[On] April 12, Asheville’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee met to discuss a proposed policy on selling or donating city land to developers as an incentive to build affordable apartments. The theme: Don’t scare off the developers. Even donating or discounting city land wasn’t enough to guarantee apartments that stay affordable for 30 years. The AHAC reduced the goal to 15 years, citing risks to developers.
The kicker: Developers get $80,000 of subsidy on average for each affordable unit. This gets the city an apartment that won’t stay affordable forever, and city doesn’t see a cent of the rent charged. Not to mention that $80,000 approaches the construction cost of an affordable apartment.
This strategy is corporate welfare, and it isn’t working. Rents skyrocketed 10.7% last year. More people are cost-burdened than ever: Over one in three Asheville households are paying more than 30% of their income on housing. While city efforts are admirable, they haven’t produced results on the scale needed. We’re paying too much money for not enough apartments because the city’s approach is all about private developers.
It’s time for a different approach. Instead of giving away money to wealthy developers, the city can issue bonds to build its own affordable, public housing. Instead of begging developers to make 20% of their units affordable, we can build the amount we need, and keep them affordable indefinitely.
With its AAA bond rating, Asheville is in a perfect position to build public housing with low-interest bonds. Since the city would own this housing, the rents could pay off the bond payments without new taxes. Asheville residents overwhelmingly support bonds: The 2016 bond referendums all passed with about three-quarters of the vote. Asheville is ready. Let’s stop giving away money to developers and invest in our city instead.
— Shane McCarthy