Asheville – The financial needs of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA), as it remodels Deaverview, featured heavily in Tuesday’s regular meeting of Asheville City Council. David Nash, executive director of HACA, returning with modifications to the first phase made the request of city council from a former meeting. All 82 units would now accept HACA Housing Choice vouchers and be rent-controlled in perpetuity as affordable to persons earning an average of 60% AMI.
Mayor Esther Manheimer called the public’s attention to the fact that council was about to approve a second project that would be applying for 9% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) from the federal government. Buncombe County has, however, historically been awarded these tax credits for at most one project a year. That did not stop council from hoping against hope. At worst, one or both projects could be delayed as the developers reapply for LIHTC assistance year after year.
The other project applying for LIHTCs was Redwood Commons, a proposed 70-unit senior living project rent-controlling all 70 units as affordable to persons earning an average of 60% AMI. This project would also accept HACA Housing Choice vouchers. Both projects were approved without much ado, although the latter raised concerns about tree canopy replacements, which were resolved when given better understanding of the difficult terrain.
Nash spoke again on another agenda topic requesting funds from the city’s bond issue dedicated to increasing affordable housing stock. The original plan had been for the city, county, and housing authority to pitch in $1.2 million each. The Buncombe County Commissioners, in accordance with a staff recommendation, approved awarding only $935,286. So, Nash was asking the city to make up the difference in addition to paying their fair share.
Representing the city, presenter Sasha Vrtunski said Asheville’s staff recommended paying only $1.2 million, which would leave the city with $6.2 million in affordable housing bond funds, for which staff would develop and present an allocation strategy sometime this summer. Nash conceded it was his intention to make a strong LIHTC application this year in order to get funding for next year. He added the residents who would be affected were well aware of the game.
A conversation followed about why Deaverview needed upgrades. People were living in “antiquated” homes built in the 1960s. Most units had two stories, with bathrooms upstairs, rendering them inaccessible. No housing authority residences have central air conditioning, but Nash said Mountain Housing Opportunities was providing Maple Crest, built in the former location of Lee Walker Heights. Equipped with a rooftop solar system rated at 174 kilowatts, Nash believes it is the largest residential installation in Asheville. Furthermore he said Maple Crest likely would have received LIHTCs at some rate lower than 9% had it not already had so much funding from the city.
Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith made a motion to approve $1.2 million in funding, and Councilwoman Antanette Mosely moved to amend the motion to up the ante to $1.465 million. Nonetheless, Nash let it be known that it was possible he would return to the city asking for additional funding.
At this, Councilwoman Gwen Wisler said she was “very supportive” of the project, but “extremely frustrated” at how organizations always approach the city first for funding and always expect the city to make up for shortfalls in contributions from community partners. She wanted to remind citizens that city residents pay county taxes, and so any 50-50 contribution sharing falls closer to 60-40 for Asheville taxpayers.
Councilwoman Kim Roney added that this inequity falls disproportionately on historic black neighborhoods. Regardless, Roney was going to take an ends-justify-means approach, deeming it necessary to improve living conditions in Deaverview.
Councilwoman Sage Turner took the opposite tack, saying she liked the project, but council needed to learn more about the selection processes used by funding agencies, so they could break the cycle of being hit with solicitations for large sums of public funds via “last minute, awkward moments.” She and Wisler voted against both motions, Turner saying she could have supported a $1.2 million award.
Manheimer contributed by recounting several discussions with Buncombe County Chair Brownie Newman. The city has been in the affordable housing business for years, but the county is just developing its strategy, and it is taking a different approach. Addressing Turner’s concern, she said there is a lot of disagreement about what the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency considers a good application. She said it was a lot like college admissions, when the better of two applications is the one getting rejected.
Manheimer added that the county had hired a consultant to help with writing applications for housing financing. But, for all the applications they had acquired, she was told they did not know which had been successful. Manheimer added she didn’t think it was worth retaining a consultant for projects the city is only considering once or twice a year.
In a third appearance, Nash asked council to consider honoring his application for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to sustain and grow the pods project. During the pandemic, computer stations or pods, were set up as safe spaces for disadvantaged children to access computers for participating in online educational programming. Nash said preliminary reports indicated the program had been very successful, and it would go a long way toward closing the opportunity gap through “real equity and reparations.”
ARPA Project Manager Kim Marmon-Saxe replied the pods were among a handful of projects that made the first short list but were disqualified in any of the many subsequent changes the US Treasury had made to its disbursement guidelines. She said the guidelines are continually updated in response to citizen input, but City Attorney Brad Branham provided assurance that projects making the final cut will likely be compliant with a modicum of tweaking. Marmon-Saxe said the county, unlike the city, had already dealt with “significant challenges” with approved contracts for projects complying with earlier guidelines.
Council ended up approving staff’s recommendations for awarding $11,723,257 to 18 applications. That left $184,384 plus $6 million held in reserve for future awards.