LAF Spotlights Asheville’s Affordable Housing Issues - TribPapers
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LAF Spotlights Asheville’s Affordable Housing Issues

Derek Allen is a partner at Allen Stahl & Kilbourne law firm and was the last speaker. He is considered a leader in Alcoholic Beverage Law, Real Estate Development, and Zoning and Land Use. Photo courtesy of Leadership Asheville Forum.

Asheville – The Leadership Asheville Forum held an informative and stimulating discussion with a panel of experts at the Country Club of Asheville on March 23rd.  The Leadership Asheville Forum with Nancy Waldrop, President, thinks that solutions to the housing issues in the Asheville area need to be discussed, digested, and analyzed by those in the community. Creative and practical solutions need to be found.  It is critical for the future happiness and growth of those living in Western North Carolina.  The community’s input is an important part of the solution.

This was the first part of a two-part series on housing in the area. A second meeting more encompassing will be held on April 6th at the Reuter Center on the UNCA campus. At today’’s luncheon meeting, the speakers were Sarah Grymes, VP Impact/Housing for Dogwood Health Trust, Geoffrey Barton of Mountain Housing Opportunities, Andrea Golden, co-director of PODER Emma and Derek Allen, an attorney with Allen Stahl & Kilbourne. Affordable Housing is a major part of the equation and needs to be addressed in this area. These professionals touched on some of the interconnecting challenges that must be faced to ensure the future prosperity of Western North Carolina. Each spoke touching on slightly different areas of the situation from their point of view.

The audience engaged at the beginning with an interactive program using Mentimeter.  Word Clouds were created on the screen after questions were asked, with the audience giving their answers on their smart phone which then reflected onto the screen—a wonderful visual of the audiences reactions to the questions.  The first question asked was “What are the most critical issues facing Asheville and Buncombe County right now.”  The cloud swung with many words such as affordable housing, traffic, and homeless.  Another question asked  was “When you think of LAF’s history, what one word comes to mind?”  Here the interactive cloud varied:, learning, discussions, information, critical issues, and education. 

Sarah Grymes of Dogwood Health Trust spoke about the ways Dogwood Health Trust wants to make a difference in housing. Grymes is an experienced housing development expert with a strong financial background. She recently served as the Executive Director of the Housing Assistance Corporation in Hendersonville. We want to build together and help the community grow in a healthy way, she said.   Dogwood Health Trust was formed from the $1.5 billion sale of Mission Health to HCA Healthcare.  Grymes said, “We have the resources to be able to put into these nonprofits to help them do more.”  We want to work with counties and municipalities to use federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Agriculture, as well as traditional financing with local banks, historic tax credits and Community Development Block Grants. We have a team to help with grant writing and leveraging.  We want to work with other foundations as well.

Sarah Grymes, VP of Impact Housing and Development, for Dogwood Health Trust, was a panelist for the Leadership Asheville Forum. Photo courtesy of Leadership Asheville Forum.

Geoffrey Barton, Architect, Director of Real Estate Development for the nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunity, said the affordable housing organization has been “guided by the belief that if you work in this community you should be able to afford an attractive home in a good neighborhood.”  However wages have remained flat, while rent continues to grow.  Barton said the 4.3 households relocate to Buncombe County every day.  (This statistic was arrived at by dividing the number of new households per year and the number of days in the year. It is a net figure.)  The share of households who are considered “housing cost burdened” continues to climb. There are large numbers of people who commute into the city today, as they can no longer afford to live in Asheville.  Aggressive zoning could help to make the city more affordable; investing in a functioning transit system should be another high priority.

Andrea Golden, co-director of PODER Emma, spoke about the necessity for home ownership. She is the founder of PODER Emma Community Ownership and a member of Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative. Her neighborhood organization in Emma worked with renters in their mobile home park to enable them to go from being a tenant to becoming an owner with equity to pass on to the next generation, even though most of them have, and have always had,  a very low income.  She herself had rented for years. After doing the math, she woke up to the fact that she had paid more than $120,000 in rent with no equity to show for it.  In her opinion mobile home parks are one of the only remaining naturally occurring forms of affordable housing, largely unsubsidized.  She feels strongly that the PODER Emma Housing Community has created tools (giving advice on financing) and strategies (home repair programs) to prevent displacement and to preserve mobile home communities which keep families safe.

Derek Allen, a partner at Allen Stahl & Kilbourne law firm was the last speaker. He is considered a leader in Alcoholic Beverage Law, Real Estate Development, and Zoning and Land Use. He spoke about affordable housing from a developers perspective, and the problems that face a developer to get his project passed in a timely way.  There are so many impediments, which can take months on end to get ironed out.  The process is very time consuming and difficult, with delays and opposition.  As a lawyer he advises his clients to expect a timeline close to 13 months between application submittal and permits to move any dirt. Thus many developers turn to outlying areas, such as Woodfin, Weaverville, Hendersonville, Canton and Waynesville. This of course means the residents are far away from a job in Asheville and must commute in they are to work in the city.

After the panelists’ presentations, the audience was then asked to pose their questions.  Dee Williams, President and CEO of nonprofit Eagles’ Wings Community Development Corporation, asked how to change the dynamic and the paradigm in efforts to build more affordable housing and to stop gentrification and displacement?  City Council member and a member of the Housing and Community Development Committee, Antanette Moseley, who was in the audience, answered.  She said that Williams is a member of the county reparations committee, and therefore could/would be helping guide those decisions and set short, medium, and long-term goals.

Other audience members brought up the question as to how one can promote and encourage higher density housing on main traffic corridors, and questioned the reason for so many vacant lots throughout the city.

The Leadership Asheville Forum concluded with the reminder for all to please attend “Housing in WNC: Part II,” which will be held on Wednesday, April 6th, starting at 5:30 pm at the UNCA Reuter Center. Part II will feature another panel of speakers as well as facilitated break-out groups. The topics covered in the second of this two-part series will be comprehensive, covering housing cost, supply, mix (rental vs. owned, single-family vs. dense), zoning for housing, the

challenges developers face, redlining and its continuing impact, and affordable housing.  Matt Allen, Director of Professional Development at Land of the Sky Association of Realtors, Jim Lowder, Strategic Gifts Officer, Homeward Bound of WNC, and Todd Okolichany, AICP, Planning Director, City of Asheville were selected to be speakers that evening. Following the presentations, attendees will be active participants in the break-out groups, engaging directly with the experts.

Pre-reading is recommended for this evening.  A comprehensive list of recommended books can be found at: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/129LBVIP1tf2CFjHWCFoiywGT0krNar5M/view?usp=sharing.  For further information on Leadership Asheville Forum go to https:/www.leadershipashevilleforum.com

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