With one of the proposed city bonds dedicated to affordable housing, it is time to ask whether the city’s approach to our affordable housing crisis is the right way forward. Watching the current policy in action suggests that it may not be.
In the first place, this is a national problem. Continuing a one-note policy of simply building affordable housing will fail. Even if we were to magically eliminate the 2014 deficit of 5,000 homes, the crisis would remain as more people, driven by worse conditions elsewhere, migrate to Asheville.
But most importantly, we have a shortage of affordable housing because people living and working in Asheville aren’t paid enough to afford housing. It’s that simple. Businesses that do not pay living wages — you know who you are — helped to create the crisis and choose, every payday, to sustain it.
Faced with a crisis created by multiple problems outside our control, we must craft a multipronged response.
We need to look to unconventional project organization and financing to ensure that significant numbers of affordable housing units actually get built —recent experience shows that property speculators are simply not going to deliver what is needed.
We need to stop passively accepting the role of tourist town. We need far more than a four-word reference to “industries of the mind” in city Vision documents. We need an aggressive search for businesses that can prosper here while paying not a living wage, but two and three times as much. And those jobs will require major changes in what we teach our children so that they can succeed.
Affordable housing is a problem for all of us, not just Council and city staff, the Chamber [of Commerce], the schools and the colleges. Our existing affordable housing policy or any variation on it is bound to fail and waste borrowed money. It’s time to roll up our sleeves.
— Geoff Kemmish