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LETTERS / The WNC Renters Help Landlord Reviews Database is Accepting Submissions

Dear Readers,

WNC Renters Help formed in 2020 to help respond to COVID-19’s impact on renters. We are an unincorporated, volunteer-driven group— not a nonprofit or a business, just a small collection of local citizens. In addition to creating a platform for renters seeking help with housing, we’ve been researching past efforts in the area to stabilize community housing and different examples from towns like ours’ who have succeeded in doing so.

We’ve laid out the platform in order of most-immediate solutions to long-term economic structures that could permanently maintain affordable housing in Watauga. Some of the last ideas may take years, but by starting with more close-range goals we can build the people power necessary to make them happen. There are definite things we as citizens of this place can do to stop our housing from becoming harder to come by each year. And we can make sure this strange time we’re living through makes renting in the High Country more fair, instead of allowing disparities in housing opportunity to continue growing.

As part of this platform and to be of immediate use to the community, we’re creating a project page on the Booneiverse to document stories about landlord conduct and allow renters to share this information with each other in an organized fashion.

Currently, landlord ratings and reviews are scattered across the internet on google search results, Yelp profiles, and other pages. The WNC Renters Help page will bring all of these reviews into page for each landlord or rental company, and put all of these companies on a single list for renters to compare and contrast.

Individually, stories of landlord misconduct may guide our friends’ choices, but put together they tell the tale of the rental environment we as Watauga County renters are facing. No long-term solutions for local housing can work without bringing the baseline conditions in our community into the light. By uniting the voices of renters, we can show the full picture of why housing reform in Watauga is needed now, and push for the support and funding it will take to create permanent affordable housing in our area.

One driving factor of our housing crisis is Appalachian State’s transient student population. The growing school population means developers have an incentive to constantly create new student-focused housing, with price tags that only make sense if a parent, financial aid, or student loans are available to help with rent. This makes less affordable housing available in Boone every year, driving long-term residents farther out into the county. Most students will live in Boone for four years or less, meaning they don’t experience the pressure to find housing they can afford as a working professional. Similarly, the student population soaks up most of the entry-level job positions in town, driving down the average wage based on the high availability of low-experience workers.

For these reasons, the housing needs of students and long-term residents are often seen at odds with one another, creating an adversarial relationship between the two groups. Developers stoke this divide with de facto age and income discrimination, advertising housing as “student” or “non-student”. WNC Renters Help’s landlord review database will cover all of Watauga as a starting point, combining the issues and statements of students and long-term residents alike, and showing how the unchecked development of our area has put more pressure on all of us.

This database is designed to put renters of all backgrounds on the same page. This is a move we can make without waiting for permission or support. This is a step to bring renters closer through the shared struggle to find housing. This is our right as citizens to create resources that help us live, and hold the providers of our basic needs accountable to their actions.

We hope more can grow out of this platform— fundraising drives to prevent evictions, roommate and housing matching, and crowdfunding for bigger next steps. We invite everyone to share this work with us, to turn up the volume about Watauga’s housing situation and create systematic responses that we as citizens can use to protect one another.

You can submit your landlord story to WNCRentershelp@protonmail.com. If you don’t have time to write it out, we can set up time for a phone interview to get your information. Story collection will continue through September, and the database hosted on the Booneiverse wikipage the month after that. Once hosted, renters will be able to add their stories directly, to make this resource an ever-growing and ongoing tool.

Thank you! To read our full solutions platform and see visit: http://booneiverse.wikidot.com/wiki:wnc-renters-help

Stay strong, and viva la Watauga!

-Benjamin Loomis

WNC Renters Help