The supplemental standards for multi-family housing recently adopted by the Boone Town Council represents the absolute worst in land use regulation. Not only are they arbitrary, bigoted, and exclusionary, the new rules will lead to an increase in housing prices, not more affordable housing. I am deeply disappointed in the members of the so-called Affordable Housing Task Force(AHTF), thePlanning Commission, and the Town Council who voted for the new standards.
Simply put, the new regulations, which include establishing requirements for a “master suite”, carports, and other building requirements, will not increase housing affordability in Boone. In fact, the overwhelming mountain of evidence from every other community in this country that has enacted such regulations is that the result is that it results in an INCREASE in housing costs.
Furthermore, it is ludicrous to pretend that the regulations will contribute to “Workforce” housing.The imaginary workforce these regulations serve relies on assumptions that all workers live within a traditional family-style household with children. Any cursory review of the current demographics of Boone, Watauga County, and beyond will demonstrate that this is not the case. Also of concern is the fact that the standards runs counter to the guidelines and proposals made in the Boone 2030 master plan – a plan that went through a long process of public participation, input, and approval.
Clearly, the actual prerogative of the AHTF is to drive university students out of the local housing market and limit multifamily housing developments to those that serve a more desirable tenant. In community after community, these sorts of attempts to squelch development in order to “preserve town character” serve to promote housing discrimination and invariably lead to an escalation of housing costs, increased traffic, and a shrinking retail and property tax base as a result of residential and business growth moving outside the regulatory limits.
If the Town of Boone is serious about increasing housing affordability then it is going to have to create a regulatory environment that induces the type of development that the community requires, while encouraging the use of funding mechanisms to subsidize housing costs. I strongly suggest the following course of action:
1) Support developers applying for federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and HOME funds to produce multifamily housing. Under these programs new units are set aside for households earning less than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). In Boone, that would be $47,680. Because subsidized programs have requirements about permanent residency and student status, most students would not be eligible for this housing.
2) The Town should establish an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires a certain percentage of any new housing developments to be set aside as “affordable” based solely on income metrics, not arbitrary physical requirements. Such ordinances have been very effective in other college towns to ensure affordable housing is available to the local workforce. Examples can be found in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Rochester, NY, and throughout the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, and Florida.
3) The Town must work in partnership with the university, the County, and the development community to identify the areas most suitable forthe development of high-density student housing in compliance with the Boone 2030 master plan. Doing so will help relieve the pressure on the single-family housing market and the Town’s older neighborhoods which are bearing the brunt of the impact of high student demand driving up prices.
In their misguided attempt to create an anti-student housing policy, the AHTF, Planning Board, and Town Council have succeeded in dooming Boone to a future of spiraling housing costs, traffic, and bulldozers as developers replace the family farms and woods outside the town limits with the cheap housing we desperately need, but refuse to accept, in Boone.
J. Rosie Tighe, PhD
Assistant Professor, Geography and Planning
Appalachian State University
Author/Editor: The Affordable Housing Reader