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Efforts to boost affordable housing outlined
Thursday, 03 January 2019 12:17
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The Council of Independent Business Owners heard a panel presentation titled “Affordable Housing: Issues and Solutions” on Dec. 6 in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Specifically, the panel was asked by CIBO to address: “What development issues hinder the affordable housing ... and what is the City of Asheville and Buncombe County planning to do to help?”

About 40 people attended.the early-morning breakfast meeting, including CIBO members, government officials and others.

Asheville Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler led the panel, which also included Buncombe County Commissioner Joe Belcher, Kirk Booth of Kirk Booth Real Estate and Bill Oglesby, a board member of the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency.

Wisler began the presentation by outlining “some of the tools the city is using to get more affordable housing in the city.”

Wisler noted, “When we talk to our citizens in surveys, the lack of affordable housing ranks at the top, or near the top, in concern

“The city gets involved with HUD. We have a land use incentive plan where we will forgive property taxes for a period of time, if the project meets certain criteria” pertaining to affordable housing.

Wisler added, “We also have density bonuses if a person has a certain level of affordable housing.

“And most recently in our bond program, the voters agreed to a $25 million part of the bond that will go toward affordable housing — $15 million for the city initiative and the other $10 million in miscellaneous ways.

In addressing the county’s perspective, Comissioner Joe Belcher said that, “most of the time, when you talk about affordable housing in Buncombe County, you’re talking about rental housing. For those who want a quality home, we have to open the doors to all new construction....

Further, he triggered laughter from the meeting attendees when he asserted, “Everyone’s talking about tiny homes, but they’re just a little single-wide.” Belcher said he has particular insight on this issue because he is retired from a career in the manufactured home industry.

“I have my theory about apartments today — the apartments of today are the manufactured homes of the 1980s.”

He added, “We’re allowing factory-built, multi-section (two or three parts) in R1 and R2 (zoned) areas.

“After about four weeks, people ran out of the ugly things they could say about manufactured housing. That has to stop.”

Belcher then asked, “If you build a 1,500-square-foot stick-built home — how much waste goes into the landfill? Dumpster loads.”

What’s more, he pointed out, “If you put in a 1,500-square-foot manufactured home,” the waste averages “two trashcan loads of trash.

“You see the little ranch-size homes — it’s nothing to panic over. We can’t be hypocritcal when we talk about affordable housing. We need to talk about all types of housing…. 

“We’re just trying to move (affordable housing options in) Buncombe Counrty (to be) just like everywhere else. Most states are opening their doors.

Belcher stressed, “If I were to set out a stick-built versus a manufactured home side-by-side, you’d have a hard time telling the difference,” given the latest improvements in manufactured housing technology.

“The tests of the new construction of manufactured home is amazing. They can tie them down and they can withstand 130 mile-per-hour-plus winds — and that’s amazing. 

“What’s happened in Buncombe County — places like Swannanoa, Leicester, South Asheville — we’ve had people coming in and asking to put in a new construction, multi-section home on their parents’ property. They would come and try to get permits. They’d be told they couldn’t put a manufactured home there. 

“The only thing that family has is land — and they come to get a permit... They’re told, ‘We’re not going to allow you to have the house you can afford’ on that property.

“They leave Buncombe County. They go to South Carolina or East Tennessee, where that’s allowed.

“You drive poor people out when you limit housing,” Belcher said.

The next panelist, developer Kirk Booth, began by noting that “the rents dictate the project.”

He added, “In Buncombe County now, you’ve pretty much got to have a large multi-story” proposal to have a chance for approval.

“These are some of the quick reasons every developer wouldn’t want to do affordable housing. The tools of the city and county are there, it just depends on whether the developer can make it work (profit-wise). 

“There are a lot of tax credits out there. There is a lot of money out there. … So it’s not quite as easy as it appears…. There’s no silver bullet…. The only other way that I’ve made it work is through modular housing. They will build it, ship it and put it together. Everyone’s looking on what’s the return on their money,” Booth said.

The fourth panelist, Bill Oglesby, board member of North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, said that, “in recent years, we’ve financed 269,000 homes and apartments throughout the state. … These housing options help attract and retain employees for local businesses.

Oglesby said his agency has assisted homeowners in the purchase of about 2,200 houses in Buncombe and Asheville... 

“You may be acquainted with Carney Place in West Asheville….

“Swannanoa has just been awarded a project — and that was Mountain Housing Opportunities (agency) that got that going.

“At Gerber Park, 130 energy-effiicient apartments were added in South Asheville for seniors in Buncombe County. It’s part of an effort that provides 2,900 affordable houses for seniors in Buncombe County. 

“We don’t just get people in affordable housing. Our work focuses on keeping people in there. In 2008, we launched the foreclosure prevention fund. This saved 28,000 North Carolinans, preservring $96 million in property values. So if you keep someone in their home, it’s good for everyone.”

Further, Oglesby said, “Our agency is designed to help a multitude of folks — developers, residents …. The process can be lengthy (as he said), but the money is there.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, a man asked,  “What is the rate that HUD allows for housing, under their affordable guidelines?”

“It’s on the city’s website and it’s all defined by the area median income,” Wisler replied. “It’s all based on 30 percent of your income being spent on rent and utilities.

Booth added, “I don’t think a two-bedroom (rental unit) is at $1,000 yet, but it’s close.”

To another question, Wisler answered, “Unfortunately, not many people have used the land-use incentive grants. We continue to tweak it to try to find the best mix for what the developer and the city are willing to fund. Not many people have used it yet.”

Adding to Wisler’s answer, Booth said, that, as a developer, “there are a lot of boxes there that have to be checked before you can get started.”

A man asked about housing on Hilliard and Clingman avenues— a developer decided he couldn’t make it work, so he converted it to condominiums.”

“That was one of the frist that the city tried to work with the developer to hit his needed return while also trying to meet the city’s affordable housing goals,” Wisler answered.

“At this point, that will be condominiums, but it also is affordable. As the ownership changes hands over a 50-year period of time, it’s affordablity (will continue)…. It will be a Habitat for Humanity model... What you’re trying to do is maintain the property afforable over a 50-year period of time. It has been tentatively approved to keep the affodability for 50 years.”

A man asked, “I’d just like to bring up property destruction… Any comments about building these affordable home and they’re not taken care of?

“I think it all has to do with management,” Booth replied succinctly. “Some tenants have case managers who check on the units…. If you (as the property owner-manager) never see it, never look at it,” bad things can and will happen.

“The people who are not getting assistance will tear up your property just as much as those who do” not receive assistance, he said.

Belcher added, “People (from all social classes) want a nice home — and they want to take care of their home. But they’ve got to be able to keep up their home” and, sometimes, they have no budget for maintenance and repairs.

He then said that “the payment (on rent or a mortgage for affordable housing) has to include a provision for ‘surprises’ (unexpected emergencies) in maintenance.”

In responding to another question, Booth said that in one of his projects built on a geographically challenging site in Asheville, “there are seven buildings in a flood plain on stilts.

“If you could imagine a condo building at the beach, that’s this one. We’re parking underneath the units… There are other factors that really hurt us. We had to put in a sidewalk on a street that doesn’t even drain water. ... We’re rubbing up against big expenses.

“You’re probably not going to produce affordable housing in the city or county without extra help,” Booth stressed.

A man then asked, “So when the city helps on affordable housing, those without affordable housing are subsidizing those in affordable housing?”

“Okay,” Booth replied evenly, not disagreeing with the man’s assertion.



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