Asheville – On Asheville City Council’s agenda were two applications to construct multifamily housing. One requested city subsidy and was approved; the other didn’t and wasn’t.
The latter project, rejected on a 5-2 vote, received support from only Councilwomen Sandra Kilgore and Antanette Mosley. It would have been located at the corner of Hilliard and Clingman, providing 187 residential units and 201 parking spaces plus commercial space. The building would have been built on a brownfield, which the developer was going to remediate. To sweeten the deal, the developers also offered to construct 10’ sidewalks and bike lanes, create a left-turn lane, bury existing utility poles, and rent-control nine of the units as affordable housing for 20 years.
Wyatt Stevens, representing the developer, said he would create more units of affordable housing “in a heartbeat” if the city could get the numbers to “work” for its Land Use Incentive Grants (LUIGs). Not too long ago, representing another developer, Stevens shared with the public a list of projects that had accepted LUIG grants and stalled out. This was after the city had already held listening sessions with developers and amended the ordinance several times. This time, Stevens told council interest rates and construction costs were increasing to the point they probably wouldn’t get another deal as good as his client was offering for some time.
The other project, which would provide 45 units in a single building, was planned for a vacant lot along West Haywood Street, visible from I-240. Pastor Brian Combs, of the Haywood Street Congregation, explained there were a lot of misconceptions about the project, which was understandable, since it had been through several iterations, each shaped by extensive public input. In its current form, he said, this was not permanent supportive housing, a direct-service center, or a low-barrier shelter; it was housing. It would provide 13 units for persons earning no more than 80% AMI, nine for persons earning no more than 60% AMI, and 23 for persons earning no more than 30% AMI. These rents would be controlled in perpetuity through deed restrictions, and vouchers would be accepted.
Haywood Street Community Development (HSCD), its affiliates, and private donors were expected to cover about half the $10,180,496 cost. For the other half, the city had already paid $296,000 for due diligence, and, following the rejection of Stevens’ project, council further committed to paying $1,300,000 in bond proceeds and $904,000 from its Housing Trust Fund (HTF). Also supporting the project, Buncombe County committed to paying $749,000, and it was expected the Dogwood Health Trust would contribute another $2,000,000.
The HTF loan would charge no interest for the first 10 years and 1% interest for the next 10. It would then amortize over the next 30 years or be repaid to the city in full as terms of any refinancing arrangement. Should HSCD default on the loan, it would have to sell the property and repay the city.
Following the staff’s presentation, a conversation ensued among councilmembers about the relative pittance coming from the county. Mayor Esther Manheimer explained the county, which had only entered the affordable housing business in earnest two or three years ago, wanted to focus on Low-Income Tax Credits (LITC), through which county contributions would be strongly leveraged with federal dollars. This particular project, she believed, was too small to qualify for LITCs, and the county backpedaled on its initial enthusiasm for funding it because it had been developing its affordable housing policies on a parallel track.
Kilgore asked what the per-unit subsidy was going to be for the project, and Councilwoman Sage Turner said it was $45,000. Putting things in perspective, she said a few years ago, the city’s policy was to subsidize no more than $20,000 per unit. A recent study, however, indicated $80,000-$100,000 per unit would be needed to bring new construction down to affordable levels. She added that the Haywood Street project, which is now considerably scaled-back, likely would have qualified for LITCs earlier.
Kilgore also asked how HSCD was going to improve on the public housing model, which does not move people up the housing ladder. At that, Mosley asked, in not so many words, if Kilgore was equating poverty with misbehavior and then deeming it a proper role of government to move people up the housing ladder.
Before the unanimous votes approving the funding and rezoning for the project, Councilwoman Kim Roney said, “There is one thing that would just make this so much more joyful – and projects like this in general: If the community that’s going to create a neighborhood here and live together and celebrate together and move to and from this place together had a hopefulness of one day cooperatively owning this space, [it] would just be brilliant.”
In Other Matters –
Council had previously approved giving $500,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to Step Up on Second Street to manage services when the Ramada Inn at Westgate is converted into permanent supportive housing. They also agreed to rummage up another $1 million to support two additional years of services. The item on the consent agenda only asked council’s approval for paying the balance by transferring funds that had been reserved for affordable housing capital projects. Roney pulled the consideration from the consent agenda, expressing her preference that the funding could have been more diversified. But it was Mosley who cast the lone vote opposing the funds transfer, stating her opposition to public dollars funding private corporations. Technically, Step Up is a nonprofit; the for-profit Shangri-La will be handling all the remodeling of the Ramada at no cost to the city.
Speaking of wages not keeping up with housing costs in Asheville, and the shortage of good-paying jobs in the area, council rejected entrepreneur Jordan Hrivnak’s application for a franchise to operate Blue Ridge Rickshaw downtown. The bicycle-drawn carriage was, for the most part, deemed more supportive of tourists than locals. Council voted 4-3 in-favor on the first reading and 4-3 against on the second. Kilgore flipped to vote with Manheimer, Mosley, and Turner.