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Feichter pushes for affordable housing in Waynesville

A slide from Waynesville Alderman Jon Feichter’s affordable housing presentation details the rise in housing costs over the last few years. Donated photo A slide from Waynesville Alderman Jon Feichter’s affordable housing presentation details the rise in housing costs over the last few years. Donated photo

Waynesville Alderman Jon Feichter says that he’s proud of the concrete steps previous town boards took to address the affordable housing crisis, but if the presentation he made during a March 4 budget retreat had any impact, the town will soon embrace a less passive approach to one of the region’s most troublesome issues. 

“Since fairly early in my first term, affordable housing has become one of my pet projects, and it stems from the fact that as somebody who grew up here and left thinking he would never come back, I was able to do that,” Feichter said. “The cost of housing in 2000 was pretty high, roughly comparable to Atlanta. Thinking about the opportunity in being able to return home, it was a blessing. I think about the next generation — our kids — not being able to have that same opportunity because the cost of housing has risen so exponentially.” 

Feichter’s presentation largely mirrored a Sept. 2, 2020, story in The Smoky Mountain News exploring housing cost burden. 

In that story, county statistics on average home sale prices from the region’s MLS service were compared to median income from the U.S. Census Bureau. Using to calculate the cost of a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent with a down payment of 10 percent, affordability was then evaluated based on the “28 percent rule.”

That rule states that homeowners should spend no more than 28 percent of adjusted gross income on housing cost, and the results of the story showed that in no county from Buncombe west could someone afford an average-priced home. Since that September story, it’s only gotten worse. An average home in Haywood County — then $285,050 — is now $305,000 or more. 

Wage growth remains stagnant. Waynesville’s poverty rate of 18 percent is higher than both Haywood County’s and North Carolina’s. When looking at area median income, Waynesville residents bring home on average 21 percent less than their Haywood County neighbors, and 28 percent less than other North Carolinians. 

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“More than 43 percent of our citizens bring home less than $35,000 and another 12.2 percent bring home less than $50,000,” Feichter said during the presentation. Not surprisingly, 55 percent of Waynesville residents work in food service, entertainment, education, health care, social services or retail, which are typically among the lowest-paying jobs. 

That’s what led Feichter to propose an affordable housing trust fund that could provide low-interest loans to developers, possibly in collaboration with the county or other municipalities. 

Capitalizing that fund would require some income streams. Loan interest could help, as could carving out one cent of property tax dedicated to the trust, but both of those options would likely take years to build up enough principal to create a self-sustaining fund that only spends its income each year without having to dip into the principal. 

The quickest way to get a trust up and running would be through a general obligation bond, which would require voter buy-in. 

Alderman Chuck Dickson, who’s also been active in addressing the affordable housing issue, mentioned a litany of other local stakeholders working on the issue, including the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership, Mountain Projects, Canopy, EACH and even the town’s own homelessness task force. 

“I absolutely do not want any kind of program to operate in a vacuum,” Feichter said. “One of the tenets I proposed was establishing and enhancing partnerships with organizations like the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership, Mountain projects, Habitat for Humanity, the Waynesville Housing Authority and the [homelessness] task force that are doing this kind of work. Those folks have been in the game and pushing for so long, and my goal is to make sure that Waynesville is doing everything it possibly can to be an equal partner in that effort.”

Feichter said he’d also be looking for ways to revitalize existing communities in Waynesville, perhaps in the manner of North Main Street’s redevelopment zone. 

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