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?”
My community, Emma, has an incredible infrastructure of grassroots and faith organizations, local businesses and nonprofits — plus an elementary school that’s a strong community partner and believes in our children and families. Despite the racial and economic oppression that many people in our community face, this infrastructure makes Emma a beautiful place to live. Together, the community has created access to fresh food, cultural and after-school programming for our children, health services, sidewalks and many other resources.
Across the country, marginalized communities are doing incredible work to create vibrant neighborhoods. This, however, often attracts people with more resources, who then displace longtime residents. This trend, in addition to the development of nearby areas such as the River Arts District, has already meant raised rents for some Emma residents. Houses are being bought, renovated and sold at much higher prices, and families that have rented in Emma for decades face few options for continuing to live in their own neighborhood. Meanwhile, families that own mobile homes but rent the lots they’re set up on are at risk of losing their homes when the land is literally sold out from under them and there’s no affordable place to move to.
Hearing the voices of those most impacted by the housing crisis is vital to creating solutions.
“While Asheville becomes known as a magical place to live, those of us who are working-class pay the price of that fame,” Emma resident Mirian Porras explains. “When landlords sit down to talk about raising rents because more people want to move to Emma, they’re not thinking about the miserable wages that we earn that barely allow our families to eat. We need regulations on how rents are raised. How much more money can they take from us if we have nothing left?”
There are two models we’re developing at the grassroots level: community land trusts and mobile home cooperatives. We’re working toward creating the Emma Community Land Trust in order to maintain affordable rentals as well as individually and cooperatively owned housing.
My family lives in Dulce Lomita, a mobile home cooperative created to show residents how they can purchase parks that might otherwise be bought by developers, leading to permanent loss of affordable housing. “If it weren’t for our cooperative, I would never have been able to own my home,” says member-owner Rosalba Cruz. “We take care of each other and the generations to come in my neighborhood.”
Yet despite our commitment to cooperative ownership, tenants who’d been renting in the park were displaced, because we couldn’t afford a park large enough to include all existing renters. This speaks to how incredibly difficult it is for individuals and small communities to address these overwhelming waves of development and displacement on our own and with such limited resources. We need the support of local housing-and-development institutions, as well as local governments, to give us the resources and legislation needed to bring models such as these up to scale. Only then will we be able to ensure housing equity and self-determination for all our communities.
— Andrea Golden
Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative