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Do Economic Development Incentives Exacerbate the Affordable Housing Crisis?


On top of the county’s gift, state and federal agencies were going to partner to provide $999,824 in road improvements. Then, the Golden Leaf Foundation and the Economic Development Association were going to finance over $160,000 in water and sewer improvements. Upgrades would include a new pump connected to the City of Asheville’s water system, which would provide the area five times Avadim’s needs.

Avadim’s chairman of the board and CEO Steve Woody said citizens would be surprised to learn how many organizations are involved in awarding incentives. Seven years ago, when he didn’t think his company was going to grow that much, the Economic Development Coalition connected him to the Black Mountain site. “Jobs don’t happen by accident,” he said, but from the networking of entrepreneurs and government administrators.

During public comment, Jerry Rice challenged the economic development incentive charade. Creighton, with his famous color charts, had shown the county’s award would spur almost a 20,000-percent return on investment and directly and indirectly create 3000 jobs. Rice said of all the presentations he has made through the years were true, the public should be feeling the impact. “I don’t think it’s as pretty as the marketing strategy.”

Rice then attacked the job creation. “One hundred jobs at $89,440? Hoo! Where they gonna ship them in here from? Or are they already here? Have they been through AB Tech?” He continued, “Now, the 290 people at $30,000, they’re probably going to end up down at [Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone’s] office at DSS getting subsidy. So, are we going to fix the problems?”

Commissioner Ellen Frost said it was seldom she agreed with Rice, but she was concerned about the 190. She estimated average rents for the area around $1200 a month. Addressing Woody, she asked that he “somehow come up with a better answer for Buncombe County taxpayers,” and “really search [his] heart because it’s a beautiful area and we have a wonderful workforce here, but they’re struggling for places to live.”

As if that weren’t enough, Commissioner Al Whitesides hinted Woody should assist his employees with childcare. The commissioners have been concerned of late about access to and costs of daycare. A restless person in the audience wondered where he would get the money for higher wages and perks if he couldn’t finance the expansion without government help.

In addition to creating jobs, Avadim manufactures 30-50 topical therapies that prevent infection and accelerate healing. One therapy practically eliminates catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

The commissioners then had two opportunities to increase the county’s affordable housing stock. One request was small. James and Lisa Hall wanted to haul a mobile home on premises for Lisa’s aging mother. They had done the same for James’ mother, so they didn’t expect much difficulty. But a third mobile home would require a zoning change that would technically spot-zone the parcel as a mobile home park. Hall promised to remove the home as soon as it was no longer needed, but the neighborhood was up in arms.

Hall reminded the commissioners how zoning came to be in Buncombe County. After voters rejected it in a 1999 referendum, the commissioners enacted it in 2009. Zoning had reduced the value of Hall’s property, because it limited how he could use it. Zoning protects neighborhoods from pragmatic family decisions, but it can always be changed to accommodate the wealthy and connected.

Citizen Dede Styles recalled another time the commissioners refused to let an Iraq War veteran set up a trailer for him and his wife on his grandfather’s land. She noted the commissioners were not concerned about the way expensive housing changes the character of neighborhoods, even though increased property taxes marginalize struggling natives.

The planning board and county staff had, with regret, rejected the proposal; and the commissioners agreed the zoning ordinance had to change. Mike Fryar and Joe Belcher championed the cause of amending the ordinance to allow people to better live affordably and care for family members. Commissioner Robert Pressley said he had received twenty-six calls in the forty-eight hours following the posting of the rezoning notice. He, however, argued the ordinance should be upheld or a precedent would be set for families to set up tents or campers wherever they wanted.

Five commissioners voted in favor of the flawed law; Fryar and Belcher favored mercy. The commissioners did, at least, approve a rezoning in Grovemont for a subdivision of homes to be priced around $225,000. Only Frost voted against it.

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