ASHEVILLE - An 80-unit micro-housing development coming to the South Slope is seeking $592,790 in city subsidies, though some residents and council members are skeptical of the development's promise of affordability.
Though the project itself does not require Asheville City Council approval, the developer has applied for taxpayer subsidies for its 16 affordable units, which requires a final vote from council June 14.
Located at 217 Hilliard, the five-story building is planned for a 0.18-acre vacant lot next to the now-closed Hot Spot at the corner of Hilliard and Asheland avenues
The project is the city's first micro-housing development. All units are between 180-250 square feet with 20% committed to be affordable for 20 years at 80% of the area median income or below.
Each apartment is roughly the same size as a double dorm room at UNC Asheville.
David Moritz, a managing partner with developer Mori Blue Holdings LLC, said he is enthusiastic to bring more "workforce housing" to the city, which he said is "sorely needed."
Though only 16 of the 80 proposed units, or 20%, will be deeded affordable, he said the entire development would be "reasonably priced, that people can afford."
After a June 14 public hearing, council will vote to approve the project for a Land Use Incentive Grant, a city property tax abatement program in exchange for affordable housing.
Though 16 units of affordable housing is better than nothing, said Dee Williams, president and CEO of nonprofit Eagles' Wings Community Development Corp., this model of affordability is "not a sustainable fix," and is only a temporary solution to a systemic problem — a racial wealth gap that is causing displacement and gentrification in historically Black neighborhoods like that of South Slope and Southside.
Voicing similar concerns, at an April 27 Housing and Community Development Committee, Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith was the only holdout vote on the project. A native of the South Slope area, she said without a promise of more affordability, it will not get her support.
For a one-person household, 80% AMI is $42,100 or $48,100 for a two-person household. Asheville's affordability rates for studio or efficiency apartments is set at $884 without utilities and $1,053 with utilities included.
Moritz said while the 16 units are obligated to meet the city's definition of affordability, the remaining units will be rented at market rates. He could not confirm actual prices until the project is built, but said the goal is for rents to fall below $1,000, including utilities.
“Our strategy is to make most of the units basically affordable for people who work in Asheville," Moritz said.
2 weeks with no movement: What comes next for the 1st request of Asheville Reparations?
Jones Park: After demo, rebuild of Jones Park playground caught in game of 'political football'
Under the estimated tax value of $7.2 million post-completion, the annual city property tax would be approximately $29,016. The city would likely grant around $28,228 back to the property owner annually after payment for 21 years.
Michael Wasmer lives on the north end of Southside, just outside of South Slope, and can nearly see the project site from his house.
He said the proposed project has not generated much neighborhood opposition, if any, and the subsidy savings themselves seem to add up.
"The numbers are kind of okay, it's just obviously the product isn't the same as what these numbers are usually applied to," he said of the LUIGI grant for the Hilliard project. He's had concerns surrounding LUIGI grants in the past — worrying that they are offloading development needs onto the larger community, and bumping the local tax rate, even minimally.
"I don't think anybody in my neighborhood is opposed to that project, and some people do see it as a novel way of getting people housed (and) having some opportunities for workforce housing if people are willing to live in a dorm."
Sasha Vrtunski, interim affordable housing officer with the city, said the project has not yet received its zoning permit, but will soon.
According to project plans, there is a kitchen, lounge and laundry facility for shared use on every floor. Each unit has a private bathroom and a half-kitchen, with a sink and an area for a microwave or other small appliances. There is also a rooftop deck planned for the building.
Littering: Asheville mutual aid volunteers face 'absurd' felony littering charges, lawyer says
Moritz hopes the new units will encourage residents to use amenities downtown, like parks, public transportation and its bustling businesses, and envisions a more local presence in a corridor becoming known for restaurants, breweries and trendy housing.
“I love seeing a vibrant downtown," Moritz said. "I think that there have been some rumblings of people saying, 'oh, it’s a lot of tourists,' and of course we’re a tourist town … I think one thing more apartment buildings downtown would bring is more local people enjoying downtown on a regular basis."
The project will break ground this summer and construction will last 12 to 18 months, with completion slated for 2023.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.