The housing crisis in this country and in the High Country has reached epic proportions. Shockingly, in the High Country housing is a barrier for professionally employed individuals as well as individuals who qualify for low-income housing.

Anyone seeking an apartment for less than $2000/month or to purchase a home for less than $400,000 will find few options available. There just are very few houses or apartments to buy or rent. This crisis pervades all areas of our district from the most rural areas of Alleghany County to the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone. If you are looking to purchase a home with a million-dollar price tag, you are likely to be spoiled for choice. Otherwise, you may need to consider looking over the border in Tennessee or north into Virginia.

We struggle to recruit teachers, health care workers, farmworkers, skilled service workers, and other essential members of our workforce desperately needed in the High Country because, even if employed, there is no place within a reasonable commute for them to live.


Seeking Solutions

The Watauga County Housing Forum, hosted an excellent series of four community-led Forums on housing in the High Country, which I was fortunate to attend. The Forums were hosted at the Watauga Community Recreational Center in Boone, which is a phenomenal facility. There were approximately 130-140 in-person attendees and 70 attendees via Zoom at each session.

In all my years of attending educational programs, I’ve never met attendees who were more engaged or more committed to finding solutions to a problem than this group. The attendees included elected county and town officials, representatives from non-profits, real estate, building and construction, faith organizations, healthcare, education, as well as individuals who have experienced first-hand dealing with housing issues, and truly caring citizens who just want the world to be a better place by addressing the housing crisis in our area.

I’d like to give a shout-out to Stick Boy and the Farm Café for providing delicious and healthy light box dinners at these Forums as well as many other organizations who were sponsors. Without their support, these Forums would not have been possible. These Forums are perfect examples of what communities can accomplish when they put their hearts and souls (and brains!) into a project.

Collaboration is Essential

Kellie Reed-Ashcraft, lead organizer arranged an in-depth and immensely informative series of guest speakers and discussion groups. The topics discussed concerned a range of factors which directly, or indirectly impact this situation including safety, accessibility, and affordability. The speakers presented unsheltered, the impact of Covid-19, the influx of second-home owners, problematic local ordinances, inattentive landlords, outside capitalists, lack of local infrastructure for water and sewer, transportation links, the tension between the desire to protect our beautiful ridgelines and water ways and the need for development, resistance to urban sprawl, rising taxes, and attractive property valuations for those looking to sell.

Finding the Capacity and the Will to Compromise

It became clear that the solutions to this crisis are as complex as the contributing factors. Any effort to address the need for expanding housing in all but the highest price ranges will need to be multi-faceted and will depend on the creativity and flexibility of the entire community. Collaboration among the multitude of stakeholders will be essential if we are to address this urgent need. The solutions will need to involve state and local government, non-profits, the business sector, environmental groups, local landowners, and consumers. We have the capacity to work together. We need the will to succeed and the willingness to find acceptable compromises.

Watuaga Housing Council Organizing

Kellie Reed-Ashcraft announced the formation of the Watauga Housing Council that will hold its first organizational meeting on June 14, 2022. My hat’s off to everyone who planned, organized, lead, marketed, and participated in the Forums, and for those willing to take the next steps by supporting and participating with the Council.

Featured photo by Robin Jonathan Deutsch on Unsplash