I’m proud to be a part of a city where people care about each other. One recent study cited Asheville as one of the most generous cities in America, whose residents volunteer lots of time and money to make the world a better place. This is a community that knows we’re all in it together, and that’s why we’re going to be able to rise to the challenges facing us today.
We love living here, but we’re acutely aware of the fact that Asheville has a very high cost of living and very low median household income. Helping us get that median wage up are Living Wage Certified businesses that have made human value and dignity central to their business models. Great businesses like New Belgium Brewing, Linamar and PLI are helping too. The sad fact, however, is that too many employers here pay low wages for an honest day’s work. No one who works a full-time job ought to live in poverty. The city, county, Economic Development Coalition and Chamber of Commerce are working hard and all rowing in the same direction: toward better paying jobs. Asheville is examining our economic-incentive policies to better support homegrown entrepreneurs who pay living wages.
Year by year, Asheville has been expanding and improving our transportation network, so people can have affordable options. Whether you’re a driver, cyclist, pedestrian or transit rider, Asheville has made a commitment to the infrastructure necessary to provide you with choices. This year we’ll begin adding miles of sidewalk to Hendersonville Road, and Asheville Transit can start offering Sunday service.
Asheville aspires to be a city of equal opportunity for all. Increasing incomes and offering affordable transportation options are two parts of a three-pronged approach to ensure a thriving city for generations to come.
The third leg of that three-legged stool is affordable housing, defined as spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing costs. We all want a vibrant city where economically mobile citizens can get a leg up, and where the elderly and disabled can live in dignity. We want an Asheville where residents can save money toward homeownership, business startups, tuition and increased opportunities for their children. Without affordable housing, a big part of our Asheville family struggles just to stay afloat. As we continue our work to raise the median income and build our transportation infrastructure, Asheville urgently needs more affordable housing options.
Since 2006, City Council has identified affordable housing as a top strategic priority. Thanks to great builders, tenants and neighbors, old prejudices about property values, traffic and crime are evaporating. It’s a good thing, too, because the demand for affordable rental units is astronomical. One affordable housing company recently received more than 2,000 inquiries concerning its 60 available apartments. Affordable rentals routinely lease up long before construction is complete. We’ve learned that becoming a city of housing opportunity is going to require bigger steps than the ones we’ve taken so far.
Asheville’s working people need affordable housing if we’re going to have a healthy city. Those of you who are fortunate enough to have safe, affordable homes know how important that fact is in your life. Our Asheville community aspires to be environmentally friendly, economically prosperous and socially just. Over the next several months, we can take steps toward these aspirations even as injustices are done at other levels of government. Indeed, we not only can take those steps: We must. We’re Asheville, and we couldn’t look at ourselves in the mirror if we didn’t do everything we could to help.
— Gordon Smith serves on the Asheville City Council.