Your Name: Sage Turner, SageForAsheville.com

Why are you running for Asheville City Council?

To continue and improve the day to day and long term work of the city, including getting on top of infrastructure and facilities needs, continuing efforts to grow affordable housing, continuing successful efforts to rebuild and reimagine public safety and community response, improve and steady our core city services, work towards fairer tourism tax spending, grow partnership with area and local partners to strengthen the region, and focus policies that create a more sustainable city.

If elected, what are your top three priorities for Asheville?

-Housing efforts to improve affordability and livability while preserving our small city quality of life

-Infrastructure and its long term care and maintenance, including pools, parks, local roads, sidewalks, water systems, etc

-Public safety and community wide response to mental health crises, addiction services, and crime

Fair market rate for rental housing increased 78% in five years in the Asheville area (according to a recent article in the Citizen-Times). Most independent restaurant employees don’t meet the eligibility requirements for affordable housing, what strategies and incentives will you use to increase the stock of workforce housing?

We need to find the legal path for tourism tax dollars to build homes for the industry’s workforce. Two million a year could get a solid housing program off the ground. Many believe the TDA board can make this change under the current legislation if they simply come together in support.

We need to continue to update all policies and plans for affordable housing, ensuring we refine our goals and focus efforts on housing all levels of need. Micro units, townhomes, condos, etc. Also incremental infill in neighborhoods to grow backyard cottages, triplexes, courtyards, and co-housing opportunities that are more affordable in nature. Part of our problem in balancing the housing crisis is not having enough homes/units. Another is not having more types of housing. We see expensive and unattainable single family houses being constructed or very large apartment complexes. Everything in the middle is missing.

As our subsidy programs focus on reaching deeper and deeper affordability levels, we are seeing the unintended consequence of workforce housing (anyone making more than $23.50/hr) being left out of the mix of affordable units we help create. That needs to change. True mixed income housing includes all the ranges of incomes.

The cost of and availability of housing, coupled with Asheville/Buncombe County’s high cost of living in other areas, is making it difficult for food and beverage employees to live in the City of Asheville and/or Buncombe County. Aside from increased workforce housing, how will you assist workers with cost of living affordability? 

Continue efforts to improve multimodal options to help reduce the dependence on cars and expensive parking, particularly in Downtown and in business districts. Asheville residents spend 25% of their income on transportation (H&T index). We are improving and expanding multimodal lanes (sometimes referred to as bike lanes) but the lanes are intended for all modes, including e-scooters, one wheels, even skateboards. Couple these efforts with periphery parking lots, rideshare options, and improved transit opportunities, and we can help bring down costs.

Continue programs for reduced parking rates for workers downtown.

Focus on greater frequency of transit along all major corridors, work with the county on further out and regional transit, and look into micro transit options for less frequent routes. We have to provide more efficient and reliable transit systems if we want ridership to grow. Growth in ridership leads to more grant opportunities.

Safety for employees has been a top concern for businesses in recent years. What approach would you take to ensure safety of employees and all citizens? What characteristics and experience are you looking for in a new Chief for the Asheville Police Department? 

I have known interim Chief Lamb for many years. He has my full support.

Safety is imperative. Keeping the community safe is a very basic and critical city service. While we continue to have reduced staffing, we have been making strides in our hiring and recruiting efforts since instating higher wages, sign on and retention bonuses, and higher pay for harder shifts.

I have worked to rally and organize businesses and their input for increased safety and cleanliness, making lists for Councilwomen to consider, for city staff to consider and implement.

Adding joint patrols of APD and Buncombe Sheriff’s Dept in business districts is a key preventive action we have explored and tried and need to continue.

Do you support a Business Improvement District (BID) for the downtown Asheville area? Why or why not? 

I am starting from a place of support but I have many concerns that must be addressed before I support a BID. The body appointed to govern the tax must be inclusive of downtown businesses of all sizes and representation. I am already concerned the BID is proposed to be housed at the Chamber, when it could be housed with orgs like the Asheville Downtown Association. The voting body should not include any tourism authority representation – they have enough tax and power. The core services that are already in place for the downtown district are a baseline starting point and need to be clearly identified. The BID is in no way to replace the funding that is currently (and historically) being spent on Downtown; a BID is meant to go above and beyond current services. The tax cannot be astronomical; rents and costs in downtown are already spiking; we cannot harm our beloved businesses. I will be frank: if all the hotels want the BID but no local businesses do, and if the voting body is composed of hotels, tourism leaders, and large businesses like Biltmore Estates, I will not be supportive. My hope is the groups working on the BID hear this message clearly and address the concerns before it comes to Council. A BID can be a wonderful and important addition to our Downtown but it must be done as we do all other things – fairly, with inclusion, and without large powerful agencies and tourism influence dominating the body.

In what other ways can Asheville City Council support the local independent restaurant community?

Activation and participation. Attending overlapping and joint business groups, committees, task forces, and more. Being present to hear the concerns and stay ahead of issues. The AIR housing group, for example. And the Asheville Downtown Association. Continuing efforts to support business districts throughout the city and work towards housing solutions and transportation solutions that return some livability for our workforce.

Anything you’d like to share with our local restaurant workforce?

Our local workforce and businesses are our economic backbone. Without your uniqueness, your culture, your arts, your foods, your talents, our city would be very different. Thank you for helping make Asheville the great city it is. I hear your concerns and I hope I have been able to and will continue to be able to address issues as they occur.