Asheville considers additional zoning reform to improve real estate prices and supply

Asheville considers additional zoning reform to improve real estate prices and supply
Asheville considers additional zoning reform to improve real estate prices and supply

ASHEVILLE – Addressing the estimated deficit of homes for sale in Western North Carolina, which the 2021 Bowen National Study found to be 3,096, has been a priority for local public officials and community members for years.

In the years since the study was released, the situation has only gotten worse. Consider, for example, that median home sales prices in Asheville have risen from $400,000 in 2021 to $485,000 in 2023, according to market reports from Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty. Megan Carroll, executive director of the Builders Association of the Blue Ridge Mountains, believes the rapid price increase underscores the urgency of building new homes.

“This problem is getting worse and I think it has been exacerbated by the cost debate,” Carroll said of the region’s housing shortage.

Now those building new housing, as well as city and county officials working to improve supply and lower housing costs, are trying to implement solutions by proposing new zoning reforms.

Asheville city staff have now put forward a proposal to amend the city’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) in collaboration with city advisory bodies and the public to address the housing crisis.

At the July 8 Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting, City of Asheville Planning Director Stephanie Monson Dahl introduced a city project to update the UDO. The project would allow the City Council, housing advisory boards and the community to work together over the next 12 to 18 months to develop proposals that address “housing supply, diversity and location.”

Two “packages” of housing changes already in the works were described during the meeting as a “soft start” to the plan. The first proposal includes changes already widely rolled out as a result of the Missing Middle Housing study and is designed to lower parking requirements and thresholds for the city’s review of permits and allow for the development of more flag lots – the nickname for undeveloped land near current residential areas. The changes are scheduled to go before the City Council in September.

A second package of UDO changes would address reducing barriers to building manufactured housing and affordable housing, as well as finding ways to encourage development along transportation corridors. City staff expect to bring those changes to City Council in January.

Carroll believes the plan to allow development of flag lots, as well as other recommendations from the Missing Middle campaign, would be “very helpful,” but also says the proposals are just one piece of a larger puzzle of “creative solutions” needed to address the housing crisis.

“There is nothing we are going to do that will suddenly make everything better,” Carroll told the Citizen Times.

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Despite all efforts, the housing shortage is growing

Although growth in Western North Carolina can be seen by walking through the River Arts District, where new housing is being built, or at Asheville Regional Airport, which is currently undergoing a major overhaul, the region’s housing shortage has worsened in recent years.

In June, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies released a study showing that Asheville has the highest income-to-home price ratio in the state, with the average home in the city costing 6.5 times the region’s median income.

During a City Council work session on June 25, Jerah Smith of Enterprise Community Partners told the council that the community’s feeling of being “left behind” is “validated” by the affordable housing plan developed by the nonprofit. The plan estimates that the city would need to build nearly 14,000 units by 2050 to keep up with population growth.

One of the concerns raised by City Council member Sage Turner during both the work session and at a recent Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting was ensuring that housing remains affordable in Asheville. Turner suggested exploring possible incentives to further encourage the construction of affordable housing.

“We are so far behind on affordability that if we just let the market go and build the 5,000 housing units we would like to have tomorrow, we are not going to meet the lower targets that we need,” she said during the July 8 meeting.

City and county officials have been working for years to provide more money for affordable housing in the region. The city of Asheville has funded 2,315 affordable housing units since 2001, and in 2022 Buncombe County issued a $40 million affordable housing bond. The bond has already funded millions in projects,

As for building affordable housing, Carroll noted that local nonprofits like BeLoved Asheville — a local nonprofit that has built several tiny homes aimed at high affordability in the 30 to 40 percent range of the area’s median income — could become a “really interesting model across the country” while also providing local solutions.

“I think we have a lot of people around us who are doing a really great job of finding housing solutions for people who may not traditionally have as many options,” Carroll said.

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Will Hofmann is the growth and development reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected]. Please support this kind of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times..