I received the endorsement of the AHBA (also known as Builders of the Blue Ridge Mountains) on Friday, September 23, 2022. More here.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you are interested in running for office (re-election)?
On Election Day, I will have lived in Asheville exactly ten years and one week. I moved to Asheville for its lively cultural scene, for the glorious environment, and for the wonderfully diverse, creative, quirky, open-minded, and welcoming people I met when I visited. I was lucky to buy land in Shiloh and build an affordable house when I did (thank you Barry Bialik!); even a year later that would have been out of reach for me. [For more about my background, see: https://tovish4avl.com/nina-story/.]
Like many new residents, I fell in love with Asheville. I realized that, as a relatively small city, it was possible for a person who lived here to make a real difference for the better in the lives of her neighbors. The election of 2016 galvanized my participation in local politics. I started attending City Council meetings regularly. I trace the roots of my decision to run for office to the vote to allow the transformation of the Flatiron Building from a downtown hub of local businesses, not-for-profits, and creatives to yet another hotel. [My speech to City Council prior to that decision is here: https://tovish4avl.com/spark-fuse/]
Explain what you visualize as the top three priorities facing your municipality and what solutions you bring to the table?
One overarching concern pulls together all of the most urgent issues facing Asheville right now: how can our city continue to grow responsibly and sustainably without becoming exclusively a playground for visitors and the very well-to-do? How can we retain the essential qualities that make Asheville a great place to live (and to visit)?
We need affordable housing, we need environmentally sustainable systems and infrastructure, we need reliable and widely accessible public transportation.
Our current UDO suffers from what I call “coral-reef syndrome” — it’s built up by accretion, and could stand to be revisited as a whole in light of our current challenges (rapid growth, climate change, the need to avoid sprawl). We have a confusing patchwork of overlays; a lot of what ends up in front of City Council as projects looking for variances or conditional zoning could be avoided if our code was more in line with our goals for the future.
“Affordable Housing” and “Housing Affordability” are still very relevant topics. What do you view as building impediments to affordable housing? What will you spearhead to help lessen these?
I’ve heard from a numerous sources that Asheville’s permitting/inspection process for building is inefficient, inconsistent, and frustrating. These problems are especially burdensome for smaller, local companies seeking to build affordable housing. While Councilmembers can’t intervene directly with staff, we can certainly require the City Manager to take steps to rectify the situation, ensuring that improvements address the concerns of those most affected by the problem.
I think a comprehensive UDO revision would improve transparency and predictability for all those seeking to build within city limits. Appropriate upzoning would increase the availability of land for residential properties.
A part of what makes housing unaffordable in our area is a lack of workers, what would you do to help support the development of workforce in trade industry?
I’m not sure what we can do on the municipal level to increase the availability of workers, other than ensuring affordable housing locally. It’s unreasonable to expect people to add a long commute on top of a physically demanding workday.
To the extent that City Council can (probably in collaboraiton with Buncombe County), I’d also like to see us work with our public schools to encourage interest in the trades and support students exploring apprenticeships.
What is your understanding of the costs associated with developing and/or building a home in your municipality and what’s the local government role in this equation?
Land, labor, materials, bureaucracy (and the opportunity cost of time): of these, the one that local government can most directly affect is obviously the “b-word.” As mentioned earlier, I’m confident we can streamline the permitting and inspection process—without compromising essential safety and public interest concerns. Zoning clarity would reduce costly delays and legal fees associated with seeking variances.
To the extent that city government owns suitable land, construction costs for appropriate affordable housing can be mitigated through the use of LUIG grants or designated bond funds.
What would your response be, as an elected official, to citizens who complain about too much traffic and say growth needs to be slowed?
Growth is inevitable: we’re already seeing that Asheville is becoming a haven for climate refugees who can afford to move here, and this is just the beginning. Also: the price we pay for living in a great place is that people will continue to want to join us. As a person who arrived relatively recently myself, how can I justify pulling up the drawbridge behind me? (Not to mention that there’s simply no legal or morally justifiable way to keep people out.)
Increased traffic is both a public policy and an engineering issue. With a great public transportation system — one that would appeal to a broad range of the public (including visitors) beyond necessity riders — we could take a lot of cars off the road. I’m intrigued with the possibility of a public ride-sharing service to supplement regularly scheduled routes, for example.
We’ll need to work with the state and the federal government on the design of our traffic infrastructure, with livability for all as the key concern (and that’s not necessarily the same thing as “getting everywhere as fast as possible at all times”).
Do you have a campaign manager/consultant?
Not as such. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful campaign coordinator, who helps me organize campaign events as well as recruit and organize volunteers.
How much do you expect to raise/spend on your campaign?
I’m running a very lean campaign, and rely heavily on in-kind donations and volunteer efforts. To-date I’ve raised about $6000. I don’t dare estimate how much more will come in during the next seven weeks, but I’m not anticipating a sudden, disproportionate windfall. I do anticipate that I’ll spend every penny. I welcome your contributions: tovish4avl.com/donate!
Is there any additional information you would like to share with us?
I believe that Asheville has everything it needs—the talented, hard-working people, the resources, the environment—to be a shining example of how a small city can grow while retaining its character and taking care of its whole community. We just need a city government that is responsive to the needs of its residents, that includes them in its decision-making processes early enough for it to actually make a difference, and that does the public’s business in public—so that those of us who live here can understand how decisions are reached and hold their elected officials accountable. This is our city, and we deserve a government that truly facilities our participation in the decisions that affect our lives.