This drawing is from a Children First/CIS project where local children were asked to write and draw “What Home Means to Me”. Courtesy of Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County.
Jasmine knows first hand that safe, affordable housing is a challenge to find for families in Asheville – and how foundational a place to call home is for family success.
When she was 12 year old, she moved with her mother and brother to Buncombe County. They shared a small trailer with her grandparents. But that situation didn’t last and her family had to move out. Unable to find an affordable place of their own, they ended up at ABCCM’s homeless shelter.
They applied for a public housing unit, but the waiting and approval process ended up taking months. Jasmine and her family ended up spending a year at the shelter. Jasmine changed schools – enrolling in Asheville Middle from Enka Middle School.
“It was a big difference,” Jasmine reflects. “I had to deal with a lot socially, living in the shelter and being a teenager. I was really private about that. I would get off the bus at another street.”
She remembers another challenge – when kids from her school came to the shelter to do a service project. Her strategy: “I would try to not be visible.”
Eventually, her family received a place in public housing at Hillcrest Apartments. She lived there until she was 19. In 2011, Jasmine connected with Green Opportunities (GO) and joined their training team for youth 18 to 24 years-old. She apprenticed with GO’s program for 16 weeks and then worked for GO installing rain barrels and gardens for six months. At that time a job as office receptionist for GO became available. She’s been working at GO since then and is working on a degree at AB-Tech.
Jasmine now lives in her own apartment at Livingston Apartments – another public housing development. It took her a year wait and an appeal of her initial rejection due to a misconduct charge from an altercation in high school to be able to rent the unit at Livingston. NC is one of only two states that automatically charge 16 and 17-year-olds as adults regardless of accusation or offense. For Jasmine, and many other NC high school students, a school fight can result in an adult criminal record – a roadblock for future employment, education, and housing.
While she appreciates that Livingston Apartments offers public bus service and is convenient to her work and AB-Tech, Jasmine aspires to move out of public housing. She feels that too many families can get stuck in public housing for generations.
“Once you get it, it is hard to get out,” she says. Income-based rent increases and limited grace periods may make it difficult to save money for the next step. She also notes that as a young resident in public housing she doesn’t have the kind of credit that private landlords want to see for potential tenants. Credit checks can be a major barrier for low-wage workers seeking private rentals.
Jasmine notes that it is almost impossible for people to find housing they can afford when working minimum wage. Based on estimates from a 2013 report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a single parent in Asheville needs to work 16 hours/day to afford a modest two bedroom apartment.
Jasmine continues, “I actually do make a living wage at GO. That enables me to qualify for other places.” However, she hasn’t found a place yet. She would like to continue living close to city bus lines for transportation. In Buncombe County, many workers continue to turn to trailers as an affordable option. Jasmine notes that most affordable trailers are east of Asheville in Swannanoa or the opposite way in Candler and Enka – no where near city transit lines.
Jasmine has applied for a unit in a Mountain Housing Opportunities (MHO) apartment. MHO, a local nonprofit, builds affordable and attractive, private-market apartments close to transit lines. Many of their units have been built leveraging a variety of affordable housing funds including the City’s Housing Trust Fund.
At 20 years-old, Jasmine is optimistic about her prospects for becoming more economically stable. “In my situation I moved out fairly young. I would advise people to stay at home and save money so they don’t have to jump out into a situation.” Jasmine continues, “Try to build resources, do whatever you can to make yourself self sufficient. Get yourself prepared.” She is also very grateful for the supportive network she developed through GO.
Jasmine’s story highlights the spectrum of housing experiences that many families travel – doubling up, homelessness, shelters, public housing, and several moves. This instability impacts families’ health, ability to find jobs, and children’s academic success. Jasmine’s success equation is a blend of her determination and resourcefulness, supportive networks, local nonprofits, and publicly funded programs. United as a community, we can ensure that the public and private supports exist for Jasmine and so many others seeking an opportunity to thrive.
This story is part of a series collected by The Success Equation, an initiative that unites community to reduce and prevent poverty so all children can thrive. Partners include the Cathedral of All Souls, Girl Scouts Peak to Piedmont, Junior League of Asheville, Just Economics, Innovative Partners International, Searchlight Consulting, Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation, and YWCA. To find out more go to find out more, go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.
Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County. For more information on the program, visit childrenfirstbc.org or call 786-2072.