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IJ Activism Team Rallies Property Owners … And Helps Them Win

IJ’s activism team scored a major victory this year when politicians in Boone, N.C., abandoned a plan that would have destroyed the value of rental properties throughout the town. More than a victory for homeowners, our team’s success shows just how effective a well-timed activism campaign can be.

Boone is a quaint town in the Blue Ridge Mountains and home to Appalachian State University. But as the University has grown, so too have tensions with some local residents. These tensions came to a head when Boone’s Town Council proposed an ordinance that would have prohibited property owners from renting out spare bedrooms or apartments in any manner that was inconsistent with its “single-family” classification. That means no more than two unrelated people could live together—in a college town.

The proposal would have been devastating for Janet and Doug Belden, who have lived in Boone for 30 years and own a quadruplex near campus that they rent to students and families. Originally purchased to supplement their retirement, that property became a vital source of income after Doug suffered a major stroke a few years ago. But the proposed ordinance would have made it illegal for them to rent to their four tenants.

The legal vehicle for this attack on property rights was a little-known procedure called “amortization.” Under amortization, if a local government wants to prohibit the current use of a property—for example, to get rid of rentals—they pass a new ordinance narrowing allowed uses and set a timetable for the property owner to conform.

Boone’s proposed ordinance would have given the Beldens just three years to stop renting out their property. But without the ability to rent it out, their quadruplex would be practically worthless. And unlike when the government takes property through eminent domain, under amortization the government is not required to provide any compensation to property owners.

That’s when IJ stepped in. After learning about the proposal, we quickly put together a plan to inform the community, gather their input, and form a group to fight back against this proposal.

We mailed 2,500 jumbo-sized postcards to single-family zoned areas explaining how the amortization program would harm their community. Activism Coordinator Andrew Meleta and Activism Researcher Alex Montgomery then joined me in Boone to canvass the community with flyers and host an event at a local coffee shop. Once we raised awareness, we had a group of resident activists attending meetings, talking to City Council and sharing information in their community.

The Town Council was shocked when the next public hearing saw a capacity crowd. Realizing the town had been educated on the issue, no additional council members were willing to support the proposal and it was finally dropped at a meeting two months later.

The conversation about amortization ended with a council member saying, “Let’s move on.” And we agree. IJ’s activism team will move on to the next council chamber that tries to erode property rights, and we’ll win again.

Melanie Benit is IJ’s activism associate.

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