Editor’s note: This essay is part of a series in which local experts were asked: “What would it take to solve the Asheville area’s affordable housing problem?”
Affordable housing is a complex problem with many facets; the solutions need to be equally diverse. Here are what I see as the best approaches.
Several local organizations are working on affordable housing and adding a lot to the effort. Habitat for Humanity, Mountain Housing Opportunities and the Asheville Housing Authority are the three that I’m familiar with that help get housing built at below-market rates. Just Economics’ living wage campaign recognizes that people who work should get paid enough to afford decent shelter. The WNC Green Building Council educates and supports builders and homeowners to make homes more energy-efficient, which reduces monthly utility bills. OnTrack’s financial counseling for homebuyers and energy-efficiency classes also help.
The free market isn’t good at providing housing for low- to moderate-income folks. There are a lot of fixed costs in permitting, utility hookups and the ever-increasing lot prices. For builders, a lower-cost home is almost always a lower-profit home.
One new free market approach is “tiny houses,” which can cost less than the down payment on the average home. A few Asheville companies are building them, though local building codes are problematic. A tiny house is a good fit for an owner /builder, as it’s a more manageable project for working people. I think a somewhat bigger version — a low-cost, 600-square-foot home that’s designed to be expandable — would be worth pursuing.
Buying older homes that need work and fixing them up should also be encouraged. Building or remodeling your own home saves money and also adds a sense of empowerment. Owner/builders in general should be encouraged through better information and education about the building process.
— Boone Guyton
Co-owner, Cady and Guyton Construction