For the first time, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity will build multifamily housing.
The development, Curry Court in Candler, will include four single-family homes and eight attached townhomes, all for families making 30-70 percent of the area median income.
Families are able to afford the payments — which usually are lower than they were paying for rent on older properties — because instead of saving for several years toward a downpayment and closing costs, they work on their homes, putting in a set number of hours of “sweat equity.”
“When you’re trying to save for a down payment, there are always expenses that force you to dip into that money,” says Andy Barnett, executive director of Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. “With sweat equity, you don’t have to come up with that big lump sum.”
Until now, all of Asheville Area Habitat’s developments have been single-family houses, but the organization believes that’s no longer a viable option.
“In places like this, the housing market is hot, wages tend to be low while prices are rising rapidly and land is a valuable — and expensive — resource,” Barnett says. “We can serve more families on a limited amount of land by building like this.”
As land becomes more expensive in the Asheville area, Habitat has had to consider ways to build more affordably, and with construction material costs rising too, Habitat organizations across the country are starting to turn to multifamily units, allowing them to serve 20 percent more families.
“This is our first experience with multifamily housing, but others have started building townhomes, and it’s working out well,” Barnett says. “Building only single-family homes just isn’t sustainable anymore.”
For Robin Clark, construction manager for Habitat, building townhomes will be a new experience.
“I’m finding out that not everybody wants a yard,” Clark said during a groundbreaking event at the site Oct. 18. “Some people just want a house without having to mow the lawn.”
Ground has been broken already on the first house, a single-family home funded by last year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam. The walls will go up just before this year’s Christmas Jam, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7-8.
Curry Court was occupied by five abandoned mobile homes, which had to be dismantled and hauled off. Cost of the land was $170,000, and building the road and adding utility hookups added just over $416,000. All told, the development will cost about $2.35 million.
“We’re fortunate in that 40 percent of our budget is earned income from mortgage payments and ReStore revenue,” Barnett says. “We have reliable sources of income, which makes it easier to fund a development like this.”
The plot is near bus routes — off Ridge Road, about a quarter mile off Smoky Park Highway, and in the zone where Asheville Transit riders can flag down a bus, and buses can go up to a quarter-mile off route for a requested pickup. It’s close to parks and shopping, making it one of the more accessible sites outside of city limits.
The families who will move into these homes will help provide stability in the community, Barnett says.
“People who rent often move every year or two, looking for a better deal, a better home,” he says. “Moving is expensive; it eats up savings. And because renters don’t stay in a place very long, they really have little stake in the neighborhood. Eighty percent of our owners are still in their homes. That’s stability.”
In addition, Asheville Habitat homeowners paid $331,000 in property taxes last year.
Mary Leake, a mother of four who works at Glen Arden Elementary School, discovered last year that her rental home was going to be sold, meaning she likely would have to move — again. She went to Habitat and found out she was eligible to buy a four-bedroom home through the agency.
“I worked on it,” she said at the Oct. 18 groundbreaking. “I helped to build it, and now it’s mine. I have my own bedroom, my own bathroom.”
Leake worked side by side with volunteers and Habitat staff to build her own home. She will move into her house, which is in Arden, on Jan. 3.
“I have definitely enjoyed every step of this process,” she said.
Rachel Dudasik works for Wicked Weed Brewing, which contributes to Habitat. She attended the groundbreaking ceremony, calling the development itself groundbreaking.
“With the cost of housing, this will allow more people to become homeowners,” she said. “Everyone deserves a decent, safe house. Housing should never be a privilege. We’re proud to be a part of Habitat’s network of sponsors and contributors.”
But the most important contributors are not necessarily the folks who write checks, Barnett says. The homes are built, in large part, by volunteers. Last year alone, 2,100 volunteers provided 67,400 hours of service to build 14 homes and repair 47 more through Habitat’s Home Repair program.
Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is now accepting homeownership applications for the development; for income guidelines and an application form, visit avl.mx/5el.
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, if you’re feeling like you can’t fix what’s wrong today, you should know you can do something,” Barnett said. “Whatever your skills are, there’s a way to make them connect to needs in the community. It’s easy to get mired in the feeling there’s nothing you can do, that the problems are just too big. Well, you can make a difference. You can help build a home for a family.”