A Long Way from Home: New study highlights lack of workforce housing in Asheville area

“The lack of workforce housing in desirable areas like Asheville and Buncombe County often forces essential workers, such as teachers, nurses and police personnel, to seek housing in outlying areas far from where they work. The result: long commutes that have negative impacts on those workers … and on the local and global environments.”

So begins a new report from UNC Chapel Hill’s Center for Urban & Regional Studies: A Long Way from Home: The Impacts of a Limited Supply of Workforce Housing in the Asheville Metropolitan Area. Researchers unveiled the study at a Tuesday, June 15, morning press conference at the Governor’s Western Residence in Asheville.

A PDF of the preliminary executive summary of the report is available online.

Xpress attended, and here’s the collected Tweets (short notes) from managing news editor Margaret Williams
What’s the state of affordable housing in Asheville area?

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Urban & Regional Studies has new report, whose results are being disclosed at today’s press conference at the Governor’s Western Residence.

Attending the meeting: NC Sen Martin Nesbitt, Asheville Vice Mayor Brownie Newman, Buncombe County commissioner Holly Jones, Mountain Housing Opportunity Director Scott Dedman, Chapel Hill researchers, WLOS, Citizen-Times & Xpress.

There’s a mismatch between where workers live & where they work, says Susan Perry Cole of NC Association of Community Development Corporations, a partner in study.

The study focuses on housing needs of workers: teachers, police, shop clerks etc, making less than $48,000/yr (the median income for area). About 8,000 of these middle-income workers commute to within 7 miles of downtown Asheville.

While Buncome County provides 67% of the jobs in the metro area, it provides only 54% of the housing for the workforce. If more of the workforce lived closer to jobs, we could reduce CO2 emissions caused by transportation.

Between 2000 & 2007, growth in lower-wage jobs resulted in an increase in households earning below the area median income ($43,819), the Chapel Hill study says.

Lack of workforce housing is Asheville area’s “dirty little secret,” says Buncombe Chair David Gantt. Everyone who works in Asheville should be able to live in Asheville, says Asheville Vice Mayor Brownie Newman.

Average worker who commutes to Asheville spends up to 250 hours per year in a car & uses 397 gallons of gas, the study says.

Scott Dedman of MHL: Mayor Bellamy taught me 13 years ago that it’s not just about building homes but about building community.

18,000 workrs commute to Asheville/Buncombe, according to a Chamber of Commerce chart, Dedman points out

Mayor Bellamy calls for action, advocacy for affordable housing.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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9 thoughts on “A Long Way from Home: New study highlights lack of workforce housing in Asheville area

  1. Mr.G

    Compared to wages in Asheville, housing has and will continue to be ridiculously expensive. Asheville is affordable for retirees from larger metro areas, and for the health professionals who take care of the retirees, but most everyone else is either scraping by or tapping a trust fund. I would be surprised if any of this changes, as Asheville doesn’t exactly roll out the welcome map for large employers who pay well.

    What is surprising is that this article is written like a text message. Is proofreading passe now? Not much to LOL about.

  2. J

    Thank goodness this report came out to let us know about the 18,000 commuters and their need for workforce housing. Silly me, I thought some of the people chose not to live in the City of their own free will; I didn’t know it was because they were poor. I bet the people living in gated communities on Butler Mountain will be glad to know their commute is one of suffrage – and they can shed the guilt of the gasoline that powers their SUV’s.

    Scott Dedman is pushing a report that justifies the need for his job and all the tax money that MHO receives to put towards their employee’s pension plan? Really? Wow, what a swell guy. Not a dab of self interest there.

    Thanks to Brownie Newman’s negotiating skills in getting the County off the hook in the county-city water agreement, you can live in the county and receive city services without paying more for them. Those silly “poor” people, why wouldn’t they want to move to the city and start paying more? Water-hike-Bothwell will gladly help you out there.

    I sure am glad that Dedman and Brownie are letting those commuters know that they’re poor – they’re helping them when they didn’t even ask for it.

  3. hauntedheadnc

    Now the question is, will local government officials actually do something about this problem or will they get distracted by a squirrel, or something shiny, forget about this study and thus shell out big bucks to commission an identical one in a few years? That was par for the course for what seems like decades when it came to the Civic Center.

    Asheville’s officials can dither like no other, and they’ll study a problem into the ground while taking utmost care to never actually solve the problem. It’s a miracle that Asheville is as vital as it is what with a government and a chamber of commerce who laugh a carefree laugh and goes on dithering in the face of a complete lack of decent wage jobs for the workforce and affordable workforce housing.

  4. Baffled

    The same developer who sponsored this report said the following in Feb. 2009:

    “50% of wage earners in Buncombe County would qualify for affordable housing…”

    Empirically accurate or skewed eligibility data?

    From today’s report:

    “… [low income] respondents were asked if they would be willing to consider moving closer to work. Twenty-six percent of the respondents replied “yes”….” Hmmm, ‘…twenty-six percent were willing to consider…..’

    Supply crisis or distorted demand?

    Cover page to the Report:

    “Sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Community Development Corporations with the assistance of Mountain Housing Opportunities” Wholly objective or vested interest?

    When a sole-source supplier of a service co-sponsors a report that claims there is a catastrophic crisis that justifies their continuing to receive millions of taxpayer dollars, it behooves journalists and politicians to look beneath the surface and demand answers to relevant questions.

  5. Margaret Williams

    Perhaps an underlying question here is, to what extent should government be involved with and/or support housing for the poor and for low-middle-income folks who work? And what does it matter to the community as a whole? Do you believe, as several espoused at the press conference, that if you work in Asheville or the vicinity that you should be able to afford to live here?

    I’ve covered affordable-housing issues since 1994, and as best I can tell, it’s accurate to say that 50% of wage-earners in Buncombe County would qualify for affordable housing … but by “affordable housing” we’re not talking simply about federally subsidized housing, which aims to help the poorest residents (and this also is not keeping up with demand). HUD has calculated that “affordable” housing is that which costs the wage earner no more than 30% of his or her income. Judging by U.S. Census records, the number of residents who are paying more than this for housing has increased significantly in the Asheville area — including many residents making between $30K and $60K, those whom we don’t consider to be poor or disadvantaged. The increase has exceeded the stock of affordable housing, both in rental and single-family units.

    Some other stats appear to indicate that increases in housing costs have exceeded wage growth here.

    Put those stats together (along with several others), and there’s a “mismatch” between where workers live and where they work.

    No one used the word crisis, as best I recall. But a Mission Hospital rep noted that her organization has found it’s much easier to recruit and train young nurses and other newly trained/educated medical personnel if Mission offers housing assistance — help with the down payment on a home, for example — than to offer sign-up bonuses. And an AB Tech student talked about training people for a variety of careers at the local community college … yet not being able to keep them in the area because Asheville is the second least-affordable housing market in North Carolina.

  6. JWTJr

    This is all about steering massive amounts of money to developers and power to politicians who think they know better than us all. Such an old story.

    The local gov’t couldn’t put a dent in this problem even if they did know what they were doing. The only real solution is to prevent people from moving here who have money or came from a place where real estate was more expensive than here. Asheville isn’t the only place with this problem and no one else has an answer either.

    Unfortunately, most of the property that the city ends up running falls into disrepair and then needs a bailout because of the city’s inability to manage real estate. Another old story.

  7. Build Density

    Silly public, after the vote on July 27th we will finally get to build whatever we want, wherever we want without the silly public input. We all know that Asheville will only be great when we can build more and much larger structures so we can be like Atlanta and New York. Good thing this City Council knows that bigger is better and only by building to overshadow all this stupid existing architecture and neighborhood infrastructure will we survive. Hooray for City Council passing the “right to build bigger” act or whatever it is called on July 27th. It will go in place fast since no one else really knows what it is or that it is coming. Build it big enough to tip the earth, screw this “neighborhood character” defense. Build them 100 stories or more, ANYWHERE and screw the NIMBY’s! Put workforce housing on EVERY block and make this city really great, they cannot stop this! We will develope every square inch of this city and make it affordable for EVERYONE !

  8. Build Density


  9. Build Density

    Gordon Smith
    July 13th, 2010 at 12:05 am
    The Planning and Zoning Committee will meet on July 22nd at 4pm at City Hall to consider alteration in the UDO to allow for increased density on corridors and in neighborhoods.

    Please attend and offer your input!

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