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’s affordable housing problem is rooted in our lack of affordable land for new housing projects, coupled with our ever-growing need for more affordable housing for lower-income workers. Addressing this conundrum demands facing facts and new approaches.
First, in our market of skyrocketing property values, we must acknowledge the need for some amount of subsidy to fill the gap between low-wage workers’ ability to pay rent or a mortgage and the landlord/developer’s need for a fair return on investment. We cannot view this as a problem that the market alone can solve. Fortunately, Asheville has high-performing nonprofit developers who, with appropriate subsidies, can build, preserve and maintain homes.
One strategy might be for more lenders to follow the lead of wonderful organizations like Mountain Housing Opportunities and think more in terms of the social impact involved, i.e., accepting more risk in order to make more housing happen. This means giving a project’s potential social and community benefits more weight in underwriting, rather than focusing solely on the economic risk. There is fundamental potential economic development benefit in creating more housing, because our growing tourism industry depends on workers being able to live affordably.
Another strategy is to build/develop more small units. Self-Help Credit Union, with 30 years of experience in housing finance under its belt — including more than $8.3 million in loans to affordable housing projects last year alone — now offers innovative multifamily housing loans for small projects. Available to owners, investors and/or developers, these loans are tailored to small multifamily properties that provide rental housing for people making up to 120 percent of the area’s median income.
In addition to expanding those existing strategies, I suggest the following programs for consideration as possible models for Asheville:
- Housing cooperatives, in their many different forms and varieties, can be used to serve low-income families. Check out the Fellowship for Intentional Community (ic.org) or the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (coophousing.org/about-nahc). Or visit Asheville’s local co-housing project in West Asheville to see an example of a completely green co-housing project.
- In Holland, there are projects for students to live affordably in homes for the elderly. The students receive free rent in exchange for living with the needs of the old folks and offering companionship and some service. Here’s the link: http://avl.mx/1dh.
- Additional ideas for affordable housing for city dwellers listed on the Shareable website (http://avl.mx/1di).
Asheville’s economic rejuvenation is a blessing, but we must be creative in addressing related challenges such as affordable housing. I hope we can build on some of the ideas listed above and help provide more affordable housing to better meet the needs of all our community members.
— Jane Hatley
WNC Regional Director
Self-Help Credit Union