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Originally published: 2013-06-15 17:52:39
Last modified: 2013-06-15 17:53:51

No clear solutions for housing issues

by Anna Oakes

A consultant's analysis painted a complex picture of Boone's housing market, but no clear solutions to affordability and workforce housing challenges were presented at a town of Boone meeting June 11.

RKG Associates, a New Hampshire-based consulting firm, presented the findings of its housing analysis to the Boone Town Council, Planning Commission and Affordable Housing Task Force at the Council Chambers. The town paid $21,665 to conduct the study.

The town received the draft housing analysis in late May, and among its conclusions is that the local housing market currently has a surplus of student housing, the Watauga Democrat reported in May.

"We conservatively estimate an oversupply of 2,000 beds currently," said Taylor Yewell, senior associate at RKG.

Yewell said the firm was skeptical of others' projections that the population would grow another 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, noting that local growth has primarily been driven by enrollment at Appalachian State University and that ASU leaders anticipate enrollment to grow by 423 students during the next decade.

"We think that the growth during that period is somewhat less than what is being forecast," he said.

Affordable housing is a challenge in the area, especially for those with annual incomes less than $35,600, the study said. The analysis estimated that a combined 6,222 student and conventional households compete for 4,333 affordable units in the area, forcing 1,889 households to seek housing their incomes can't support.

Despite a surplus in student housing, the Boone market has "no natural incentives" to compel developers to build anything other than student housing or expensive second homes, the draft study stated.

"The land is, by all accounts, it's expensive, so whatever's built here has to turn a profit. It has to reflect the value of the land," Yewell said.

Yewell said affordable workforce housing could come from the rehabilitation of older student housing properties located in the outer areas of Boone.

Owners of older properties closer to the ASU campus likely have less incentive to upgrade, he said, because there will always be demand for sites close to campus.

While the study observed that "lower end" student housing stock is being vacated in favor of newer projects, the vacant stock left behind is not necessarily suitable for families.

"Those types of units are limited because so much was configured for student occupation," Yewell said. "That's dominant in this market."

Yewell said intervention by the town and county is needed to achieve affordable workforce housing -- either by incentives, legislation that discourages an over-proliferation of student housing or both.

"I think you knew that when you hired us on to do the study," he said.

Some at the presentation indicated they felt the market would soon provide more affordable options for the workforce.

"I think some of your affordable housing will take care of itself," said Rob Holton of Holton Mountain Rentals. "They're going to figure out they need to do something different. I think extra (bed)rooms will be converted to other uses, more like what a family would need."

Sam Furgiuele, town attorney and member of the Affordable Housing Task Force, asked why the market had not provided more options if there is already a student housing surplus.

"It doesn't happen overnight," replied Planning Commissioner Jeff Templeton.

Under market influences alone, developers could simply choose to tear down older buildings and build new student housing, Yewell said.

He said the town needs to work with owners case by case to eventually create momentum in affordable workforce housing.