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?”
Asheville seems to be on a collision course to rid itself of all the things that make this city great. By allowing landlords to capitalize on the hype about Asheville and raise rents to levels only the rich can afford, Asheville is destined to eliminate all the tie-dye and the local flair that made our city desirable to begin with.
Landlords and city officials need to remember that people are drawn to Asheville because of the art and culture produced by the people who live here. If for-profits want to continue seeing Asheville make lists like the Best Places to Live (livability.com) or the Top 10 Cities for Art (americanstyle.com), then they’d better turn to nonprofit agencies like Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity for a lesson in pay-it-forward commerce.
My son and I are so incredibly fortunate to have a home through Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. With a business model that’s based on a hand up instead of a handout, the nonprofit is supporting the city of Asheville by providing affordable homeownership opportunities to the folks who are the backbone of this city. Habitat homeowners (yes, we pay a mortgage) are social workers, educators, civil servants and restaurant workers, among other things — and we’re raising children in a city rich in art, culture and the beauty of individuality. This is what makes Asheville desirable.
I hope I can still say those things about Asheville in five years, because the alternative is a tourist trap or a city stripped of the appeal that made it popular in the first place. If I’d wanted to live in a tourist town, I would have stayed in Whitefish, Mont. And if I’d wanted to live in a city that, by approving ridiculously high rent increases, priced out the very artists who made it special, I would have stayed in Seattle.
We still have the opportunity to make sure that Asheville doesn’t fall into one of the traps that devoured those cities, but we must address the housing crisis now, before it’s too late. I believe this can be done by requiring employers to pay their employees a living wage — which, like affordable housing, is also an endangered species here. I also believe in limiting rent increases to an acceptable percentage, so that a lease renewal doesn’t result in a 20 percent increase for the renter. Moreover, developers and other for-profits must be required to give back to the community by supporting nonprofit agencies like Asheville Habitat that promote affordable housing.
If everyone were committed to doing their part, Asheville might be able to maintain its appeal as a uniquely artistic and livable city. I hope city officials are considering some of the regulations that limit corporate greed, so we don’t become merely another cautionary tale for the next up-and-coming city, but instead design the blueprint for maintaining integrity in the face of urban development.
— Shannon Kauffman