Having served six years on Asheville’s City Council and two years on the Housing and Community Development Committee, my conclusion is that the principal way local government can help with affordable housing involves transportation. Efforts to build affordable housing in the city immediately run into the realities of the real estate market.
After World War II, as our industries reverted from military manufacture to autos, and incomes were rising, those who could afford to fled the city. Due to racial disparities in income, this became known as “white flight.” Cities became darker and poorer and ran down until they were as vacant as Asheville in the 1970s, with boarded-up storefronts and tumbleweeds in the streets. Around the turn of the century, the wealthy rediscovered cities: Living downtown was convenient and suddenly classy. The bidding-up of downtown began. Affordable housing was pushed to the margins. Meanwhile, the cost of commuting, which was negligible when gas cost 17 cents a gallon, rose to as much as 25 percent of median income.
There are two ways I see that local government can effectively address affordability. The first is to drop parking-space requirements for city apartment developments. Parking requirements cost developers plenty, and many renters would be happy to pay less for a place without a space. The second is to develop countywide transit, with park-and-ride lots on major corridors and with late-night collector routes for food-service employees who work past midnight. This would make transportation more affordable, which translates into making housing at the city margins even more affordable, and it would relieve parking pressure downtown.
We can no more suppress the downtown boom than another generation could have stanched migration to the suburbs. Let’s adopt policies that can actually work.
— Cecil Bothwell
City Council member