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During the research phase, it was determined that West Jefferson struggles to offer its residents available and affordable housing. For example, Altas heard many concerns from local residents and employers that the existing housing stock does not meet the needs of current and future residents. These statements were supported by data and public input demonstrating a strong desire by the public for more single-family homes (to rent and to buy). It appeared that there were no concrete plans or strategies in place to address some of these challenges.


Atlas recommends developing a Comprehensive Housing Strategy to address West Jefferson’s current housing challenges

Phase I: Bring Together Key Stakeholders

To build out a successful housing strategy, a collection of strategic partnerships is necessary to be successful. Although one entity might be the leader of the initiative, it will take a network of partners to collaborate and develop a strategy that truly works to benefit the community.

STEP 1: Identify the entity that will serve as the leader

The leading entity will form a committee of key community stakeholders to develop a plan addressing West Jefferson’s current housing challenges, then explore and implement applicable solutions to meet the community’s needs. Although it is a small team, Atlas recommends that the Town of West Jefferson take on this role and assign responsibilities amongst each staff member to allow for better capacity building. If funding is available, a dedicated full-time staff member would be ideal to lead this initiative. 

STEP 2: Form a Housing Committee

Once the leading entity is determined, a Housing Committee should be formed of additional key stakeholders in West Jefferson that have shared interests and involvement with the housing industry e.g., local housing developers, a housing authority, local/regional employers, real estate companies/agents, engaged renters and homeowners, etc. 

The process of working together to develop the housing strategy will build a resource network, bridging the current disconnect between local groups that should be cohesively working together to solve some of West Jefferson’s housing issues.

Phase II: Review Existing Housing Projects & Resources

Atlas has provided an in-depth housing report in West Jefferson; however, it’s important that additional research and discussion occurs by the Housing Committee to have a holistic view of all the activities and projects related to housing in the community. 

STEP 1: Get the lay of the land on housing

After the Housing Committee is formed, it is important that the group have a full understanding of what is happening in West Jefferson in terms of housing-related activities. 

The committee should also have regular discussions  around current challenges, goals, and objectives of fellow members’ respective industries and sectors. A discussion of existing policies and ordinances, such as current zoning and land use policies should occur to identify any potential barriers. 

STEP 2: Establish priorities for the Housing Strategy

Once collective information has been shared and additional resources reviewed, the Housing Committee should begin to identify emerging housing priorities.

As the Committee works to create a list of priorities, it’s important to remember that these priorities can be identified but do not need to be achieved all at once. Trying to solve all of the housing problems at the same time can make the process seem unattainable and overwhelming. It’s important to be determined but realistic, and separating priorities as an immediate need to a secondary need can help alleviate the feeling of taking on too much. 

STEP 3: Identify measurable goals & actions for each priority

After the priorities have been identified and established by the Housing Committee, it’s time to identify high-level goals and specific, feasible actions to achieve each priority. 

For example, if a priority for West Jefferson is to expand the existing housing stock, a goal that would help meet that priority could be planning and developing a new housing development site. 

In order to do that, actions that must be taken include identifying where the lots would be, how many, who the developer is, what potential incentives West Jefferson could offer, etc. 

This is just one approach on how to expand existing housing stock. Atlas reiterates that there are a variety of ways to achieve each priority and sometimes it takes multiple approaches in order to do so. 

Additionally, Atlas recommends that West Jefferson take the iterative approach by addressing one or two immediate and manageable priorities initially, and as capacity increases, move on to other priorities and establish goals and actions. 

Here's an idea...

The Housing Committee should be on the look out and review any potential plans, housing assessments, etc. that come available to gain a better understanding of housing in the area. For example, at the time this plan was developed, the Town of West Jefferson was administering a Land Use Plan Survey and a housing assessment was being conducted for Ashe County.

Additionally, Atlas recommends researching communities, especially comparable in size, who might have updated housing plans in place. There are a number of online resources, like Local Housing Solutions, Policy Map, and National Rural Housing Coalition, that can provide additional housing information. Here are a few examples that can provide insight to what a Comprehensive Housing Strategy looks like:

Our Two Cents

Initial priorities for West Jefferson

Based off of data collected during this project, Atlas recommends that the Housing Committee consider the following priorities for West Jefferson:

  • Increasing Access to Homeownership
  • Rental Housing Affordability
  • Increasing Market-rate Housing Options
  • 3D Printed Housing Developments

Here are some goals and actions which can help address the existing housing challenges:


West Jefferson’s homeownership rate has decreased roughly 20% over the past decade and now has a majority renter-occupied population.

At the time this plan was developed, West Jefferson had zero HUD homes for sale, demonstrating a significant need in improving access to homeownership for low-to-moderate income levels. Implementing policies that aid current renters to achieving homeownership can help reverse this cycle.

  • Inclusionary Zoning: This can be applied to for-sale projects/developments and guarantee a certain number of affordable homes for income-restricted populations.
  • Homeownership Education and Counseling: Households can be prepared for homeownership and better understand barriers, such as predatory lending or unaffordable mortgage products.
  • Employer-assisted Housing: For employers that are having difficulty hiring (or retaining) employees in the area, it would be advantageous to explore this opportunity. This could be in the form of down payment assistance or the employer(s) investing in a stock of dedicated affordable homes.
  • Non-traditional Mortgages
    • Shared Appreciation Mortgages: Typically zero interest and deferred principal loans, this type of mortgage is repaid when the owner sells or refinances the property as well as a percentage of the home value appreciation.
    • Subsidized Mortgages: Partner with a state or local housing finance agency that can provide alternative mortgage products that bridge the gap between low- and moderate-income individuals/families who want to purchase a home.
    • Small-balance Home Mortgages: Almost 20% of West Jefferson’s existing housing stock is valued at $99,000 or less, which can make it difficult for potential homeowners to receive a mortgage loan. By collaborating with local entities, such as community banks, credit unions, and community development financial institutions (CDFIs), loans can be made available to eligible homeowners.
  • Housing Trust Fund: Establishing a fund that can assist potentially qualified buyers with upfront costs, such as down payments and closing costs. 
  • Limited Equity Cooperative: Potential buyers purchase a share of the development rather than a unit and then resell their share at a determined price. Long-term affordability and individual wealth can be developed through this model.

Rental Housing Affordability

Roughly 67% of renters are cost-burdened (paying more than 30% of their income towards housing). Therefore, the Town should explore the following policies to increase the affordability of rental housing.

  • Revising Zoning Policies: Zoning should allow for alternative lower-cost housing options, such as tiny homes and/ or accessory dwelling units (ADUs). 
  • Tenant-based Assistance
    • Housing Choice Voucher: West Jefferson has a 93% occupancy of Housing Choice Voucher housing units and has an anticipated 12 month waiting list for HUD-assisted housing. 
    • HOME Program: Tap into federal HOME funds to expand the amount of tenant-based rental assistance available to eligible individuals/families in West Jefferson. These funds can be allocated to specific groups (aging population, disabled, etc.) as well as utilized for other housing costs, such as security deposits or utility bills.

Increasing Market-rate Housing Options

Data indicates that the number of housing units and specific types of housing have not been able to keep up with the demand. The following policies and tools should be explored to properly assess new housing developments that can be achieved through a balanced approach:

  • Modification of Housing Regulations: Several studies indicate that stricter land use regulations have less new construction and higher prices, especially for single-family homes.
  • Brownfield Redevelopment: Atlas was made aware of a number of sites in West Jefferson that are occupied by vacant or blighted buildings. Funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can assist in the assessment, and potential clean up and development of a site that qualifies for Brownfield funding.  
  • Revolving Loan Fund: This is a gap financing tool that can aid in attracting developers to build housing developments in communities with soft housing markets. An RLF can be used to impact the project through flexible loan terms and lower interest rates. Since it is a self-replenishing fund, it can also be utilized for multiple projects throughout the duration of its existence.

Atlas recommends developers and other key stakeholders interested in building new market-rate housing options utilize the Inclusionary Housing Calculator. This tool can help communities, developers, etc. assess the cost of new housing developments and determine which units are more feasible than others. The Housing Committee can use this calculator with potential developers to come up with realistic costs associated with the project, potential incentives needed to support the project, and financial metrics needed to be hit in order to make the project feasible.

3D Printed Housing Developments

3D printing is a new solution for the current housing crisis by making homes more affordable and accessible, as well as environmentally friendly. This is a technology that West Jefferson can tap into for increasing market-rate housing options. However, just like a typical housing development, there are a few prerequisites that need to be implemented in order to be an attractive site for 3D printing homes.

  • Ensure that the Town of West Jefferson invokes approves adequate land use and building codes that specifically allow for 3D printed homes
    • Alquist can provide guidance in the process
  • The Town will need to obtain land for site development and complete any modifications needed to adequately prepare the site e.g. clearing, grading, running utilities, paving roadways, etc.
    • Ideally, the more land acquired the better. If Alquist can print a larger number of homes, the cost savings increase, making each home more affordable.
  • Once the land is acquired and prepared for a 3D housing developer, the Town will need to determine a price per lot, most likely at a reduced price or no cost. Lot prices allow for more upfront savings to the 3D developer and future homeowner, but can be recouped by the Town with increased number of units paying property taxes, number of new children enrolled in the local school system, and social spending many individuals and/or families will spend in the community.

*These are educated recommendations. Specific models can be discussed with Alquist 3D to determine the true cost of land, number of lots, and number of homes that will be built.

Phase III: Implement

Once the Housing Committee has agreed upon specific priorities, set attainable goals, and identified actions to take, it’s time to implement! As Atlas emphasized in Phase I, collaboration among key stakeholders is the key to success––early-on collaboration is needed to develop a strategy that will generate buy-in and support from the necessary stakeholders.

It’s important to reiterate that Atlas’ recommendations (Homeownership, Rental Housing Affordability, and Increasing Market-rate Housing Options) are only a piece of a holistic strategy. Further discussions among the Housing Committee, elected officials, and community residents will shed light on other priorities that may have not been addressed in this plan.

Remember––this is an iterative process and requires multiple approaches to get to the desired outcome. The initial vision of the strategy could look completely different as the community moves through each priority.