One of the biggest issues facing everyday Ashevillians is a lack of affordable housing. Nearly half of Asheville’s residents are spending 30% or more of their income on housing, and nearly 20% are spending 50% or more. That means a worker making minimum wage would need to work about 85 hours per week just to afford a one bedroom apartment in the City of Asheville. At the same time, hotel construction in the city is exploding, and we have the highest proportion of homes used as Short Term Rentals (STRs) in the country.
This means that many Ashevillians struggle to find affordable housing. People hoping to buy a home are being forced to move farther out into the county, while renters are struggling to find enough roommates to pay rent, or abruptly losing their leases when their landlord turns their home into an Airbnb.
With supply low, and costs high, many of Asheville’s workers can no longer afford to live here. These are our musicians, artists, bartenders, and small business owners. And when they leave Asheville, we lose the diverse culture that makes this an incredible place to live.
I believe that housing is a basic human right, meaning everyone should have access to a safe and affordable place to live. Therefore, rather than building more hotels or high-end condominiums that will serve as second homes for wealthy out-of-towners we need to responsibly increase the housing supply for our locals. Here’s what I suggest:
Through the Urban Centers Initiative, the City has identified several sites along major corridors (Patton Avenue, Tunnel Road) for development. We must place a priority on this type of mixed-use, mixed-income development, which includes a dense blend of both housing and commercial spaces, specifically designed for locals. This development must include affordable housing as a non-negotiable, including live-work units for our artists and entrepreneurs, as well as shops and services for the residents. Furthermore, it is imperative that this development not only include access to public transit, but alternative transportation as well, including greenways, bike paths, and sidewalks. Combining housing and access to transit will not only increase ridership, it will also reduce congestion on our roads. And having fewer cars on the road is undeniably better for the environment.
The City’s new Down Payment Assistance Program is an example of a great step aimed at increasing homeownership and financial stability. But we need to dramatically expand this program to include live-work units and to make it available to more people.
Create a continuous and sustainable revenue stream for the Housing Trust Fund using increased fees collected from all Level III development. These fees are paid by the developer and should be used by the city to fund affordable housing initiatives.
Provide incentives to create density in new development. By easing height and maximum density allowances, we can require developers to include affordable units in their proposals.
Provide incentives for existing homeowners to build accessory dwelling units on their property to increase housing stock for local renters.
Convert our existing public housing into co-ops using funds from the Housing Trust Fund.
Re-write our zoning bylaws to clarify our goals around affordable housing, in order to encourage more development. Conditional zoning requirements are currently the only mechanism we have to require affordable units. This situation arises when a developer asks for permission to re-zone a piece of property to allow for a new type of development. While Asheville has had some success in using this method to add affordable units to our housing stock, it is an unnecessarily cumbersome, and confusing process for developers to navigate, and has limited the number of developers willing to work with us. By making our goals known up front, we’ll be able to bring more affordable housing developers to the table.
Revise our zoning ordinances to allow duplexes, townhouses, multi-family, and cottage development in all areas currently zoned residential single-family.
Challenge the General Assembly to allow inclusionary zoning, which would enable us to require affordable housing in all new development.
Place tougher restrictions on STRs, including limits on the number of permitted units in a neighborhood, annual inspections for permit renewals, and a maximum rental of one bedroom per home.
Finally, the city must consider additional means to fund and incentivize housing by demanding that Raleigh allow us to re-negotiate not only the terms, but also the allocation of TDA funds.