? … Finally we are seeing some gentrification in stagnant hoods. Let’s hope the AVL bubble don’t bust again.

        • bsummers

          Dude, I do NOT ‘work in real estate’, so would you PLEASE update your feeble mind.

          Fred Caudle, maybe you should update your LinkedIn page.

  6. Deplorable Infidel

    Vote NO on all three local bond scams! BAD for city taxpayers! BAD for renters! BAD for affordable housing! GOOD for the city council criminals…a $74 MILLION DEBIT CARD with a $110MILLION PAYBACK by you and your children!

    • Lulz

      LOL, yep. They say half the pop is renters, right. Of course they don’t see that higher taxes equals higher rents. Who’s going to eat the increases to the crony city coffers? The landlords or the renters? So they in effect do little to increase affordability except pay it lip service with other people’s money.

    • luther blissett

      Former realtor and (current?) property developer continues to fail to understand mortgages.

      • Deplorable Infidel

        but I DO understand good government and the squandering of it … AVL is a hot mess from decades of squandering and non leadership.,,,not unlike most all democrackkk controlled cities across Amerikkka …

  7. “bond will help create housing affordability”

    No. The bond will help to artificially mask real unaffordability. It’s a workaround, not a solution.

    • Lulz

      LOL, all this is is another subsidy for the crony industries here to pay low wages while others pay to make up the rest. fools don’t get that they’re competing for jobs with temporary residents such as UNCA students. But then again, that would take like some actual thought and brainpower instead of more of these criminal non-profit cronies advocating for more money. While they themselves are getting 6 figure salaries.

  8. Sar

    Just keep building market rate, supply will drive down cost. Happens all the time, government affordable housing is short term and the long term is a cess pool. I’ll be voting no because our city can’t even fix water lines in a timely fashsion

    • luther blissett

      “Just keep building market rate, supply will drive down cost. Happens all the time, ”

      You forgot to share examples, which should be easy for you since it apparently happens “all the time.”

      “I’ll be voting no because our city can’t even fix water lines in a timely fashsion”

      Which suggests that you don’t know that the water system has a self-contained budget, and maintenance is funded from revenues.

      • Lulz

        LOL, so the streets are funded by vehicle fees that just tripled lulz.

        • luther blissett

          Incoherent much?

          Come back when you’ve worked out exactly what your point is, and when you’ve come to a decision on whether to challenge all the “cronies” next year or just cluck like a chicken.

  9. I voted “no” on the housing bond for multiple reasons, and they span the discussion from left to right.
    During my years on Council I have not been impressed with the City’s ability to boost affordability, yet we have reportedly done more than any other city in the state. (That study MAY have compared us to cities in the same size range … so don’t shoot me down on that “fact.”) But at great cost.
    It appears to me that subsidy for “affordable” housing ends up being a benefit for builders/developers and collaterally for employers who choose not to pay living wages. Pretty much all of the low-rent units we help finance are time limited. Ten or 15 years later the owner can refurb (or not) and jack up prices. So we’re providing low or no-interest money that amounts to a delayed bonus. Meanwhile, in fighting the real estate market, we are engaged in a losing battle. City land was cheap when no one with money wanted to live downtown. Now it’s being bid up like crazy. Is it appropriate to use tax money to combat the market?
    Specific to this bond issue, I have serious reservations about the plan to tear down the City facilities on Charlotte Street and relocate them, and restore the brownfield that underlies at least some of the garage area in order to make it legal to build residences on the land. The area under consideration runs from the City Planning Offices all the way to Biltmore (including the ABC store). I’d like to see a deeper analysis of the idea before we plunge ahead. What’s the net carbon footprint of demolishing perfectly useful buildings and constructing new ones elsewhere? How does that fit with our adopted goal of reducing the City’s carbon footprint each year? The embodied energy in existing buildings is substantial.
    While I’m quite sympathetic with the need for affordable housing, and the idea that we might reknit the neighborhood blasted away along Charlotte St. in times past, I believe we need more thinking before we leap.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.