BOONE – Frustrations over the growth of Appalachian State University are mounting as longtime Boone residents feel they’ve been kicked out.
Community members discussed the impact of the university’s continued growth on housing at a forum on October 27.
âMy kids and I had to win the lottery to get back to the holler I grew up in,â said community member Angie Dotson.
Dotson, a graduate of Watauga High School and Appalachian State University, lives in a neighboring county due to the inflated cost of housing in Boone. She was the first to speak to Clark Maddux, a professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at App State and one of three App State faculty members to moderate the forum.
The city, Dotson said, was never equipped to handle the current level of growth.
âMy family has been here for 300 years,â Dotson said in tears. âBetween the town of Boone and Appalachian State University, I saw an ethnic group – my people – being forced out of Watauga County. We are moved to the foothills of the Appalachians.
Before opening the floor to the public, Kellie Ashcraft, a retired social worker and teacher from Appalachian State, shared three key statistics that illustrate the scale of the city’s housing problem.
According to new census data, she said that at 21.4%, Watauga County has a poverty rate – almost double the state average.
The county’s population has grown 6 percent since 2010 – the university population growing 1.75 percent each year.
Thirty-five percent of Watauga County’s full-time workforce commute to the county daily, Ashcraft said.
âRegardless of whether we can determine causation, we certainly know that when you have this kind of student population growth and growth in the county, it will only exacerbate the housing issues that already exist,â Ashcraft said. âThis will make these problems even worse for those of our residents who are most vulnerable. “
Ashcraft is a member of the Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative, an organization that came together in 2017 to promote health and resilience in the community. WCCI’s Policy and Prevention Committee identified housing as a “key issue” in Boone over a year ago, Ashcraft said.
âWhen we talk about the range of problems, we are talking about unsafe or inadequate rental housing. We also talk about unfair or discriminatory rental housing practices. We are also talking about the lack of safe and affordable housing, âsaid Ashcraft. âAnd we are talking about the lack of quality affordable housing.
Students who attended the meeting advocated for a drop in university attendance, a car ban for freshmen, and investing in a community land trust to tackle the housing problem in Boone.
Then-city council candidates Edie Tugman and Todd Carter encouraged these students to vote in the current municipal election and continue to voice their frustrations if they want to see a change.
âI was at a meeting yesterday and with people who work for local nonprofits and I said ‘hey guys don’t forget to vote in the local election’ and not a single person in that. room didn’t live within city limits because we can’t afford to, âClara Coffey said, addressing the students in the room.
Like Dotson, Coffey said his family had lived in the area for hundreds of years before the growth of the university drove them away.
âThe rage and sadness in this piece spans generations,â Coffey said. âWhat we all hear is vote, vote, vote. Well, I can’t.
App State faculty members said they voiced concerns about housing and related environmental impacts to App State’s senior administration and Chancellor Sheri Everts to no avail.
“Professors who strive to be members of the community – even though we recognize that we are not from here to begin with – feel extremely frustrated to the point of despairing of the university’s lack of response to this. topic, âsaid Michael Behrent, associate professor of App State. noted.
Some have suggested taking the issue directly to the Chancellor’s door, reminiscent of a 2016 sit-in in the university administration building.
âWe will start to understand as a community, as students, as a teacher how we are changing things because I refuse to believe that it cannot change,â Maddux said, closing the meeting. “It must change.”
Anna Oakes, App State media relations specialist, responded to concerns from community members in an email on Nov. 8.
“Although housing affordability and the cost of living in Watauga County are influenced by many different factors, Chancellor Everts noted that the university does not see significant future growth capacity in Boone,” said the email, citing two occasions when Chancellor Everts recognized the university’s growth cannot continue indefinitely.
Regarding the ways in which App State is working to address the lack of affordable housing, Oakes said that App State’s construction of four new residences on the west side of campus resulted in a net increase of 500 beds on the campus.
Oakes also said faculty concerns over Boone’s housing crisis have largely focused on increases for faculty and staff.
“Chancellor Everts, Provost Norris and the Vice Chancellor’s team continue to seek every opportunity to offer merit-based pay increases and address pay inequalities,” Oakes said.
She went on to say that the university recognizes that available, affordable and easily accessible housing is essential to the ability to recruit and retain talented faculty, staff and students.
âEarlier this fall, the university surveyed faculty, staff and students for additional information on current housing and transportation needs and the preferences of faculty, staff and students. The contribution will help inform future planning efforts, âsaid Oakes. “However, the university does not have control over many variables that impact the local housing market, nor does it have the capacity to regulate land use or businesses in the jurisdictions of Boone and the surrounding areas. “