second Watauga Housing Forum discusses accessibility in housing | Local News
BOONE – The Watauga Housing Forum met March 28 for the second time to discuss housing affordability issues in Watauga County.
Kellie Reed Ashcraft, the facilitator of the Watauga Housing Forum, welcomed the participants to the event and presented the theme of the evening: accessibility in housing.
According to the 2021 High Country Housing Needs Assessment, a well-balanced rental occupancy rate is typically 94-96%. The Watauga County market has an occupancy rate of 99.9%. This is an indicator of a significant shortage of rental housing.
Watauga Housing Forum co-host Jamie Byrch presented a video he helped create. The video featured several interviews with local residents who experienced housing affordability issues firsthand.
Respondents recounted experiences of not being able to find housing, not being able to see rental accommodation before signing a lease, and many other issues related to finding housing.
Byrch noted that the community members who spoke out in the video are not isolated events and that all of the issues they addressed are common throughout the High Country.
After the video, Ashcraft introduced the four panelists who spoke at the event, Jorge Escobar, co-chair of the Immigrant Justice Coalition, Marnie Salwson of Hospitality House of Northwest NC, Marisa Cornell, executive director of Mediation and Restorative Justice Center, and Yolanda Adams of Watauga County Schools and Q’Pasa Appalachia.
Panelists introduced themselves and answered questions raised by attendees.
Ashcraft asked panelists what resonated with them the most after watching the video with people sharing their housing experiences.
The panel touched on issues that are less talked about, such as incarcerated people trying to find housing and community members who have difficulty finding housing that allows pets.
Those who attended, both virtually and in person, broke into small groups to discuss housing affordability data and their own personal experiences with housing in Watauga County.
With so many students in Watauga County, student housing is yet another issue. Based on recently built off-campus housing data, there was an occupancy rate of 100%, which is incredibly high when it comes to rental housing, according to the 2021 High Countries Housing Needs Assessment .
Appalachian State University student Stephen Poupart addressed the panel regarding housing as a student at Boone.
“We have to pay very high rents for what’s available to students,” he said. “We are always competing against everyone. It just makes a situation difficult.
Another problem in terms of accessibility in housing is the limited access to cars and groceries. The 2021 High Country Housing Needs Assessment said Watauga County has 501 to 1,000 households that do not have access to a car and live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store.
Additionally, the county has 0.01 to 0.1 grocery stores and supermarkets per 1,000 residents, depending on the assessment.
The next housing forum, on April 11, will focus on housing affordability.