Affordable Housing is for the Birds

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog about a ground-breaking ceremony in Pritchard Park. The blog talked about four units of affordable housing being put into the Park at taxpayer expense. Apparently some folks didn’t pick up on the idea that it was an April Fools Joke of mine. Some even called the Parks Department and demanded to know what was going on. Guess some people just take life too seriously.

The other day I was passing by the park on my way to Green Sage, Firestorm Café or somewhere — I’m sure to just get a cup of coffee and check email. I noticed someone had put up three units of affordable housing in the park. The type of housing? Bird Houses. For some reason it struck me as funny. Less than two full weeks after my blog about affordable housing coming to the premier park in the city, someone puts up bird housing.

But my thoughts didn’t stop there.

I got to wondering about the affordable housing issue here in Asheville — didn’t take me long to wonder as there’s not much affordable housing in the area. But what exactly is affordable housing?  I’ve got a friend out in east Asheville that just bought a house for several hundred thousand dollars and she paid cash for it. Obviously it’s affordable to her. 

So what really is affordable housing? According to Mr. Wikipedia, affordable housing “is a term used to describe dwelling units whose total housing costs are deemed ‘affordable’ to those that have a median income.”

Make sense? No? Well, go back and read that sentence again.  I’ll get me a cup of coffee and a Nicorette lozenge while you do.

Going to www.City-Data.com we find that the median income for Asheville and Buncombe County in 2009 (the latest year for which figures are available) was $34,400.00. My real estate friends tell me that a rule of thumb in determining how much monthly payment (or rent) a household can afford is to find out what is 28% of their annual income.  Using the 2009 figure of $34,400.00 as a starting point, 28% of that is $9,632. Divide that by 12, and you get $802.00. So another way of looking at this is a person can afford to rent a place costing $802 a month … if their household income is at least $34,400 AND IF they don’t have any other debts such as a car payment, a phone payment, insurance or ever want to be able to take a vacation.

Being the great planner and idea guy that I am, I’ve got several ideas on how we can create more affordable housing. But since Gordon Smith and the City Council won’t like my ideas and neither will David Gantt and the folks on the County Commission, I guess more of us will have to start living in birdhouses.


Photos by Jerry Nelson

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5 thoughts on “Affordable Housing is for the Birds

  1. Older countries (Europe) are what I look at to understand the housing issues. I lived in Europe in the early 70’s…for several years. I saw that only wealthy people owned their own homes. Homes with surrounding land were rare and most made use of any land by having gardens (Central Germany). The rest lived on the outskirts in high rise apartments…and public transportation (very efficient fast trains) took them to their destinations. The “American Dream” of a “house with a picket fence” is fast fading for the average person.

    It doesn’t take rocket science to see that housing direction at work here. It does seem like the infrastructure to support that model is slow in coming…the lack of affordable housing trend is moving much quicker.

  2. Jerry Nelson

    So true Davyne. It seems like it started to get so bad here in the US when the yuppie types stopped looking at home ownership as a means of living and turned it into a means of investment.

  3. Steven Standridge

    lol Jerry, that probably will be true, but I pay only 450 monthly and I have cable, internet, car payment, bannk loans to pay off and still to a put a biscuit on the table. and I am about to go on vacation, so affordable housing isnt that bad…in weaverville that is lol

  4. Tom Johnson

    The 28% figure mentioned for housing takes into consideration your other debts. And $800 actually can get you housing here, even though it may not be the perfect little Haywood street bungalow with the organic garden in the back.

    Part of the problem here is that a lot of people don’t want to spend money on good housing. I had a couple that had combined income well into the $50’s complain that the couldn’t afford a $500 apartment. It was too much for them to spend on a nice place. Some of the people here should try to live in some of the big cities up north where a small apartment in a a bad area will cost you $1200 a month and you don’t make that much more for a lot of basic jobs.

    As far as home ownership goes, just remember that the idea that everyone should be able to own a home is part of the reason the economy is such a mess today.

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