Family Friendly Affordable Buncombe – Next Steps for Success
Recommendations for local public investments to build on an historic first year
February 18, 2020
Last year, Family Friendly Affordable Buncombe (FFAB) called for significant new public investments in the intertwined, foundational issues facing families: Early childhood education, housing affordability, and transit. Elected leaders at the City of Asheville and Buncombe County stepped up and allocated $4.5 million in new funding to meet the FFAB requests in Fiscal Year 2020 (July 2019-June 2020).
Now is the time to build on this momentum for local families. Additional investments in these three areas yield educational, health, and workforce benefits that pay off now and in the future for our county. As City and County leaders begin budget preparations for next fiscal year (FY21 begins July 1, 2020), here are the Family Friendly Affordable Buncombe budget recommendations:
Early Childhood Education - $1,900,000 additional
Increase the County’s Early Childhood Education Fund to $5.5M ($1.9M increase)
FFAB applauds the Buncombe County Commissioners for creating a $3.6M Early Childhood Education Fund (with a 2% annual increase) and establishing the County Early Childhood Committee. Staff leadership worked quickly to seat the Early Childhood Committee in time to review the first year of grant applications before the May budget vote.
However, when past commitments to early childhood and to local school districts were tallied, the committee only had the ability to consider and fund $1.9M (not $3.6M) in new funding from grant requests exceeding $9M. If the County had allocated $3.6M in new funding for the Early Childhood Fund instead of counting existing spending, the total would be $5.5M. This investment level will help the county attract additional private and philanthropic investments that will be noticeable and meaningful for working families seeking affordable, high-quality opportunities for their young children.
What this investment provides:
- Maintaining and supporting quality, affordable early childhood programs staffed by great teachers – due to state funding issues alongside local workforce issues, we face a real threat to our capacity to enroll young children. This funding can promote well-paid, well-educated teachers and provide more parents affordable options for their young children.
- Increased trauma responsive supports for early childhood programs to build the skills and relationships between families, teachers, and children that support success and resiliency.
Housing Affordability - $1,500,000 additional
Increase the County Housing budget to a minimum $5M ($1.2M increase)
FFAB celebrates the new $1.4M in the County budget for housing and the creation of the new Affordable Housing Committee. And, the new committee is already having to make impossible choices with funding requests to the Affordable Housing Services Program (AHSP) exceeding available resources. Recently, the committee was unable to fully fund important home repair and new construction proposals that are essential to addressing our local housing crisis.
FFAB supports increasing the county allocation to an annual minimum of $5M as well as creating a separate funding application process for new construction loans/grants from the other AHSP funding areas. As the County finishes its funding commitments to the Lee Walker Heights redevelopment, the County should set targets and develop a funding stream to help leverage construction using the 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
City Housing Trust Fund allocation of $600,000, with additional funds for other non-construction initiatives that support housing affordability and access (minimum $300,000 increase)
FFAB recognizes the support City Council provides to the Housing Trust Fund and implementation of the City’s $25M affordable housing bond that will wrap up in 2024 with expanded homeownership and rental investments. FFAB proposes increasing the allocation to the Housing Trust Fund by $100,000 for a total of $600,000. Additionally, the City should have funds ($200,000 minimum) available for innovative efforts that could increase utilization of Housing Choice Vouchers and provide general operating support to support the Asheville Buncombe Community Land Trust in creating permanently affordable housing, among other ideas.
What this investment provides:
- 200-300 new affordable apartments/homes approved to begin construction.
- 100+ existing homes renovated to keep existing residents in safe, affordable homes.
- 20+ new families able to find a place to rent with Housing Choice Vouchers – there are over 200 Housing Choice Vouchers in our county that go unused because of low vacancy rates and unwillingness from some landlords to accept the voucher for payment.
Transit - $4,200,000 additional
Full funding for Year 1 and Year 2 of the Transit Master Plan $4.4M ($3.2M increase)
FFAB thanks City Council for making Transit a #1 priority in 2019 and investing $1.2M in additional service hours in 2020. FFAB continues to support full implementation of the City’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) that will add hours of service, more frequency, and new routes to our City’s bus service (ART). This funding request will cover the full-year costs of the TMP expansions for the first two years of the 10-year plan.
County funds to maintain existing transit service and assist in preparations for local transit to implement fare-free service – estimated at $1M ($1M increase)
FFAB thanks the County for expanding transit routes on Leicester Highway and keeping the County’s Trailblazer Transit system fare-free. A recent proposal from Commission Chair Newman to use county funds to expand fare-free service to the ART system would be a major step in supporting the Transit Master Plan – which includes fare-free weekends under the first year’s plan.
What this investment provides:
- ART routes running until 10 PM or later (Mon-Sat, Sunday routes until 8 PM) making transit more viable for families working in service and retail jobs and able to attend evening school events.
Increased bus ridership as fare-free both supports the household economics of current bus riding families and attracts new riders that opt to leave a car at home – a win for congestion and air quality in the County.