Lack of affordable housing in Asheville is pushing people into poverty and making it harder for young people to have a shot at home ownership. Like most of Asheville’s citizens, Shane rents his home. If The city doesn’t take action now, he might be priced out of the city, like so many of Asheville’s workers have been. That’s why Shane is running for city council – because he wants to be able to afford to live here in 5 years.
Before Shane moved to Raleigh, he and his wife were spending $750 a month for a decent one-bedroom apartment. When they moved back just three years later, similar places had shot up to an eye-watering $1,100 per month. Housing prices have inflated rapidly while wages have been stagnant, and it’s hitting our workers hard.
The people who keep Asheville running deserve to be able to live here. Right now, that’s not happening. In 2018, housing rental prices rose by 9% in Asheville. That’s an average monthly increase of $114. We need to use every tool we have to address this crisis if we want Asheville to be a fair and equitable city. That means Asheville must boost access to affordable rentals, and remove barriers to home ownership for people on low and moderate incomes.
Deeply Affordable Homes
Seniors on fixed incomes, people who can’t work, and workers who earn low wages struggle to make ends meet in Asheville. There is a shortage of housing that is affordable for these residents, and the housing that does exist often has wait lists of over a year. That’s why the city needs deeply affordable housing that is accessible to our residents with very low incomes.
BeLoved Asheville is creating an innovative solution to this need. They are building a village of 12 homes that will be affordable and will build equity for people making just 30% of the area’s median income. When this project is completed, it will be provide an affordable home for 12 households. The city should support initiatives like this, and replicate this game-changing project on a large scale.
Asheville’s public housing communities are the main source of affordable housing for many of our lowest income residents. Unfortunately, many of these communities are badly in need of repairs and renovations. The city needs to improve the living conditions of our neighbors who live in public housing, while making sure their voices are heard when decisions are made.
The huge need for public housing in Asheville is demonstrated by the multi-year waiting list to get in. This impractical waiting period puts housing out of reach for many would-be residents. That’s why we need to build new public housing in mixed-income developments and in small, city-owned parcels of land throughout Asheville.
Housing First Approach to Homelessness
Once a year, Buncombe County counts how many people are living without homes. In 2019, that number was 554. According to that count, chronic homelessness increased by 50%, and unaccompanied homeless children jumped by 26%. Asheville should be eliminating homelessness. Instead, people are becoming homeless more often, and for longer.
We need to expand our homelessness outreach programs, and get people into housing. The housing first approach is straightforward: in a home, it’s more practical to address problems and gain employment than it is while living on the streets. People who are given housing first are more likely to stay stably housed.
Getting people into housing isn’t just more effective, it’s also much cheaper than doing nothing. People who don’t have shelter are more likely to suffer from health problems and have run-ins with the law. The result is more interactions with hospitals, jails, and shelters, all of which are extremely expensive. One study by Columbia University showed that providing housing first yields a savings of $23,000 per person, per year. That’s why the city needs to double down on its housing first approach: not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Down Payment Assistance Program
Asheville’s new down payment assistance program is already proving to be successful at bringing home ownership into reach for working families. Skyrocketing rents make it difficult, if not impossible, for many to save for a down payment on a home. The down payment assistance program is a great way to provide equal opportunity to everyone who wants to own their home. It’s time to expand the program to allow more of our neighbors to build equity by owning a home.
Legalize Manufactured Homes
Manufactured homes, sometimes called mobile homes, are a time-tested method of affordable housing. Old manufactured homes have a bad reputation, but new models are built to modern building codes and standards. Right now, manufactured homes are banned in Asheville city limits. Reversing that ban could put home ownership within reach for Asheville’s workers and increase options for affordable rental housing.
Community Land Trusts
Community land trusts are non-profit organizations that own tracts of land and lease the houses on the land to residents. This allows low and moderate-income people to build equity through home ownership and it protects the houses from the price increases caused by gentrification. The result is reduced-cost, long-term affordability for residents and much lower foreclosure rates.
Community land trusts have proven successful in hundreds of locations across the country. In 2018, Asheville launched a task force to start the development of the city’s first community land trust. When Shane is on city council, he will support and expand this program to protect long term housing affordability for Asheville’s citizens.
Bonds are tools that municipalities can use to borrow money and repay it over time. Bonds have similar benefits to a mortgage on a house - issuing bonds allows the city to buy something now, instead of waiting until they have the full price of the project saved up. Asheville has an AAA bond rating, which is the highest rating a city could get. This means we have access to a lot of spending power at very low interest rates.
In 2016, Asheville voted on its first bond referendum since 1986. Voters overwhelmingly supported $74 million of bonds to improve the city’s parks, transportation system, and affordable housing. All of the bonds passed with over 70% of the vote. Today, successful bond projects are visible all around the city. The city should continue to leverage this borrowing power to make more investments in affordable housing.