What strategies would you work to implement for preventing displacement caused by the gentrification of neighborhoods that have historically been home to the Black and Latino communities?
While this is not something that City Council can do directly, I would join with community advocates and residents to demand that Buncombe County revise its property tax assessment process. Currently the property of Black and Latino owners in legacy neighborhoods is valued disproportionately highly, while the wealthiest residents elsewhere in the County pay disproportionately much lower taxes on their real estate holdings.
This is unconscionable. It is deeply inequitable, and it places tremendous financial pressures on those least able to bear them. As a result, families find themselves struggling to keep up with their property taxes or facing liens and foreclosure. Ultimately many sell and leave our city or lose property that has been in their families for generations.
I have also argued before the County Commission and City Council several times that the current program of Homeowner Tax Grants—meant to alleviate some of the burden of rapidly increasing property valuations for homeowners of modest means—should be made automatic rather than require a cumbersome application process (which many never learn about and also places a costly burden on staff time). Using a formula based on length of ownership, percentage valuation increase, and current home value, people would automatically receive relief on their property tax bills. All of that information already exists in the County property database. By choosing those variable values appropriately, such a formula would ensure relief reaches that those who need it the most.
What do you think is the most important strategy local government can pursue to keep the city affordable to live in?
Arguably we can’t “keep” Asheville affordable, because it’s already the most expensive place to rent or own in North Carolina. Helping to make it affordable will require a whole portfolio of strategies.
We need to revisit our Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), the zoning code, from the ground up, with an eye toward smart, environmentally responsible, equitable growth that will serve all our residents. Some of the policy tools we can use: allowing infill housing development, facilitating multi-family construction, making our permitting and inspection processes more consistent and predictable, further incentivizing the creation of affordable housing in the private sector, and promoting the creation of community land trusts.
But I also believe that city government should be more directly involved. If the city builds on its own property, it takes the ‘middle-man’ out of the equation. Eliminating that profit margin makes an important difference in the ability to build permanently deeply affordable housing.
In Europe, and even in a few places now in the US, municipalities are using the ‘social housing’ model of mixed income government-funded housing, which avoids the segregation and stigma of exclusively low-income projects.
Would you commit to the City of Asheville keeping up with the living wage as the cost of living continues to increase? What are your thoughts on how to do this while budgets are tight?
Yes. Not only is it important for the City to lead by example, it’s also important to attract and retain the staff we need. Personnel costs are the biggest portion of the city budget. We should carefully review the curve of pay scales to ensure that those at the highest salaries are not being compensated at a rate that makes it impossible to pay everyone at least a living wage.