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 part of a community’s total economic development picture. Yet in Asheville, the two are viewed and treated separately. Economic development officials work on providing more jobs for residents; housing officials work on providing more homes for the workforce. The underlying economic fact is that the single biggest monthly expense for any worker is typically their rent or mortgage payment. And in Asheville, wages are low, and housing costs are high. That’s the basic disconnect.
If we broke down all the jobs we’ve recruited in the last five years, how many of those workers are being paid a living wage? We hear about the “average wages,” but we can’t keep assessing the jobs we recruit based on the averages. We need to consider the actual wage rates so we can see if these new jobs will enable workers to support a home and a family. It’s OK if most of them don’t, because that’s the reality of our tourism economy. However, we have to be brave enough to ask that question.
Let’s take a hard look at the past five years and ask: How many jobs did we create? What will each of these jobs pay? How much did we pay the corporations bringing the jobs, and therefore, how much was paid to subsidize each one? How many of those jobs won’t pay enough to allow the worker to afford a modest apartment or home? How many workforce homes did we create in that same five-year period? How much funding did we use to incentivize the construction of true workforce housing?
Government funds are used to boost both job growth and affordable/workforce housing: All we have to do is match them up. For every job created with a subsidy that doesn’t provide a living wage, let’s provide a genuinely affordable home.
— Cindy Visnich Weeks
Vice President, Director of Community Investments
Mountain Housing Opportunities Inc.