The Watauga County community is trying to find solutions for more affordable housing as population and development continue to grow. A series of conversations kicked off this week to take a closer look at the scope of the issue.

The first Watauga Housing Forum gave community members a chance to share their personal housing experiences and challenges. It also brought together stakeholders to discuss solutions and review data about the local housing market.

A recent study conducted by Bowen National Research assessed the housing market and needs in the High Country. This includes Allegheny, Ashe, Avery and Watauga Counties. It found that the estimated median home value in the region is higher than the state's figure of more than $217,000.

Inventory is low and the rental housing market occupancy rate in the region is 99.9 percent. The report says thousands of renter and owner households are cost burdened. That means they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

The town of Boone had some of the highest rates in this category as well as higher prices for rental housing.

Todd Carter is with the housing agency Hospitality House of Northwest North Carolina and is one of the forum organizers. He says all of this is creating hardships for employers in the county to retain and recruit talent, and for local residents.

“We are completely underwater when it comes to available housing for people who live and grew up here, who have lived here for generations," says Carter. "They can no longer afford to live here."

The next housing conversation will be held on March 28 at the Watauga Community Recreation Center.

Organizers say the goal is to take information from the meetings and create a community action plan that prioritizes what the county needs.

"There is a lot of synergy in the community surrounding this issue," says Kellie Reed Ashcraft, a community social worker and retired Appalachian State professor. "Some things will be an immediate concern, but the community needs to be the voice to identify what are the things to address first. This is going to take multiple housing strategies to address everything and I think it will take 10 to 20 years to fix."

Follow WFDD's  Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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