Letter: Why Asheville needs infill housing

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As letter writers recently have expressed opposition to new housing in their Asheville neighborhood, some have argued that infill homes should be denied because they won’t be “affordable” anyway [“Council Must Listen to Community on Haw Creek Project,” April 17, Xpress]. Other “pros” and “cons” for such construction aside, this is a misguided idea.

In fact, new research affirms what housing advocates have argued for years: Even where land and construction costs are high, new infill is essential to reducing rent and home prices across core neighborhoods.

Here’s what the research says: Let’s say some homes are built in East Asheville. Most of these will likely be purchased or rented by locals. And that in turn frees up housing elsewhere. A family moving to a turnkey property in East Asheville made the decision not to purchase a fixer-upper in West Asheville. So the renter there gets to stay in their home. Further, that family’s old home near the River Arts District is now vacant. So a new resident moves in, leaving her old bungalow for another family. Again, that family is likely to come from within the Asheville region.

This phenomenon, which researchers call “moving chains,” is remarkable because it increases vacancies for lower-cost homes even when the chain begins with higher-priced ones. Ninety-five new homes may lead to dozens of fewer instances of displacement across the city.

This is reverse gentrification. Options for renters and homebuyers in desirable neighborhoods reduce displacement pressures and speculation in more vulnerable ones. Even when those options are “market-rate.”

The alternative — preventing new homes from being built in high-value neighborhoods — only makes such places more exclusive. It is irrefutably a primary mechanism by which class- and race-based segregation persist.

Most working people live in unsubsidized housing. That won’t change, absent a revolution in federal policy. And as Asheville struggles with the difficult task of better targeting the scarce funds that we have, freeing up more market-rate homes for such workers as teachers and nurses may provide them with a better chance of paying for housing on their own, allowing more subsidies for more vulnerable demographics.

Finally, another recent study reaffirms another point related to housing affordability: Allowing an increase in market-rate infill homes makes public dollars spent on subsidized housing go dramatically further.

One reason is that land accounts for a portion of construction costs; dollars that first go to builders end up in the pockets of landowners as passive income. But if we allow infill to be added in all of our high-demand, high-amenity neighborhoods, we diminish the pricing power that landowners wield. In short, with more housing capacity, public money is “captured” away from speculation, and more may go to help renters.

As City Council considers comprehensive zoning reforms and “conditional zoning” requests to promote more residential infill, and as Asheville prepares for an affordable housing bond this fall, remember that these things aren’t in competition. Rather, the city’s affordable housing goals are dependent on allowing that infill — even if much of it will be market rate.

— Andrew Paul

Editor’s note: Andrew Paul is a lead organizer with the pro-housing advocacy nonprofit Asheville for All.


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16 thoughts on “Letter: Why Asheville needs infill housing

  1. DMac

    Bravo Andrew Paul! The answer to housing scarcity (and the consequential rising prices), is abundance. The more we build the less (or slower) prices will rise. Infill is housing is good for existing the city and neighborhoods. For example, my wife and I purchased a new house on an infill lot in west AVL. This new house sits on a formerly vacant lot. It was easy for the builder to connect to existing utilities. No new infrastructure was needed. We love it here. We are close to work, shopping, entertainment and community events. As such the addition of infill homes increases revenues at local shops.

    The Green Built Alliance rewards builders for choosing infill lots for development. Infills reduce suburban sprawl, conserves city resources, reduces pollution (from long car commutes), and it improves the average pollution created by the homes in our neighborhood. On this last point I mean that our house has better insulation and air-tightness than any other house on our street. This house was not built to any “green” standard, but rather just better building practices, materials and codes than the older houses.

  2. KW

    Could new neighbors promise not to leave untended barking dogs aimed at my windows?

  3. Think about it

    Infrastructure isn’t sufficient to infill in the manner suggested. There are a host of other issues that lead this type of housing “fix” to be unsustainable or unreliable. But, I will allow all the people ready to yell nimby and other detractors to vent aimlessly without addressing the underlying issues.

      • Think about it

        That is simply your answer to anything that revolves around private property rights.

        • luther blissett

          If I did not want land to be used for a purpose I disagree with I would simply buy it. Isn’t that how private property rights work?

  4. Nostupid people

    We DONT need anymore housing people, our infrastructure is capped out. We have empty condos all the hell over our mountain land that’s empty! Affordable housing, what the crap does that even mean, who owns them who maintains them further more who pays for all of it! BS as hell! Solution RAISE the pay for any human that is working within the system. You want service, pay for it. Our work force should come first!!! You work you eat! Fire our county management employees would be the first action- crying about give me give me rants for the dang homeless, put their butts to work before you feed them!

  5. gyp

    This letter is right on. Another important point might me that with unsubsidized residential infill, we gain a greater tax base (without having to maintain new roads, new pipes, etc) and that means that the cost of bonds can be spread across more taxpayers.

  6. T100

    Be careful what you wish for. In the early 1950s both St Louis and Chicago built LARGE infill housing for low income working class. They were called Pruitt Igoe and Cabrini Green respectively. Pruitt Igoe had to be demolished in the early 70’s . Cabrini Green was the site of the TV comedy Good Times with Esther Rolle, John Amos, and Jimmie Walker) . It was gradually demolished in 2000-2011. Both became havens for illegal drug and other criminal activity

    • SpareChange

      I believe the writer is advocating for something entirely different – which is privately built, market rate housing on unused or underutilized property in already developed areas (i.e. – “filling in the blanks”). What you describe is the 60 year old programs which resulted in so-called “slum clearance,” and replacement with huge, federally subsidized high rise apartments. Those projects did clear existing substandard housing, but also destroyed any sense of neighborhood or community in the process. Asheville already had its own experience with that on a smaller scale – resulting in Pisgah View, Deaverview, Hillcrest, etc. A sad chapter indeed — but as I read it, not at all what is being promoted here.

  7. CMP

    The letter writer is looking at this issue in very generalized terms. Of course, more houses mean more people can be housed, but there should be considerations and pause to think about the type of houses this developer seeks to build. This development is of the most basic and least imaginative variety. The developer has simply copy and pasted 65 homes in a tight grid on postage stamp sized lots- shoehorned into a property that should not be rezoned for such density. This will not be a walkable neighborhood in any way– it is not close to any public amenities and is located on an already densely trafficked 2 lane road with no sidewalks and maybe one bus stop a mile away. The closest grocery store is 3 miles away across Tunnel Rd. If the developer had used some imagination, he could have come up with a neighborhood that incorporates the wild wooded acerage that he is proposing to clearcut, could have seeked a zoning change not for high density but to create some mixed use buildings that would add some ground floor cafe, general store, or boutique offerings with residential apartments above. He could have proposed 3 story apartment buildings, duplexes, or triplexes built around a town square of sorts with walking trails and communal gardens. As we get into the coming years of climate instability and housing insecurity, the same old build of single family, married with two kids, homes squashed onto tiny lots will surely go out of favor. We need more forward thinking developments to be placed on our scarcely available land: developments that serve multi-generational families, students, hospitality workers, single people, and older adults- that also seek to preserve some of the last bits of wilderness that are holding on. Times are changing, we need new solutions. Asheville City Council needs to think critically and not just greenlight any developer that is doing the bare minimum needed in order to get the biggest payout. Be smarter, do better.

    • Robert

      Yes…big fan of multi use and bakeries and actual community instead of car-centric garbage beloved by the unevolved. Developers are so often merely building houses, not homes.

  8. Robert

    I live in a neighborhood where several infill homes have been built in the past few years. Not one public outcry and no pushback. We have, however, raised concerns about jamming an oversized mountain village at the end of a narrow dead end residential street without sidewalks. We have reasonably accepted what was reasonable. We will continue to fight against what is not.

  9. KW

    Too slow and not enough. We need multi use development atop Ingle’s and other concrete wastelands along major transit corridors.

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