The scarcity of affordable housing is not a new issue in Buncombe County, but it is a problem that has greatly increased in recent years. Despite existing efforts to bring more affordable housing online, the challenge for workers, seniors and people on a fixed income to find an affordable home, either to rent or own, has gotten much harder as rents and home prices have rapidly increased. The problem is widely recognized, but what are the solutions?
I serve along with Commissioners Amanda Edwards and Parker Sloan on the Affordable Housing Subcommittee of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Over the past 18 months, we have researched what other communities across North Carolina are doing to address the need for affordable housing, which is a major challenge in all of the growing metropolitan areas in our state.
We learned there are several communities in North Carolina, including Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg, that have made great progress in addressing the shortage of affordable homes to rent or own. A key strategy being used in these communities is to support a previously underutilized program called the 4% affordable housing tax credit program. The benefit of utilizing this approach is that for every dollar their local community invests, they leverage an additional $2-$3 for affordable housing construction.
During a three-year period, 2018-21, Wake County used the 4% affordable housing tax credit program to support the creation of 3,315 new affordable rental units, more than 1,100 affordable units per year. In Asheville-Buncombe, our community has been on average building around 140 new affordable units per year. Adjusted for population differences, Wake County has been creating twice as many affordable homes and apartments per year.
Based on our research, the commissioners endorsed a goal of helping build and rehab 3,150 affordable homes in Buncombe County over the next seven years, around 450 homes per year, which would more than double the number of new affordable homes built each year.
Each of the other communities that have made such progress on affordable housing have passed voter-approved bonds as a key financing strategy to meet their goals. In the upcoming November election, citizens in Buncombe County will have the opportunity to vote on a $40 million affordable housing bond referendum. If approved, it will position our community for success to meet these important goals.
All of the funds will be used to help build and rehabilitate affordable homes. By structuring most of the affordable apartments to leverage housing tax credits, our community investment of $40 million will likely leverage around $80 million in additional funds for Buncombe County. Bond funds can also be used to help fix up existing homes so that senior citizens on a fixed income and residents with disabilities can safely remain in their own homes. The affordable housing bonds would cost the average homeowner about $18 a year in property taxes. Buncombe County intends to partner closely with other local governments and community partners in these efforts.
While the need for more affordable homes is urgent, there are many places in Buncombe County that our community wants to see preserved forever from development. New affordable housing plans will be focused on infill sites, in areas with existing infrastructure and along key transportation corridors. In order to preserve key natural areas, steep slopes and prime farmland, citizens in the county will also be able to vote on a $30 million conservation bond in the upcoming elections.
Buncombe County is a growing community, but with good planning and strategic investments, we can preserve the places we all care about for the future and assure that new developments are not only for the wealthy but rather help to build a more inclusive community, with safe, attractive and affordable homes for working families and seniors.
— Brownie Newman
Chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners
4 thoughts on “Letter: Why I support the affordable housing bond referendum”
“All of the funds will be used to help build and rehabilitate affordable homes. By structuring most of the affordable apartments to leverage housing tax credits, our community investment of $40 million will likely leverage around $80 million in additional funds for Buncombe County. Bond funds can also be used to help fix up existing homes so that senior citizens on a fixed income and residents with disabilities can safely remain in their own homes”.
Mr. Newman speaks of “affordable homes” in one sentence and “affordable apartments” in another sentence. Are the funds going to the prospective homeowners who might not have down payments or might not qualify for mortgages so they can take the first step on the home ownership ladder? Affordable home ownership is always preferable to rentals, so lower income families can start building generational wealth. Ownership builds equity; renting does not. Or are the funds going to developers and home builders?
Are “affordable apartments” being built by developers as a small portion of units alongside high rents? If these below-market rate apartments are reserved for lower income families, for how long will these apartments be reserved for lower-income tenants? As apartment rental owners raise rents on their market-rate units, what controls will there be on the below-market-rate rentals? And if a lower-income family manages to better its economic position, will they be forced to move?
Mr. Newman speaks of funds “to help fix up existing homes so that senior citizens on a fixed income and residents with disabilities can safely remain in their own homes.” But he does not address the issue that ever-rising property values, and ever-rising property taxes, are a greater peril to senior citizens on fixed-incomes than needing their homes “fixed up.” What about working to raise the homestead exemption for senior citizens? This issue needs to be addressed.
Brownie will be using taxpayer dollars to restrict housing supply and make housing even more unaffordable. Talk to your friends at the City Council about zoning and density before you peddle this tax hike as a good thing. It’s a band-aid, just like your affordable parking initiative.
Vote no on the bond. It’s time to get proactive progressive leaders, not the same corporate establishment as always.
Flush Brownie. We’ve had enough of your #2.
Just no. Remember the bonds for AB Tech?
Thanks for this Brownie…. sounds like a good deal and a definitive step in the right direction for Buncombe County. Much appreciated, per usual.