I am writing in response to “Solving Asheville’s Affordable Housing Crisis: The Gospel According to Jerry” [July 25, Xpress]. Why does the Mountain Xpress see fit to give [Jerry Sternberg] a column called “The Gospel According to Jerry”? Being a lifetime resident of a town certainly gives you a perspective on a place, but not the one that will solve any problems like affordable housing. The opinions (or are they gospel!?) stated in this piece have many flaws.
I do think Jerry did a good job of pointing out that there is a lack of training and education, and the NIMBY problem, but is also letting developers off the hook by saying they won’t make any revenue if affordable units are included in housing developments — this is a misnomer. I have over eight years of experience in working on multifamily housing developments in the D.C. area — all of these developments in the city had to include a certain number of affordable units.
This can easily be factored in when designing a building by adding the appropriate number of units and using less costly finishes and materials there. These units were basically Section 8 housing, but in a decent new building where residents were not sequestered from the rest of society as they are here. I have never seen anything more discriminatory than the way Asheville has handled public housing — by putting developments in the hidden and isolated corners of the city, where residents have very little interaction with other income levels.
It has been proven over and over again that mixed-income housing is better for all residents. It gives the poorer, less educated a chance to see what life could be like, to mingle with people who might hire them or advise them — a chance they don’t have when they are grouped together and not exposed to anything but the same poverty cycle that so many get stuck in.
Putting people in high-rises or trailers is not the solution! Please watch The Pruitt-Igoe Myth [documentary] about a high-rise public housing development in St. Louis and what an epic failure that was. You can also look at the high-rise on South French Broad and see that it is not working to help people in any way. … These high-rises become like storage units for poor people — they have no stake in their living place and no motivation to go anywhere else. They feel (and are) isolated from the rest of the world.
Trailers are also not the answer! Trailers do not appreciate in value and therefore are not a good solution to the housing problem. It is also discriminatory to give poor people poorly constructed places to live. Filling our neighborhoods with trailers is a terrible idea! I’m all for urban infill and increasing density in the city, but I shudder at the thought of hideous trailers in the city. Please do something that will last and will actually increase in value as time goes by. This is a throwaway solution!
I think if we look hard enough and get creative, there is plenty of land in and around Asheville that can be used for housing. The NIMBY problem also arises because these developments are only meant for people who would otherwise only live in public housing. If there were other, more appealing offerings with these developments, the neighbors would be much more accepting.
If I had the $25 million to use for public housing, I would use it to completely revamp and rebuild in some of the existing areas such as Livingston Heights and Walton Street to include more dense development, not high-rises, and create a mixed-use environment that would have people of varying income levels as well as those who need public assistance in the same complex, along with businesses that they could shop at and work in. The public housing in Southside is also in very close proximity to A-B Tech, so it seems natural that there could be some job training and placement to help these folks.
Bottom line is we are shooting ourselves in the foot on this problem — using the same solution over and over to no different conclusion. We are creating pockets of undesirable development when we could be creating something that could benefit us all. Creating multi-income, multiuse developments and requiring affordable units in new multifamily developments is a much better way of solving this problem and maybe actually helping some folks along the way.
— Emily Richter
Editor’s note: Columnist Jerry Sternberg’s expertise on the subject stems from his years of work in development and his active involvement in local politics, along with his decades-long view of the community’s efforts to construct affordable housing.