Archive for Housing

Mar
10

Affordable Housing: The Rest of the Larchmont Story

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Back in 2010, there was Screenshot 2014-03-10 at 9.46.47 AM>quite a debate over adding a 60-unit apartment complex on an abandoned site off of Merrimon Avenue. The building, known as The Larchmont, had folks worried that crime would skyrocket, traffic would spike, and quality of life would be irreperably harmed. Fast forward four years, and Mark Barrett at the AC-T takes a look at what actually happened. It’s great to see old prejudices melting away and hear more and more support for Asheville’s working people.

When Mary Chakales’ mother passed away a few years ago, Chakales knew she needed to move to someplace less expensive than the North Asheville home she and her mother had shared.

She found it at The Larchmont, an apartment complex developed by nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities near North Asheville’s Grace post office and a couple blocks east of Merrimon Avenue.

“It’s just fallen into place beautifully for me. … I walk everywhere,” said Chakales, 62, who works as a cashier at a nearby grocery store. “Walking’s the best exercise in the world. It’s a nice neighborhood. You don’t have to worry about things happening.”

[…]

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From the Mountain Housing Opportunities website:

Cierra, Treva, and Corrie Williams - homeowners

Corrie, Treva, and Cierra Williams – homeowners

“Momma, when are we ever going to get a house?” It was a question Treva Williams’ youngest daughter, Cierra, always asked.

After 13 ½ years of living with five people in a two-bedroom apartment in River Glen apartments, Treva knew that it was time to take a leap of faith.

While living in the Mountain Housing Opportunities River Glen apartment complex, she received a mailing about the organization’s Self Help Home Ownership program. MHO’s Self-Help Homeownership program provides families and individuals in Buncombe County with low or moderate income an opportunity to achieve the American Dream of homeownership. The program makes owning homes affordable by allowing families to contribute “sweat equity” construction hours to reduce the cost of their homes. Families work together to build their homes under the guidance of an MHO construction supervisor. They invest “sweat equity” by helping to build not only their own home but all of the homes in the group, with no one moving in until all of the houses are complete.

“I took the mailing as a sign that I needed to look into this program, “ said Treva. “I knew it was a God given opportunity for me and my family.”

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Categories : Housing, Local
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Feb
06

Three-Legged Stool

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Screenshot 2014-02-06 at 11.09.48 PMThat was the original title for this essay generously published in the Mountain Xpress this week. Click through to read the whole thing. Excerpts:

I’m proud to be a part of a city where people care about each other. One recent study cited Asheville as one of the most generous cities in America, whose residents volunteer lots of time and money to make the world a better place. This is a community that knows we’re all in it together, and that’s why we’re going to be able to rise to the challenges facing us today.

We love living here, but we’re acutely aware of the fact that Asheville has a very high cost of living and very low median household income. Helping us get that median wage up are Living Wage Certified businesses that have made human value and dignity central to their business models. Great businesses like New Belgium Brewing, Linamar and PLI are helping too. The sad fact, however, is that too many employers here pay low wages for an honest day’s work. No one who works a full-time job ought to live in poverty. The city, county, Economic Development Coalition and Chamber of Commerce are working hard and all rowing in the same direction: toward better paying jobs. Asheville is examining our economic-incentive policies to better support homegrown entrepreneurs who pay living wages.

[…]

Asheville aspires to be a city of equal opportunity for all. Increasing incomes and offering affordable transportation options are two parts of a three-pronged approach to ensure a thriving city for generations to come.

The third leg of that three-legged stool is affordable housing, defined as spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing costs. We all want a vibrant city where economically mobile citizens can get a leg up, and where the elderly and disabled can live in dignity. We want an Asheville where residents can save money toward homeownership, business startups, tuition and increased opportunities for their children. Without affordable housing, a big part of our Asheville family struggles just to stay afloat.

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This is a guest post from the effervescent Amanda Rodriguez. Thanks for sharing your story, Amanda.

Amanda Rodriguez, homeowner.

Amanda Rodriguez, homeowner.

I moved to Asheville eight and a half years ago from Massachusetts because I hated big city life and bitter Boston winters. I also wanted to be closer to my grad school. While completing a low-residency program in Charlotte, I lived in Asheville and worked full-time, scraping to get by, supplementing my meager income with student loans. After graduating, I was still in love with Asheville, but I was buried under crippling student loan debt and the exorbitant cost of renting in the city. I wanted so badly to stay in Asheville, but it seemed like an impossibility. I was nowhere near hitting the 30K a year mark despite having a Masters degree.

When construction started on the Clingman Lofts, I became fascinated with them. As they took shape, their fun, funky aesthetic seemed perfect for me. I even crept into and explored them one night while they were still a work-in-progress. My heart ached at visions of the future that I imagined with myself cozy inside one of those lofts so close to downtown. My heart ached at the seemingly unattainable dream that I could be a homeowner in Asheville.

Affordable housing made that dream a reality. I’ve lived in my loft on Clingman Avenue for over five years now, and though the road to get here was rough, it was so very worth it. Using various programs throughout the city, I became a homeowner, and my monthly mortgage payments are even slightly less than I was paying to rent all those years ago. Because of affordable housing, I was able to set down roots in Asheville and make a life for myself. I was able to add myself to this vibrant community, contributing to the economy and the work force, contributing my intelligence, my creativity, and my diversity to my new home town.

I think of all the amazing and valuable people who’ve essentially been pushed out of Asheville because the wages are too low and the cost of living too high. I’m fearful of the trend towards gentrification that seeks to homogenize a city that is a renowned tourist destination because of its eclectic community. Affordable housing is vital to attracting and retaining talented people in our city, to fostering diversity, and to keeping Asheville weird.

Jan
27

Affordable Housing: Jen’s Story

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This is a guest post from Asheville’s very talented Jen Bowen. Thanks for sharing your story, Jen.

Jen Bowen and her superstar daughter

Jen Bowen and her superstar daughter

“Having an affordable, safe place to live has been my key to staying in Asheville and continuing to invest in this community.”

Flashback to early summer 2009 – I’m renting a small house in downtown Asheville, just finishing my ‘Faces of Asheville’ photography exhibit, considering a run for City Council to represent the arts sector for Asheville, and employed as an Office Manager for a wonderful locally based national touring arts organization.

Then, due to oops & miracles, I found myself pregnant. Faced with a difficult decision I decided to proceed with the pregnancy and make the best of the situation. The first half of the pregnancy was horrible, filled with debilitating morning sickness at all hours of the day. Within a short time it was obvious that the effects of the pregnancy were not going to allow me to keep working a full-time schedule. I was left with no other option but to resign my position and live off my savings for a period of time.

Jump forward a few months to the winter of 2009, and I find myself ready to burst and living in the spare room at my parent’s house, savings dwindled away in four months. It’s difficult to find part-time jobs that pay better than $8/hr (for the record a living wage in 2009 was $11/hr – currently it hovers around $13/hr – and those rates are for people who do not have any dependents), not to mention a job that holds any personal meaning or will even consider hiring an obviously pregnant woman. Thankfully due to community service in the arts sector I was fortunate enough to stumble across a new part-time position with the Cultural Arts Division at the City of Asheville. It was pretty much my dream job opportunity, and due to the nature of the position I was able to work from home with my baby for the first few months. The only downfall? The position was such that it would never come with a raise or promotion, and it was capped at $10K a year. I decided that for my daughter’s early life I would resign myself to doing my best and use government and other community programs to make ends meet. I set a goal of 5 years or less to get into a place where I would no longer need government assistance.

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Here’s some info about employment and housing from Mountain Housing Opportunities. For folks who aren’t aware, “45% of people who work in Buncombe County work within a 3-mile radius of the middle of downtown Asheville (49,690 workers). Of the 49,690 people who work in Asheville’s 3-mile downtown jobs center …

• Almost 23,000 travel over 10 miles to work.
• Over 12,000 travel over 25 miles to work.
• Over 19,000 live outside of Buncombe County.

An employee who commutes 10 miles each way to work and home spends over $2,500 per year in auto costs.”

Click the images to embiggen.

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 11.10.54 PM

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 11.11.15 PM

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May
29

Affordable Housing

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David Forbes has an interesting article in today’s Mountain Xpress regarding a proposed apartment building on Chestnut St. and the underlying issues at work in getting it approved. Many are aware that Asheville has effectively stopped growing geographically. With the loss of annexation, Asheville boundaries will remain fixed for the foreseeable future unless the General Assembly chooses to arbitrarily deannex areas that are now in the city. In order to have revenues keep pace with the ever-rising cost of providing services, we’ll have to grow within our borders. This means more businesses and denser housing in the city. Both require attention to traffic loads and other livability issues.

I don’t know many people who are pro-sprawl, but if we can’t locate affordable housing in the city of Asheville, then we’re going to chew into the open space outside the city, increase commuter traffic on our thoroughfares, increase air pollution in our environment, and deny citizens the opportunity to work their way into the middle class. If we focus on concentrating people of similar income levels then we risk further social stratification that makes cities unhealthy.

I understand and am sensitive to aesthetic concerns, but there is an affordable housing crisis in Asheville that can not be ignored. Mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods are going to be a part of our smart-growth future. What we have to do is ensure that density and livability go hand-in-hand. That future invites us all to embrace the fact that we rise and fall together and that hardworking people need places in the city to live. Excerpts from Forbes’ article:

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Apr
18

Equality and Leadership

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Screenshot 2013-04-18 at 9.04.18 AMBack in 2010, I introduced same-sex domestic partner benefits policy for employees of the City of Asheville. Recognizing the relationships and health needs of our LGBT employees was a big step forward. As city officials it’s important that demonstrate leadership to ensure the values of our community are reflected in government. A year after passing same-sex domestic partner benefits, I worked with over 50 clergy from the area to introduce and pass the City’s Equality Resolution, which included a Domestic Partner Registry, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination policy, taking a stand against bullying, and endorsing same-sex marriage. I’m grateful to the Council members who supported providing increased safety, opportunity, and acceptance for those citizens marginalized by unjust laws and policies.

Since that time we’ve seen Mission Hospital and Care Partners, two of Buncombe County’s largest employers adopt same-sex domestic partner benefits. Most recently, leaders in the Buncombe County Commission have taken similar steps to protect and recognize their LGBT employees. Their wise decisions mean that thousands of area workers are treated with respect.

We can do more. It’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT citizens when offering housing, and that’s something we have a responsibility to address. When offering economic incentives to business partners, we can guarantee that they include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.

Anything short of full equality for our LGBT citizens is unjust, and I will work to continue our march toward a city that demonstrates its values in all of its policies.

If you believe that these steps are the right ones, then please take the time to visit my campaign website and volunteer or donate. It’s critical that we have leaders on City Council who have demonstrated ability to get things done, and I’m asking for your help to continue this important work.

Sep
11

Of Haywood St. Property

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I’ve been getting a lot of email regarding the Haywood Street property that’s under consideration at the 9/11/12 City Council meeting. Here’s the reply I sent most recently, to someone who referenced the Aloft’s design –

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There is supposed to be a protest shindig tomorrow up by the Basilica, to protest the imminent decision on the fate of the city-owned parcel across from the Basilica on Haywood Street.

Then, while the issue is still nice and frothy, the City Council will meet at their usual place to decide what to do.

For my two cents, as one who has spent a lot of time looking and waiting for some in-town living that’s both decent and affordable, my vote would be for residential, not hotel. We have enough hotels.

The all-powerful landlords downtown don’t want to admit it, but their lock on the real estate market has things way over-valued in Asheville, especially considering the economy, and some new residential construction would ease the upward pressure a bit. The average price tag of a condo in town, smaller than your standard shipping container even, cries out that Asheville needs more residential housing in the inner downtown corridor.

It’s a simple matter of supply and demand, in that I demand an increase in the supply.

Indigo tried to reserve some space in their Mothership around the corner for some luxury penthouses, but that was a bone-headed plan, and now they are finishing it out as more hotel rooms. The McKibbon plan seems to be taking a similar stance, and you can pretty much bet that they will end up doing the same thing with whatever space they set aside for what they consider housing. Because hotel companies are not interested in providing housing for regular folks. They only want the wealthy, first class, long in the tooth, easy to manage, quiet, reserved, most likely conservative, non-entity’s in the area. Those kinds of tenants don’t want much they don’t already have and pretty much keep their mouths shut most of the time. Easy breezy.

That’s not what Asheville needs. Asheville needs inside the BID housing for adult couples with some life left in them, not another mausoleum like the Grove Arcade, or some Hollywood-on-the-Swannanoa luxury development. Continuing on the current course, Asheville just turns into a gated community every night at sundown. Yeah, that’s a healthy plan. Sustainable too. Just ask Florida.

Anyway, what’s your two cents? Have at it.