One example of how our local government gets stuck in the weeds — versus putting energy into how to be more efficient and effective as a government — is the issue of homestay rentals in Asheville. I believe affordable housing is unbelievably important for the health of any community, and I would venture to say that all our Council members would agree, hence why it is such a big topic. However, is the best approach to use our most valuable resource, our energy in a moment of time, to jump into the weeds of the issue and ultimately try to control the marketplace while simultaneously we waste millions of dollars on ineffective government organizational structure?
At the current time, homestay rental policies for Asheville city and Buncombe County are not aligned. To make matters more unfair, if you live in the city, you pay significantly more taxes than people who live in the county (double taxation). While at the same time, people who live and own property in Buncombe County, who pay less taxes, can have as many homestay rentals as they would like with little to no restrictions on the amenities of the homestay portion of the house. However, those of us who are inside the city line are not able to benefit from the same opportunities. Currently, City Council has some of the strictest homestay rental policies in the country. In the city limits, you are not able to put a regular kitchen sink in a bar area that is in the homestay portion of the house, nor have a larger, second normal-size refrigerator or stove.
To make matters even more misaligned, recovery homes and halfway houses are popping up all over the city and are granted less restrictive living policies than the homestay rental policies. Anybody can open a recovery home or halfway house in any neighborhood in the city. Investors who are in this business can open multiple of these homes without being limited to one or having to live in the house like city homestay rental policies dictate.
In my case, this really hit home when an investor who bought the house next door to me opened a recovery home for recovering addicts on a substandard lot that the city sold back in the ’80s as part of an affordable housing initiative for $1. This house, which sits literally 20 feet from my house, has been a complete revolving door with new tenants, their guests and probation officers. It completely dumbfounds me that this investor can operate such a house in the city limits and at the same time is not able to legally turn the same house into a homestay or short-term rental that caters to traveling tourists. Who would you prefer living next to you?
This whole situation becomes even more maddening when you live in a neighborhood that has had two multimillion-dollar hotels built that contain hundreds of short-term rental units. Of course, these areas have been zoned differently, even though just separated by one street and thus are granted the ability to be in the short-term rental business while those of us who live in the same neighborhood are not offered the same ability.
Please stop punishing those of us who work so hard and pay double taxes for Asheville and Buncombe. Loosen homestay policies so that they are aligned with the policies of Buncombe County and recovery homes or make sure the county adopts similar homestay policies to align with the city of Asheville. At the bare minimum, city residents ought to be allowed to put sinks, stoves, and any size refrigerator wherever they want in the homestay portion of the house. Plus, full-time residents (deemed by filing a tax return in the city limits) ought to be able to operate three homestay rentals and not be forced to be in town when the houses are rented.
Most importantly, stop spending so much time and energy on policies and issues like these and redirect the same energy to figure out ways to make our local governments more effective and efficient so that we can have more impact on important issues. Combining Asheville and Buncombe County governments into one entity is likely the place to start. Why do we have two governments overseeing the same jurisdiction anyway?
— Ryan Pickens