Watauga Housing Forums Conclude with Discussion on Solutions

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News ,

The four-part Watauga Housing Forum series concluded Monday night with spirited discussions around potential solutions to the High Country’s housing challenges. The community-led work session was held at the Watauga County Community Recreation Center in front of 145 in-person participants and over 60-virtual attendees.

Lead organizer Kellie Reed-Ashcraft shared key themes and related quotes gathered during the first three sessions. Attendees watched a 15-minute video comprised of news stories and clips from documentaries that detailed projects and ideas implemented by municipalities, community owned communities, and other entities from across the country.

As with previous forums, dinner was provided free of charge to attendees thanks to F.A.R.M Café and Stick Boy Kitchen and the contributions of over a dozen community supporters and event sponsors.

Ashcraft also announced the formation of the Watauga Housing Council, which is aimed at building a coalition to focus on organizing and completing tasks related to feedback from discussion during the forums. Four sub-committees have been established, which include community outreach, potential housing solutions, current housing efforts, and fiscal priorities. An organizational meeting for the Watauga Housing Council will be held Monday, June 13, 2022, from 6:00-8:00pm at a location to be determined. There will be a Zoom version of the meeting delivered to accommodate those that cannot attend an in-person gathering.

Small group discussions were fueled by 12-pages of themes, quotes, and data points collected during the three previous forums. Participants were tasked with using the data, combined with their own experiences, to discuss potential short-term and long-term housing strategies. The conversation moved to how participants could become personally and professionally led to advocate for future action, which included opportunities to engage with the work of the Watauga Housing Council.

The final 30-minutes of the forum featured a housing fair, with resource agents providing information and answering questions from a variety of community support agencies, local non-profits, employers, and local government agencies. Resource experts from Appalachian State University, the Town of Boone, Habitat for Humanity, High Country Association of Realtors, the Mediation and Restorative Justice Center, and others were joined by community members discussing housing standards, community housing trusts, and other similar housing resources.

While this was the forum many had patiently been waiting for, experiences and outcomes varied from table to table due to opinions and mindsets associated with the various issues being discussed. Coalition building may go down as the most important achievement of this series. Bringing familiar and new partners together has helped raise the level of dialogue around a dynamic community topic.

A challenge throughout the forum series was separating fact from fiction when it comes to housing policy, standards, and legalities. Having clear definitions about the driving forces around these challenges is essential to remaining efficient and effective with advocacy efforts and future action. Many items listed in the key themes document were founded more on rumor or past circumstances and may cloud the vision of what is attainable and what remains a roadblock. That said, the steady volume of a diverse pool of participants throughout the series provided numerous new ideas worth exploring as broader community conversations continue. The key will be to combine those leads with a mindset that looks for the possible, rather than focusing on what may be impossible to achieve.

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce will be an active participant in the Watauga Housing Council and related subcommittees. These issues not only play a direct impact on our quality of life for our current High Country residents, but housing accessibility, affordability, and safety are essential in providing stability for all that seek residential options in our area. We look forward to helping further communicate the outcomes from these discussions, and provide necessary context around the challenges that have been identified.

David Jackson

President/CEO

Boone Area Chamber of Commerce