Strong sellers’ housing market seen in Asheville, Buncombe

Buying a house at what used to be an average price in Buncombe County became increasingly difficult in 2015, and that’s likely to continue at least through the next six months, experts say.

Selling a home at higher-than-average price, however, was a different story.

Housing markets in Asheville and Buncombe County set a bevy of records in 2015, putting home ownership out of reach for some while also offering huge rewards for people who bought years ago and are ready to sell now.

Local trends reflect those across the country, national experts say, where low inventory also is pushing up prices.

Particularly significant among regional records is the median Asheville home sale price, which leapt to $242,500, a 7.8 percent increase over the previous record of $225,000 attained in 2006 and last year, said Mike Figura, owner and broker of Community Lifestyle Mosaic Realty in Asheville.

The combination of that price increase with the number of homes sold in Asheville and Buncombe County demonstrates a weaker pace of activity is unlikely, Figura said.

A total of 1,389 Asheville homes sold last year, the most ever. In Buncombe County, the most sold since 2006 at 2,510.

“The last time we saw (prices) that high, in 2007, they were rising after volume (sold) dropped off,” Figura said. “That’s an indication of a slowdown. Now, we’re seeing peaks in homes selling and home prices – and they’re continuing to rise.”

That means the current market is more demand-driven and the prices are “more real” than they were before the market crashed in 2007, Figura said. “The fundamentals are different.”

Other statistics reveal the strength of the seller’s market, said Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real-estate trends.

The average asking price for homes in Buncombe County, including Asheville, as of Jan. 5 was $539,641 – the highest ever.

Also as of that date, 1,187 county homes were on the market – the lowest since 2004, Davies said.

“At one time, what was setting high (average) prices was that there were lots of homes over $1 million,” he said. “Now, the inventory is low and the demand is high. That’s driven prices up and makes the average higher.”

With fewer houses priced between $230,000 and $280,000, only more expensive residences remain, Davies said – another cause of a higher average price.

National attention on Asheville as a destination, as a desirable place to retire, as a region with four seasons, and as a beautiful location with a high quality of life all benefit the seller at the expense of the buyer, said Susan Duncan, owner and broker in charge at Exit Realty Vistas in Arden.

“The (sellers’) market is really booming; it’s very hot right now,” Duncan said.

This cuts two ways, Figura said.

“I’m happy to see real-estate appreciation for those who invested at the right time,” Figura said. “This is their nest egg.”

At the same time, Figura said those hoping to reap a substantial return on a real estate investment by starting now “are going to have a much harder time than those who started 15 years ago.”

Jonathan Stanley, 39, an IT director at a Hendersonville-based nonprofit organization, is among those homeowners set to benefit.

He and his wife own a 1,450-square-foot house on Dale Street in West Asheville that Stanley bought just over 13 years ago for $117,500.

“I plan to list it at $225,000,” said Stanley, who’s currently renting that house to tenants and living in Mills River, Henderson County, with his wife, Tracy, and their daughter, 5, and 1-year-old son.

They are keeping their options open. The Stanleys might buy in Mills River or they might decide to build a new home, he said.

The target time for “serious” house-hunting is summer, Stanley said.

He hopes to clear about $75,000 in profit once commissions and other closing costs are paid to purchase a new home.

The Stanleys are searching for something in the $300,000 price range that’s about 2,000 square feet, he said.

“We’re planning to have more children.”

But many in Asheville and Buncombe County looking to buy are challenged due to rapidly rising prices, low inventory and out-of-towners paying cash for what is available.

“It’s sad to see in our society that you can be a hardworking adult and not be able to afford decent housing,” Figura said.

This is happening nationwide, too, said Jonathan Miller, the New York-based co-founder of Miller Samuel, a residential real estate appraisal company, and the commercial valuation firm Miller Cicero.

“Low inventory is forcing housing prices to rise far faster than wage growth,” Miller said.

“Housing prices are above the prefinancial crisis high that was a product of zero lending standards,” he said.

In the current cycle, prices are rising for the opposite reason.

“Tight credit causes inventory to fall because sellers can’t buy in the same numbers they did before,” Miller said. “This is not healthy or sustainable.”

At the local level, one result is that homeowners are able to sell high, but they’re also going to have to buy high, said Duncan, the Exit Realty Vistas owner.

“Even if people want to downsize, that’s going to be a challenge,” she said. “Either way, they’re going to take a hit.”

•    $242,500 – Highest-ever median home sales price in Asheville.
•    1,389 – Most homes ever sold in Asheville during calendar year.
•    $539,641 – Highest average asking price for homes ever attained in Buncombe County, including Asheville. Recorded on Jan. 5.
•    $350,000 – Highest median asking price for homes ever attained in Buncombe County, including Asheville. Recorded on Jan. 5.
•    $249,000 – Highest quarterly median home sale price ever attained in Asheville.
•    1,187 – Lowest number of residences available in Buncombe County, including Asheville, since 2004. Recorded on Jan. 5.
•    43 – Number of residences available in Buncombe County, including Asheville, with asking prices below $100,000.

Sources: Mike Figura, owner and broker of Community Lifestyle Mosaic Realty in Asheville; Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real-estate trends.

via  Mike Cronin

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Rising Asheville real estate prices force many out

David Donoghue, 31, one of the many Asheville residents impacted by rising real estate prices
David Donoghue, 31, one of the many Asheville residents impacted by rising real estate prices

As Asheville continues to grow, so does property rental prices in the formerly quaint mountain town. According to Zillow, a real estate aggregate website, Asheville’s rental prices have risen by approximately 8.4 percent in the last year.

The housing prices pose a serious problem for those working minimum wage jobs and living on fixed incomes. As housing becomes less affordable, they face the choice of living in subpar Asheville housing or looking for housing in the less expensive Asheville suburbs.

“My search for affordable housing in this area has been one of the most demoralizing experiences of my life,” said Angie Song, a 54-year-old sign language interpreter.

Song lived in a 1,400 square foot home in Jackson County, North Carolina before selling it and moving to Asheville to be close to her grandchild. Unable to afford a home of a similar size in Asheville, Song settled on renting a home, but said she soon found she would pay $1,500 a month in rent for even the most modest one bedroom apartment.

“It looks like I will have housemates for the first time in my life if things don’t improve,” Song said.

Rising real estate prices during the past decade force many people to resort to transience in their search for affordable housing, sleeping on friends’ or family’s couches instead of finding a permanent place to reside.

“I have moved about every six months on average in three years, and I’m looking for a place right now,” said Chelsea Myers, who works multiple jobs in Asheville to make ends meet. “It is really difficult to find a place and the prices are definitely rising.”

Myers lived in a house with seven other service professionals until the recent spike in housing prices. When her landlady learned she could profit by selling her rental properties, she put the house on the market and evicted her tenants, Myers said.

“Those of us that work service jobs keep the tourism alive in this town,” Myers said. “If we have nowhere affordable to live, who is going to work these jobs?”

In addition to high rental prices, Asheville’s property prices continue to increase at a fast pace. According to Trulia, another aggregate website, the median price of real estate in Asheville rose to just almost $500,000 in recent years. Myers said this has skewed the real estate market..
Lisa Jackson, a real estate agent at Nest Realty, said Asheville’s real estate market recovered quickly from the credit crunch, a recent financial crisis that caused banks and lending firms to be more stringent in their lending practices. The city’s destination status brought in tourists and retirees who want to live among the beautiful mountain vistas.

“We are actually back to the numbers we saw at the top of the market in 2006,” Jackson said.

Disabled and elderly especially affected

Michael Menut, 27, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. However, he suffers from a debilitating disability that prevents him from holding down a steady job.

“I am reliant on social security for my income,” Menut said. “My usual rent when I was living in Asheville was a significant portion of my income.”

Menut found reasonably priced housing after a long search, but said the house he moved into was infested with insects and other pests. Forced to move out, Menut said he was unable to find other affordable housing and moved back to Anson County with his parents.

Still looking to return to Asheville, Menut said he sought help from the Department of Social Services to find reasonably priced housing, but came up short.

“I tried my best to find new apartments,” Menut said. “I was given a rental guide by an organization that works with people with disabilities, but I haven’t found anything I can afford yet.”

Ed Stein works as a maintenance technician at Carson’s Creek apartments on Hendersonville Road. The apartments came under new ownership last month. Stein said the new owners are increasing monthly rent by at least $200 after existing leases expire, which may force out many of their elderly tenants whose sole income comes from social security checks.

“Before our general manager was dismissed, she was told that the reason we had full occupancy and long term tenants was because our rents are ‘too low,’” Stein said. “Our one bedroom apartment is nearly $900 before the rent increase.”

Stein said the new management’s plan will be implemented suddenly. The apartments’ owners are anticipating potential conflict with tenants, so much so that they hired an off-duty Asheville police officer to keep the peace in the complex office.

“The two company reps here are apparently used to this,” Stein said. “ It’s business as usual, right down to wanting a cop handy. Their attitude is ‘change happens’ and you can’t please everyone.”

Housing turned to vacation rentals

David Donoghue moved to Asheville when he was 8 years old, and maintained residency in town ever since. Now a hibachi chef at Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, the 30-year-old Donoghue has difficulty finding affordable housing in his hometown.

“A lot of places get bought up and used for vacation rentals, as opposed to housing for folks like us,” Donoghue said.

Donoghue said several property management companies bought up real estate to use on temporary rental websites like Airbnb, a popular new way for owners to rent to tourists.
Airbnb boasts more than 300 rentals in the Asheville area on its website. Many are on the Merrimon Avenue corridor and in West Asheville, previously occupied primarily by service industry professionals and students, according to Donoghue.

Well versed in the Asheville real estate market, realtor Lisa Jackson said she has seen the rise in rentals over the past decade.

“Buyers who may want to live in Asheville only four to six months out of the year are buying and renting out their vacation homes part time to help them afford to own a home in Asheville,” Jackson said.

When asked about finding affordable housing in Asheville proper, Jackson said the situation is grim for many who do not earn the high wages necessary to rent many of the available properties.
“My advice would be to look for a home that needs renovation in a good location,” Jackson said. “But that’s easier said than done.”

Taylor Harold relocated to Asheville to become a massage therapist this past fall. The apartment he rented was sufficient for his needs and reasonably priced, but he said his landlord disclosed a catch.
“The first two months, it had already been rented out almost every weekend on Airbnb,” Harold said. “I had to move in and out of my place several times, once for an entire week.”

According to Harold, the landlord discounted his rent for displacing him, but stated Harold might need to vacate the premises in future weeks with little to no notice.

“It’s an insane situation,” Harold said. “I have friends that live in $600 a month studios with no heat or air and constantly broken toilets. One friend lives in a bathroom that’s been turned into an apartment.”

via By Lee Elliott 01/29/2016

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Appointed city board has big say over development

Appointed city board has big say over development

ASHEVILLE – The Planning and Zoning Commission — it’s a city government board with a dry-sounding name.

But the often overlooked volunteer commission wields power and influence over construction and development second only to Asheville’s City Council.

In some cases, the commission has more power than the council. And that has now shoved the seven-member appointed body and its role squarely into a political debate.

A development boom centered on downtown led to voter pushback in November and is now causing the council to look at changing rules which have resulted in the commission having final approval over 80 percent of proposed downtown projects since 2010, including five hotels.

Some past and current commission members, though, say changing the 2010 rules to put more decisions under elected officials could lead to problems.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Commission Chairman Jeremy Goldstein said. “I think the whole reason it was done was to depoliticize the process to encourage development downtown.”

Regardless of what happens with the rules, the commission will remain an important stop for medium-sized and large projects, those familiar with the development process say.

Who they are

The commission is made up of five members who live within Asheville’s city limits and are appointed by the council. Two additional members are appointed by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

County appointees were required to be residents of a ring around the city where Asheville had zoning power even though it was beyond municipal limits. State lawmakers did away with the extra-territorial jurisdiction, but the county continues to have the power to appoint members.

Those seeking appointment must submit detailed applications and go through council-conducted interviews, one of the most rigorous processes among city boards. Elected officials then vote in public session on which applicants to appoint. An appointee serves a three-year term with the option to seek reappointment for a single additional term.

Commission members are: private transportation planner Kristy Carter, attorney Jim Edmonds, engineer and landscape architect Tony Hauser, architect Laura Berner Hudson, real estate company president and oil company president Karl Koon, landscape architecture and urban design company owner Guillermo Rodriguez and Goldstein, who owns a commercial real estate company.

Two members live in North Asheville. Others live in East Asheville, West Asheville, Candler, Riceville and on top of Beaucatcher Mountain.

Goldstein said the commission has professionals who have experience with planning, such as architects and engineers, but said, “it’s designed to be a layperson board.”

Lou Bissette, a former Asheville mayor and an attorney who has represented developers in front of the commission and the council for “at least 20 years,” said he’s seen a shift in composition.

“I think it used to be primarily made up of business people.” Now with engineers, architects and commercial real estate professionals it’s a better mix, Bissette said.

What they do

Along with the commission’s role in approving developments, the board has a broad range of duties related to figuring out what kind of uses should be allowed where in the city. The board makes those zoning recommendations on whether to allow — or not allow — uses such as retail businesses, industries, homes and apartments. The council has the final say in the zoning decisions.

The commission helps draw up overarching, long-term land-use plans for the city. A new version of the city’s comprehensive plan will start being hashed out in 2016. The comprehensive plan is also subject to final approval by the council.

An example of the commission’s work was when it reviewed plans for the New Belgium brewery on the west bank of the French Broad River, said Joe Minicozzi, a past commission member and current urban planner whose company specializes in land value economics.

With such large projects, commission members spend time poring over proposed development details and seeing if they match with the city’s comprehensive plan, Minicozzi said.

“We were looking at projects and seeing if they are consistent or not with the plan,” he said.

In terms of things over which the commission has ultimate say, one is approving preliminary plats for proposed major subdivisions.

Another is development projects that fall in the “Level II” category. In downtown, that means projects 20,000-175,000 square feet and less than 145 feet in height. Bigger Level III projects are reviewed by the council.

Those thresholds were adopted in 2010 as part of the downtown master plan. They have meant the commission gave final approval for projects such as the Hyatt Place Hotel at 199 Haywood St. across Interstate 240 from Montford, City Centre Building at 311 College St. at the corner of South Charlotte Street and AC Hotel at 16 College St. at the corner of Broadway.

To get more of these types of projects in front of them, council members are now looking at taking over all Level II reviews or lowering the Level III size threshold.

Despite being the board that approves the projects, Goldstein said rules governing how the commission operates gives little leeway. That means the commission has less power than many people might think and projects generally must be approved if they meet already-laid out city specifications.

“A Level II is a ministerial review where we are obligated to approve it as long as it meets the technical requirements,” the chairman said.

That means disregarding political considerations, said Bissette, “Such as if there are 50 neighbors who just don’t want change in their neighborhood and are opposed to it.”

Sprawl? Loss of investment?

Minicozzi and Goldstein questioned whether the development boom is reason to change rules.

Minicozzi noted that in the 1920s there were 19 hotels downtown and the city has been a tourist town for more than 100 years as written about by author Thomas Wolfe in his book “Look Homeward Angel.”

“They are going through the exact same thing we are going through now.”

Changing the rules would provide more public scrutiny, Minicozzi said. “But whether or not that’s good or bad, I don’t know.”

It was in the wake of the recession five years ago the commission was given more say over downtown development. The idea was to ease the way for developers by depoliticizing what had been at times a raucous process and making it more predictable. In return, developers had to adhere to new height limits, design guidelines and other rules.

More development downtown could mean less suburban sprawl and a higher tax base. Changing the rules now could have the opposite effect, Goldstein said.

“If we want to have better sidewalks, if we want to have better streets, police and fire, where is the money going to come from for those things?” he said.

Regardless of any rule changes, the commission will remain an important stop. Bigger projects or those with special zoning that requires council approval come before the commission first and get “put through the grinder once” the chairman said.

A positive recommendation from the commission may not mean a project gets approved by the council, Bissette said. But a negative one can be a good reason to kill it.

“If planning and zoning denies your project, I think that is a big strike against your project going to City Council,” the attorney said.

Special report: Growing pains shaping Asheville’s future

Council wants veto on more downtown Asheville projects

Planning and Zoning Commission members:

• Jeremy Goldstein (chairman), owner commercial real estate firm G/M Property Group LLC, appointed 2011, East Asheville (north of Haw Creek)

• Tony Hauser, engineer/landscape architect with Altamont Environmental, Inc., appointed 2015, North Asheville

• Guillermo Rodriguez, owner of landscape architecture/urban design company Leisure by Design, appointed 2015, Beaucatcher Mountain

• Kristy Carter, transportation planner with J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning in Waynesville, appointed in 2011, West Asheville

• Laura Berner Hudson, architect with PFA Architects, appointed 2014, North Asheville

• Jim Edmonds, owner of Law Offices of James M. Edmonds in Candler, appointed 2011 (Buncombe County Commissioners appointment), Candler

• Karl Koon, president of real estate company Sea-Nic Enterprises and Asheville Oil Company, appointed 2013 (Buncombe County Commissioners appointment), Riceville

From the City of Asheville’s website:


The Planning and Zoning Commission is an advisory board to City Council. Its duties include:

Reviewing text for proposed amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance.

Hearing proposals to zone or change the zoning of property regulated under the UDO and then making recommendations to City Council for final action.

Performing studies and surveys of the conditions for development.

Formulating and recommending to City Council the adoption or amendment of a comprehensive plan and other plans.

Reviewing terms of the UDO from time to time, as it deems appropriate.

Reviewing applicants of planned unit development designation and preliminary plans.

Reviewing and making decisions on all proposed preliminary plats for major subdivision.

The Commission consists of 7 members. Five are city residents appointed by City Council. Two are residents of the extra-territorial area of the city. They are appointed by Buncombe county commissioners. The length of term of office is three years.

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‘Silver tsunami’ of retirees set to change Asheville

ASHEVILLE – Patty Mewborne Head still gets together with high school friends to ride by her old West Asheville haunts from time to time.

They joyride past the Malvern Hills Pool and the teen center — two places where Head can still remember dancing to jukebox hits and playing ping-pong with the “good-lookin’ boys from Arden and Valley Springs.”

That was a different time and era in Asheville.

It was the ’50s and ’60s, and Head could walk anywhere and everywhere — from her daddy’s store on Haywood Road all the way down to Hall Fletcher to watch the boys play a pick-up game of baseball. One ride around West Asheville takes the 70-year-old right back to those days.

“You could go down there and fall in love 12 times before school started again,” Head chuckled. “It was the greatest place in the world to grow up.”

Now, for Head and the thousands like her, the Asheville area is becoming the greatest place in the world to retire. Her generation is set to change Asheville in many ways — some good, some not so great.

While all of Asheville’s age segments are expected to grow in the next five years, a report released in January shows the greatest growth by far will happen among people between the ages of 65 and 74. That population segment is projected to grow an estimated 21 percent by 2020.

The report, conducted by Ohio-based Bowen National Research, a real estate market consulting firm, used U.S. Census data to make its projections.

The next fastest growing age segment in Asheville is among people older than 75. That population is projected to grow by about 15 percent in the next five years.

The aging trend exists beyond Asheville’s city limits.

The Buncombe County Aging Plan for January 2013-December 2017 estimates the number of individuals age 60 and older are expected to nearly double in Buncombe County during that time.

They will offer Asheville economic promise, but will also put a strain on services.

Her generation will help the community tackle issues head-on, but it will also find itself struggling to belong.

“There’s not just one picture of retirement or aging, and that’s what makes it challenging,” said Don Bradley, an associate professor at Samford University whose research centers on why people move later in life. “There’s been this idea that older migrants coming into a community are an unadulterated good thing for the economy, but it’s just so much more complicated than that.”

With the issue of housing, for example, retirees have been shaping Asheville home prices by buying second-homes at prices locals cannot afford. At the same time, the retirement-aged population is also one of the most vulnerable communities impacted by rising housing costs.



After working in the real estate business for 35 years in Florida, Head decided about 10 years ago that the time had come to retire. She knew where she wanted to be: Back in West Asheville. However, when she began looking for places to live, the prices were just too high for her.

Today, they’re even higher.

Instead of a house in West Asheville, Head purchased a townhouse in Fletcher.

“It’s kind of like coming home,” she said.

But when she returns home to the mountains, she is also returning to her second home.

Head splits her year between Asheville and Naples, Florida.

She’s a second-home owner — a term many Asheville residents use interchangeably with negative nouns like “out-of-towner” and “snowbird.”

It’s an indictment that gives Head pause as someone who grew up in the mountains.

“I wanted to come back to the area even though I’ve been away for 48 years,” she said. “I worked hard to do this, and I had to give up a lot of other things to make it happen. I’ve never really traveled or done a lot of other things that other people my age have been able to do. To me, it’s a matter of choices, and different people make different choices. I chose Asheville.”

According to the most recent data available through the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, about 4,400 people chose to move to Asheville from another state in 2013 — a figure that accounts for just shy of half of one percent of the city’s total population.

Don Davies, founder of Realsearch, an Asheville company that researches real estate trends, said the impact these older adults are having on the housing market is hard to miss.

Real estate research does not track home ownership rates by age, but Davies keeps hearing a common narrative from the people he hikes with on a regular basis. Unlike Davies, who has lived in Buncombe County for more than 30 years, his fellow hikers are new to town, usually retired and have moved to the area from a more expensive city.

“Where these folks come from, places like New York, D.C., Los Angeles and some parts of Florida, they come here and still think we’re a bargain even though we, the local people, think it’s getting too high. When I said that our house prices are getting really high, they will just laugh at you because $500,000 for a home is nothing compared to where they used to live.”

The median asking price of residences in Buncombe reached $330,000 in March, which means the number of houses costing more than $330,000 was the same as the number of houses costing less than that.

Skip Dillingham, managing broker at Century 21 Mountain Lifestyles real estate agency, said it makes sense that an area that is in demand has higher home costs.

“I’ve always said it costs to live in heaven, and we have a little piece of heaven here in Asheville,” Dillingham said.

While Head chose to retire in Asheville largely because of her childhood ties to the region, others are drawn to the mountain city first as tourists.

In fact, many retirement destinations begin as tourism hubs. Florida’s status as a retirement mecca can be traced back to the 19th century, when New Yorkers would flock to the state to escape their state’s harsh winter months, Bradley said.

“If you have a tourism economy, you bring people there and they have good memories of times spent with their families,” Bradley said. “When those people then reach retirement age, and if they are considering making a retirement move, they may have a limited number of destinations where they can imagine living. Among those places will be areas that they have visited and vacationed.”

But for other older adults coming to the region or aging in the region, their pockets are not always lined with the security of 401(k) plans or a large amount of discretionary spending.

“We hear stories so often about people who are drawn here by the arts and the reputation that Asheville has but it just doesn’t pan out for them or they don’t have a job. That happens with older people, too,” said Wendy Marsh, executive director of the Council on Aging of Buncombe County. “Not everybody who moves here is wealthy.”

According to a market feasibility analysis study conducted in April by Bowen National Research on behalf of Asheville’s Givens Estates Retirement Community, six low-income housing tax credit properties in Asheville have significant wait lists.

At Battery Park Apartments, a 121-unit apartment building in downtown Asheville for adults 62 and older, for disabled individuals and for people that qualify for Section 8 housing, about 150 households were on the waiting list in the spring.

Givens’ Affordable Housing Director Teresa Stephens said these needs are what is driving the development of Givens Gerber Park. The project in South Asheville aims to create 262 units of senior housing, of which 202 will be designed as affordable units for seniors who earn 60 percent or less of the average median income, or less than $26,000 annually. The remaining 60 units will be “workforce housing” for senior households that earn 61-100 percent of the average median income, or roughly between $26,000 and $45,000.

Stephens said there are also plans for offering supportive services at the housing development, including having an onsite primary care office, a community nurse and social worker available and a café where seniors can gather to socialize and also to work if they so desire.

“As more people age, we’re going to need more resources for them, more services, more housing,” Stephens said. “To me, developing a project like this is just common sense. Not all folks are ready for assisted living and not everyone can afford assisted living. When you read about demand here, the need is truly great and it’s only going to get greater.”

According to the Pew Research Center, nationwide, roughly 10,000 boomers will turn 65 every day until the year 2030.

That fact is one that Marsh, executive director at the Council on Aging of Buncombe County, recognizes.

The Council on Aging of Buncombe County is a nonprofit that works to provide services to individuals 60 and older. Marsh said the organization served 8,000 people during its most recent fiscal year, and has seen a 27 percent increase in people accessing them for help in the past three years.

“The older you get, the more opportunity you have to be poor and alone,” Marsh said.

However, on the other side of the picture, older adults can also provide a positive impact on the economy as well — especially in a tourist town like Asheville.



Bradley said older adults who are able to relocate to another city later in life, generally, tend to be more affluent and, by proxy, tend to contribute significant dollars to the local economy.

“Kind of a rule of thumb is that every two migrants to a community generates one job,” Bradley said. “They spend money locally, and it should stimulate the local economy, but that all depends on the local economy’s ability to capture that spending.”

In tourism-based economies, Bradley said, senior spending can actually help to counter a tourism destination’s seasonal economy by spending year-round and stabilizing the market. When the tourists leave, the seniors stay.

Before accepting a position at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Bradley was an associate professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. There, he studied how North Carolina was affected by people who moved to the state later in life.

Between 1995 and 2000, Bradley said North Carolina saw a net income transfer of $1.1 billion solely due to the influx of older adults migrating to the Tar Heel State.

“And North Carolina should continue to attract a fairly large number of older migrants. It’s a favored destination state, from the mountains to the coast and all the urban areas in between,” he said.

But while this population can sometimes sustain a local economy, it can also strain it.

“The problem is if older adults remain in one place once their resources run out or if they become dependent on Medicaid, Medicare or some other state or locally funded program,” Bradley said.

Medicaid, a federal-state program, helps pay for health care for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, as well as for low-income families with children. Medicare, on the other hand, is a federal health care insurance program for people older than 65 and for the disabled.

Rebecca Chaplain, an aging and disabilities specialist at the Area Agency on Aging at Land of Sky Regional Council was one of the 13 people who served on the Planning Committee of the Buncombe County Aging Coordinating Consortium. The committee authored the Buncombe County Aging Plan for January 2013-December 2017.

She said she is already seeing the impact of the silver tsunami as boomers begin taking care of their parents.

“So many of our staff here are also caregivers. It affects everything from work performance to quality of life. With the boomer generation caring for their parents, they’re usually the invisible patient,” Chaplain said.

Feeling invisible is something that can also happen to people who move to cities later in life, especially if these cities are quick to judge their newfound residents.

However, the way these adults are able to mobilize in communities can pay dividends and can even do things that an area’s locals may not be able to do.



When John Wingerter and his wife, Edythe, looked for places to retire, Asheville represented an eclectic, intellectual and vibrant arts community where they wanted to be during their golden years. In 2006, after 25 years in Toledo, Ohio, the couple moved to Asheville.

However, about six years into his job-free life, Wingerter realized he was not ready to stop working. He sought purpose and he wanted to contribute to his new community.

“I tried retirement, and I decided I didn’t like it at all,” Wingerter said. “I just have to feel productive. I just wanted to do something more, and this opportunity presented itself.”

With 40 years of work history in the insurance business, Wingerter decided to put his skills to use and started volunteering at the Council on Aging of Buncombe County. Now, he helps his peers navigate the challenges of health care insurance as the nonprofit’s director of insurance services.

Wingerter estimates about 22 volunteers are currently helping the nonprofit with Medicare counseling sessions. Almost all of them are retirees. Almost all of them moved to Asheville from somewhere else.

“A lot of folks who retire here are very well-educated folks and they know how to express themselves, make themselves known and make their views known. They’re writing letters to the editor, doing community activities, volunteering with us and places like MANNA FoodBank, Meals on Wheels and others,” Wingerter said. “If it wasn’t for their contributions, the city would be a much poorer place.”

At Meals on Wheels, for example, about 38 drivers are needed every day to bring warm meals to local people in need. Many of the volunteers are retirees.

Catherine Frank, executive director at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, said this volunteerism makes sense because the types of seniors who are drawn to Asheville are not the people that want to sit around knitting on a front porch all day.

They may knit, but they may also kayak.

“So many of our members want to begin their retirement years with hiking, kayaking and biking,” Frank said. “Asheville is like a college town with UNC Asheville here, but it’s also a small city with some big city amenities that still has an intimacy you can capture. If you go to the Asheville Symphony, there’s not a bad seat in the house. In contrast to trying to see a symphony performance in Manhattan, it’s incredibly affordable.”

In 1988, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — then called the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement — was founded on UNCA’s campus to help people “thrive in life’s second half.” Classes and lectures are given on a variety of topics, from acoustic music to stargazing. The most popular class, Frank said, is on Appalachian history.

Today, 60 percent of OLLI’s members say the existence of the center is among one of the primary reasons why they decided to retire in Asheville.

“They are here because they want to be engaged,” Frank said.

But sometimes that can be easier said than done.

When an individual moves to another city later in life, they are sometimes leaving behind vital support systems and relationships.

“There’s a social division that can occur, and older migrants, generally, do not tend to integrate effectively into their receiving communities,” Bradley said. “When you move into a community as a working-aged adult, there are a couple of key mechanisms that exist. If you have children in schools, you get to know other people that way. If you’re at work, you get to know people through those kinds of connections. Older adults don’t have those avenues open to them. They have to rely on other types of social structures, like church groups or clubs. And if they’re coming from a different region or social class, it only makes integration that much more difficult.”

Sometimes older adults can mean well, but their wants can have negative impacts on a city’s physical environment.

In mountain communities, Bradley said, retirees want beautiful mountain views. But with limited land options, the desires of this population can contribute to sprawl or building homes on mountainsides.

“If you think about a typical housing development aimed at active older adult communities, they are usually designed with golf courses and hiking trails,” he said. “Generally, these developments are located on the furthest outreaches of metropolitan areas.”

However, this population might also be the ones volunteering their time to preserve trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Growing as a city with a large senior population can be a delicate balancing act, Bradley said. For example, ageism might rear its head more in community debates even if seniors’ concerns are well-founded.

“If you look at places like Florida, there’s a lot of tension and push-back against older migrants there, and just the number of older adults in Florida in general,” he said. “I was reading through a story in Sarasota (about this issue) and the comments section of the article was brutal. There were plenty of ‘send them back’ and ‘we don’t need them’ sentiments. They can be an easy target.”

As a West Asheville native and a second-home owner for 10 years, Head recognizes the duality of her presence and what the growing population of retirees could mean for her hometown.

Though she lives here six months out of the year, she volunteers at Haywood Street Ministries every Wednesday when she is in Asheville.

“I can’t say I feel guilt for being here. I feel blessed and gratitude more than any other emotion,” she said. “This is home. Florida is home, too. I try to give back. I try to be a good neighbor.”


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Asheville-area housing market setting records

But one local real estate agent worries that thriving sector could have negative consequences on tourism and hospitality workers

ASHEVILLE – Local real estate records keep falling as the Asheville and Buncombe County housing markets continue to gain steam, a boon for some and potentially bad news for people wanting to buy their first home.

Even higher-priced housing – long a soft spot – is starting to sell as people with money to spend move into the area.

The number of homes sold in Asheville alone during the third quarter of this year, 401, was the highest on record, said Mike Figura, owner and broker of Community Lifestyle Mosaic Realty in Asheville.

That’s two residences more than the previous record of 399 set in the third quarter of 2006, Figura said.

Asheville also set the highest median sale price ever during this year’s third quarter: $244,000, Figura said. That figure exceeds the previous record of $235,000, set in the fourth quarter of 2007.

The median asking price for all Buncombe County residential homes — which includes houses, condominiums, townhouses and mobile homes — through Sept. 30 also hit a new high at $348,950, said Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real-estate trends. That figure broke the old record of $345,900 set during this year’s second quarter, Davies said.

The median house price means an equal number of prices exist above and below the figure of $348,950.

“It’s good for people who own property and can see appreciation in the value of their property,” Figura said. “It’s bad for the majority of people not making enough to afford housing.”

Current-year dynamics

But for people in real estate, 2015 could turn out to be the best year ever, Davies said.

Through the end of September, average sales per month in Buncombe County equaled 336, Davies said.

The record for a whole year is 343, set in 2006.

Averages sales per month in Buncombe County last year was 297, he said.

Figura pointed out another sign of the region’s strengthening housing market: The reduction in inventory of higher-priced homes.

“When inventory levels are more than 6 months, it is a buyers’ market and there is downward pressure on prices and when inventory levels are less than 6 months, it is a seller’s market and there is upward pressure on prices,” Figura wrote in his third-quarter report on the Asheville and Buncombe County housing markets.

“As of October 2015, inventory in Asheville was well under 6 months in the price ranges below $450,000 and for price ranges between $450,000 and $800,000, inventory levels were around 6 months,” Figura wrote.

In a Tuesday interview, Figura said that “the market has really strengthened in the upper-price ranges. For a long time (since 2013) that strength” lay at houses priced under $450,000, he said.

Figura cited a dynamic that many analysts have observed for more than a year: Buyers from more expensive markets — such as New York, Florida, New Jersey and California – are purchasing houses in the local area.

“That’s putting upward pressure on the middle-range prices and adding more demand,” he said.

Figura and Davies said they do not track data regarding house buyers from more expensive markets purchasing homes in Asheville and Buncombe County.

Plus, local homeowners are moving up in price ranges, as they sell current homes, Figura said.

“They’re trading up because they have equity and (the value of their homes have) appreciated,” he said. “That’s another source of demand.”

Lisa Price, 38, who works for the U.S. Social Security Administration, and her family are among that group.
Price and her husband have lived in the same West Asheville house on Inglewood Avenue for 10 years. They bought it in 2005 for $175,000 and now are asking $271,500.

“We’ve outgrown the space,” Price said. Two adults, two kids and two dogs no longer fit so well in a 1,245-square-foot home, she said.

So they are building a new place that’s just under 2,000 square feet on Sand Hill Road in West Asheville. The Prices are excited they’re able to stay in the same neighborhood, she said.

“We had no idea at the time we bought our house that it would turn into the best investment we ever made,” Price said. “But because we’ve made a little profit on the house, we can use that to buy something that better fits our needs. We were worried we were going to get priced out of our own neighborhood.”

Davies said that the number of Buncombe County houses priced at below $100,000 as of Sept. 30, 44, is the lowest ever.

What next year holds

Indicators including the projected number of housing permits in 2016 show the Western North Carolina economy could be solid next year, said Dale Akins, a housing-construction analyst who examines trends in 110 counties spanning seven states.

Akins is president of The Market Edge LLC, based in Knoxville, Tennessee.

In an analysis of an area encompassing 16 WNC counties with McDowell, Mitchell and Rutherford serving as the eastern edge and Cherokee as the western, Akins predicts 2,407 building permits will be issued.

That’s a 3.35 percent increase over the 2,329 he predicted for this year. Based on actual building permits issued through the end of September, Akins projects 2,521 new residential building permits will be issued by the end of the year.

And that’s a 28.4 percent increase over the 1,874 building permits pulled in 2012, according to Akins.

“That’s a steady incline and very consistent,” he said. “So it’s not surprising we’ve recovered from the recession.”

With construction activity one of the barometers of economic health, the rise in WNC building permits is a good sign, Akins said.

Ultimately, however, housing inventory will determine what occurs in the Buncombe County market next year, Davies said.

With an average through October of 1,588 homes on the current market, inventory is the lowest since 2005 when it was 1,410. The highest annual average inventory occurred in 2009, when it was 3,261.

“We have about 300 fewer homes on the market than we did in 2014,” he said.

The average county inventory is 1,588 residences, Davies said.

“If inventory stays low, it’s going to stymie the market,” he said, because it will become a seller’s market.

That could be bad news for people looking to buy their first home at a time when wage growth has been stagnant.

Good times, bad times

The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that average annual pay in Asheville and Buncombe County fell during the past decade when adjusted for inflation.

Residents of Asheville earned an annual average of $37,289 in 2014, a 24.3 percent increase over the $29,989 earned in 2004. But when adjusted for inflation, real pay declined by 0.8 percent, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

Residents of Buncombe County earned an annual average of $38,489 in 2014, a 25.2 percent increase over the $30,737 earned in 2004. But when adjusted for inflation, real pay actually declined by 0.1 percent, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

Figura said that what Asheville and Buncombe County are seeing are the manifestations of the unintended consequences of work promoting Asheville as a tourist destination.

“The prudent thing to do would be to look at the impact on people working in the tourism and hospitality industries and help alleviate their housing costs,” Figura said.

More could be done by business interests to partner with government and nonprofit entities to development more affordable housing, he said.

Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Cramer said the chamber is helping to sponsor a Nov. 16 housing summit to look at ways the private sector can help.

That summit will continue an August affordable-housing conversation focusing on how the private, public and nonprofit sectors can collaborate. The chamber organized the August meeting.

The housing conference will be “geared toward financiers, bankers, mortgage lenders, builders, investors, institutional leaders, business leaders, policymakers and planners,” Asheville City Councilman Gordon Smith said last week.

Plus, “the growth of Asheville as a destination has provided jobs across the income spectrum,” said Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Tourism promotion increases the awareness and reputation of Asheville to help attract other kinds of business development and high paying industries,” Brown said. “It also attracts relocation that supports the tax base.”

Current-year Buncombe County housing trends through Sept. 30

Total number of homes – which includes houses, condominiums, townhouses and mobile homes – put on the market since Jan. 1: 4,636

Average asking prices of all homes currently on market: $518,728

Median asking price: $348,950

Number residential homes sold: 2,797

Average selling price of all homes: $278,272

Median selling price: $230,000

Average days on market before selling: 111

Number residential homes sold in last 12 months: 3,951

Average selling price of all homes in last 12 months: $277,978

Number of homes under $100,000 and their average asking price: 44; $79,703

Source: Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real-estate trends. Mike Cronin, 3:14 p.m. EST November 6, 2015

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Prices for Downtown Asheville Real Estate Skyrockets

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Prices for downtown Asheville real estate are skyrocketing, with some of the highest prices for condos the city has ever seen.

“Four or five years ago $350 a square foot was a very ambitious price for a downtown condominium,” realtor William Coin said. “We’re now seeing condos that are topping out at over $600 a square foot.”

The prices are pushing Asheville’s condo market to new highs. Byron Greiner, director at Asheville Board of Realtors, says Airbnb and short-term rentals — which are legal in the downtown commercial district — are helping to fuel the rising prices.

“There’s a shortage of condos anyway to sell, and as far as the restrictions in the condominiums it doesn’t allow for most of the buildings downtown rental,” Greiners said. “So that puts a further demand on the ones that are available.”

Only about 50 downtown units, out of more than 400, have covenants that allow short-term rentals. That’s why Coin believes a shortage in inventory is the real reason.

“In 2015, people for whatever reason just aren’t selling and that has really driven the pricing up,” Coin said.

From 2010 to now, prices for downtown condos have gone from an average $287 per square foot to $416 today.

But it’s not just condos that are going up in price.

“What makes Asheville unique is the small shops, the unique individually owned shops and we’re seeing a lot of national attention to Asheville in terms of what we call formula stores,” Greiner said.

Stores like Anthropologie under construction on Lexington Avenue have prompted local merchants to put up signs reading Un-chain AVL — a form of protest to the city’s changing vibe.

“The concern with with the individual business owner is that that’s going to drive rents up,” Greiner said. “It’s also going to drive up the cost for employees.”

Realtors say Asheville has more listings on Airbnb than any other city in the state even though it’s illegal outside the city’s commercial district.

Right now, seven new hotels are under construction in Asheville. What impact that has on the short-term rental market remains to be seen.

via Updated: Wed, Nov 04 2015, 07:46 AM | Frank Fraboni–227496.shtml#.VkOVc_mrT4Y

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Is there a way out of Asheville’s housing crisis?

Editor’s Note: The Citizen-Times is hosting a community forum on the state of Asheville’s middle class after decades of dramatic change, at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 in the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville. Executive Editor Josh Awtry and Community Engagement Editor Casey Blake will moderate a panel discussion featuring local nonprofit leaders, property developers and outside city planning experts. The event, sponsored by PNC Bank, is free and open to the public. 

ASHEVILLE – Lexy Rae Milton’s plan for her next move would seem simple enough.

She and her boyfriend have decided they’re ready for a place to share. They can afford to pay up to $1,000 a month in rent, though less would be better.

Milton tries to live on a budget. The West Asheville resident saves money by walking to her server job at King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffle.

But the apartment search so far hasn’t turned up much.

“Lots of places require proof that your income is three times the rent. Obviously, that’s super hard in the service industry, where most of your money comes from tips. I’ve been turned down already for three houses.”

Service industry worker and West Asheville resident Lexy Rae Milton sits down to talk about rising rental prices in her community.Maddy Jones/

That’s Asheville’s affordable-housing crisis in a nutshell. People who work for modest to low wages have few options – and the future isn’t bright.

Even if all the policy recommendations under consideration by Asheville officials to alleviate the housing shortage go through, those strategies would yield just 2,800 new units by 2022. That’s one-half the 5,600 units the city needs now, according to Bowen National Research, a real estate market consulting firm hired by the city.

A January report from the Ohio-based consultant found a less than 1 percent apartment vacancy rate in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties. Asheville city officials paid Bowen $29,750 for the report.

Bowen researchers also found zero vacancies among 3,730 surveyed affordable rentals units, those being homes and apartments supported by tax credits and government subsidies.

“With the way things are going, is there a solution? I can’t see one,” Asheville affordable-housing developer Rod Hubbard said.

The Asheville region’s predicament mirrors that facing the nation.

For renters looking for affordable housing during the next decade, the U.S. environment is “bleak,” according to a study released in September by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

“Under nearly all of the scenarios performed, we found that the renter affordability crisis will continue to worsen without intervention,” the authors concluded. “Even if the economy continues its slow recovery and income growth improves, there are simply not enough quality, affordable rental units to house the millions of households paying over half their income in rental costs.”

During her seven years in Asheville, Milton has observed rents skyrocket.

“I paid $500 for an entire one-bedroom house in West Asheville when I first got here,” she said.

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2014 median gross rent in the Asheville metro area was $807.

That puts the average apartment above what many consider affordable in Asheville.

U.S. affordable-rent guidelines as based on Asheville’s median income dictate, for example, that a single person living in a studio apartment should pay no more than $725 a month in rent and $60 in utilities. And, a family of four living in a three-bedroom apartment should pay no more than $1,003 in rent and $117 in utilities.

Milton, 26, pays a $450 monthly rent for one room in a house where she’s lived for two years. She has until January to find a new place.

Advocates for the poor, builders and government officials in Buncombe County – and throughout the nation – say there is no one answer to solving the conundrum facing Milton and her boyfriend. But there are ways to help.

“This is about easing the problem, not solving it,” said Rich Olejniczak, rental development officer at Mountain Housing Opportunities, an Asheville nonprofit community development corporation.



For months, Asheville City Councilman Gordon Smith has called the region’s lack of affordable housing “a crisis.” Smith chairs the city’s Housing & Community Development Committee and the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium.

He, Asheville Assistant Director of Community and Economic Development Jeff Staudinger, other City Council and staff members and local volunteers have developed a multipronged approach.

Some of the newer tools have existed for years but were unused.

The council passed an ordinance in 2010, for example, that provided incentives for developers to build more housing units if they placed their projects along public transit lines. But few took advantage of it, Staudinger said.

To encourage developers, city officials in September revised those land-use guidelines. Now, for example, developers may qualify for property-tax exemptions and reductions in permitting fees depending on how many affordable units they construct.

In December, the council increased the number of housing units allowed to be built per acre in many parts of Asheville. Up to 70 units per acre are now acceptable as long as 20 percent of those are affordable, according to federal guidelines for Asheville.

Earlier this year, the council revised an existing ordinance that gave landowners the power to transform structures on their property into housing units. The revision increased the number of landowners who may take advantage of incentives.

During the coming weeks, community leaders representing the public, private and nonprofit sectors of Asheville and Buncombe County will address affordable-housing issues.

An Asheville/Buncombe Housing Summit is scheduled for Nov. 16 at the US Cellular Center Banquet Hall.

Laura Clark, executive director of Renaissance West Community Initiative, is slated to be the keynote speaker. That Charlotte-based initiative supports a mixed-income model of affordable housing that includes on-site educational and community wellness facilities.

The summit will continue an August affordable-housing conversation focusing on how the private, public and nonprofit sectors can collaborate. The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce organized the August meeting.

The November conference will be “geared toward financiers, bankers, mortgage lenders, builders, investors, institutional leaders, business leaders, policymakers and planners,” Smith said.

Early next year, Asheville officials for the first time will issue a request-for-proposals to develop a city-owned parks maintenance facility for affordable-housing units, Staudinger said. The facility is next to the Aston Park tennis center on Hilliard Street.



Even before the flurry of affordable-housing activity during recent months, Asheville received high marks on a 2014 “Affordable Housing Scorecard” produced by Mai Thi Nguyen, an associate professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill.

Nguyen found that Asheville did a better job at producing new affordable-housing units annually than comparably sized or larger cities such as Greenville, South Carolina, Wilmington and Durham.

She also praised the city’s leadership for its “clear commitment to addressing the affordable housing challenge” in Asheville. Nguyen noted those leaders have worked to engage public, private and nonprofit officials.

Obstacles posed by Asheville’s physical landscape resemble those confronted by policymakers in the Seattle region, where, like Asheville, officials are embracing multiple efforts to address an affordable-housing shortage.

“The best tools are the ones where the community says, ‘Let’s do more,'” said Arthur Sullivan, a program manager of ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing) in Redmond, Washington.

Like Asheville, the Seattle area in which Sullivan and his colleagues operate also is bounded by mountains and water.

In King County, it’s the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges and Puget Sound and Lake Washington. In Asheville, it’s the Appalachian Mountains and French Broad River creating natural barriers preventing new construction.

Those topographical constraints also inform policymakers what approaches best suit a city when choosing affordable-housing strategies, Sullivan and Buncombe County commissioners Chairman David Gantt said.

“Steep slopes as well as floodplains” exist in Buncombe, Gantt said.

Ordinances restrict development in those areas, Gantt said. Other ordinances provide incentives for developing “along existing transportation corridors and public infrastructure,” he said.



Hubbard, the Asheville affordable housing developer, praised Asheville city and Buncombe County staff for doing what they could to make construction easier.

“They can’t control the market,” he said. “There’s only so much they can do.”

Hubbard agrees with many others who say the mushrooming cost of land is a primary culprit behind the corresponding rise in housing costs.

He recently teamed with Ward Griffin, an affordable-housing developer who runs Griffin Realty and Construction Enterprises, Inc., and its contracting company, Biotat LLC.

Griffin said he has been able to survive in the tough Asheville market for 11 years through partnering with public agencies and nonprofit organizations.

He’s made sure to take advantage of incentives, such as Asheville Housing Trust Funddollars, permit- and utility-fee rebates and nonprofit vouchers and rent subsidies.

Griffin also said the biggest challenge is finding affordable sites on which to build.

He said his model presents a return on investors’ money, however modest relative to the cost of building market-rate developments. That enables him to “create a product that we feel good about,” Griffin said. “It’s the opposite of a handout.”

Developer Ward Griffin discusses the housing crisis and the future of affordable housing in Asheville.Maddy Jones/

A key to easing the problem is increasing the number of places to live, said Mountain Housing’s Executive Director Scott Dedman “The first step is to set a good, ambitious goal and go after it.”

Dedman’s goal: Create 300 new affordable-housing units annually.

“That’s three times what we’re achieving now,” he said.

But the view held by William Ratchford, an executive at Gastonia-based Southwood Realty and Triangle Real Estate, offers an intriguing glimmer of hope.

The developer is also worried about the Asheville region’s housing supply. Yet his concern is that soon there might be too much of it.

Ratchford’s companies are building hundreds of what he says will be a total of roughly 2,400 new apartments in the Asheville area within the next three years.

“We expect rents to drop $80 to $90 a month,” Ratchford said. “I would not worry about affordable housing. It’s going to come. It’s just going to be two years until you see it.”

Presented with Ratchford’s rosy projection, Councilman Smith is pleased. But, he points out, those 2,400 new units are still less than half of what the region requires.

Do something


Despite the general outcry for more affordable housing locally, and the seemingly deep and wide support for policies that would deliver it, longtime advocates say when it’s time to actually take action, Asheville community leaders and residents historically haven’t delivered.

The lack of progress on the issue during the last decade has been particularly exasperating for Robin Merrell, an attorney at Asheville’s Pisgah Legal Services, which specializes in affordable and public housing.

Pisgah Legal is a nonprofit organization that advocates for lower-income people in Western North Carolina.

She said she wrote an affordable-housing plan for the city in 2008 that contained many of the same ideas being discussed today. But nothing happened, Merrell said.

Local special-interest groups, such as the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, are partly to blame for the inaction, Merrell said.

“They claim to care but speak out against projects because of traffic and density and ‘can’t it be built somewhere else,'” Merrell said. “They have had a great deal of influence in the past, and politicians were scared of them. I don’t know that they are as much anymore, but the neighborhoods definitely get to have their say.”

Barber Melton, a co-founder of the neighborhoods coalition and a member of the city’sAffordable Housing Advisory Committee, agreed in one respect.

Many residents will oppose the construction of more apartments in the neighborhoods where they live, she said.

Worst case


If the reality on the ground remains the same, despite new initiatives, Asheville could continue to lose more people like Michelle Watkins.

The 38-year-old, decided to leave Asheville altogether due to the discrepancy between Asheville’s rising cost of living and the failure of their incomes to keep up.

Watkins and her two sons, 7 and 4, moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, from West Asheville in June 2014.

The salary she earned as a public-school special-education teacher wasn’t enough, Watkins said.

“I didn’t go to a four-year college and get a master’s degree for my children to qualify for Medicaid,” she said.

After nine years of employment in the North Carolina K-12 education system, Watkins’ income was $32,000 during the 2013-14 academic year.

“Financially, we couldn’t do it,” she said.

Average annual pay over 10 years ending in 2014 increased for workers in Buncombe County by 25.2 percent, rising from $30,737 to $38,489, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisticsdata show.

But over that time, inflation increased 25.3 percent, which means county workers were, in real terms, earning less than what they were a decade before.

The same happened in Asheville, where average worker pay last year was $37,289. A decade prior, annual earnings were $29,989. But adjusted for inflation, the city-resident wages fell even further than those of the county, by 0.8 percent.

Watkins is happy with the $20,000-a-year raise and the house that’s three times larger than her old Asheville home.

But she feels it’s tragic to leave the place that her father’s side of the family has called home since the late 1700s, Watkins said. She’d love to come back, the single mom said, but not if it means a return to using food stamps to feed her kids during summer breaks.

The long game


Be it Asheville or the United States, “so much of what’s happening goes back to the ’70s and ’80s, when we lost a living wage,” said Olejniczak, the Mountain Housing Opportunities rental development officer. “That’s when the affordable-housing crisis started.”

But because the roots of the current dynamic go back decades and its manifestations are countrywide, “I don’t think Asheville can solve this by itself,” Olejniczak said.

State and federal policy changes must accompany local actions, he said.

“This might take 30 to 40 years to get back on track.”

A 1 percent rental vacancy rate exists throughout the region that comprises Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties, according to Bowen National Research, an Ohio-based real estate market consulting firm. City of Asheville officials paid the firm $29,750 to conduct a housing-needs assessment in those counties last year. Bowen released its report in January.

Among its findings:

  • The greatest projected renter household growth from 2015 to 2020 will be among those with incomes between $35,000 and $49,999.
  • The largest share of renter households will be among those making less than $15,000 by 2020.
  • The greatest owner household growth from 2015 to 2020 will occur among those making between $100,000 and $149,000.
  • The largest share of household owners will be those earning incomes between $50,000 and $74,999.
  • At the time Bowen conducted its survey, Buncombe County multifamily rental units reported a 99.2 percent occupancy rate, which the Bowen report authors termed as “very high.”
  • Bowen found zero vacancies among the 3,730 surveyed affordable rental units in Buncombe County. The firm defined “affordable rental units” as tax-credit and government-subsidized units. Those units had “long wait lists,” Bowen reported.

Source: Bowen National Research, Pickerington, Ohio 


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Short order: What’s happening in Asheville food

Do this: Rhubarb, John Fleer’s Pack Square restaurant, has a number of things in the pipeline for the upcoming holiday season. Tickets are now on sale for a Dec. 1 a multicourse holiday dinner collaboration with Catawba Brewing and French Broad Chocolate Lounge. The menu is still in the works, but organizers say it will be “epic.” Dinner is at Catawba Brewing’s Rickhouse Room, 32 Banks Ave., with tickets going for $100 at Proceeds benefit the Haywood Street Congregation. Meanwhile, Rhubarb’s new under-construction event space and cafe, which will take over the former French Broad Chocolate Lounge on Lexington Avenue, is moving along. The new space is booking parties for the holidays. Email for details.

Boo this: Pack’s Tavern Halloween party will host its annual Fright Night Bash on Halloween, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. The event, which features live music from the House Band and DJ MoTo, is a multifloor event, spilling from the upstairs Century Room, which overlooks Pack Square, into the main-level South Bar. The party will not extend into the basement, the site of a possible underground passageway entrance, but you can read more about that in this issue of Scene. As an extra incentive to get dressed up in your Hallow’s Eve finest, the bar will offer up to $600 in cash prizes for the best costumes at the bash. $5 cover, dinner and drink specials. Pack’s Tavern is at 20 S. Spruce St.

Know this: A fast-casual pizza concept, Blaze Pizza, is coming to South Asheville’s Gerber Village in late February. The assembly-line pizza chain — think Quiznos for pie, but with higher-end ingredients like arugula and Gorgonzola — is oft-touted as the next Chipotle. Blaze allows customers to customize pizzas, which are then finished in an 800-degree oven in about 180 seconds. The price point for a personal pizza and drink is about $10.

Real estate developer John Spake, who’s also a leasing representative for Gerber Village, said quick-bake pizza is a growing segment in casual dining, adding that a similar franchise is looking at real estate in another part of Asheville. But the operators of the Blaze chain, he said, have the experience to withstand some competition. “This is not their first venture into the food industry,” he said. “The brand and financials are very strong.”

Eat this: The second location of Standard Pizza is now open at 755 Biltmore Ave., in the former City Mac location. The restaurant’s flagship restaurant opened at 631 Haywood Road in West Asheville in 2009, bringing late-night pies and slices to the neighborhood. The newest location of the pizza restaurant, which Scene restaurant reviewer Matthew DeRobertis called anything but standard, will also be open late on the edge of Biltmore Village; hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Mon.-Sat., and noon-11 p.m. Sunday. More information at

Spook this: Looking to get some extra mileage out of your Halloween costume? Wear your best monster or ghoul gear out for some fettuccine Alfredo or pasta fazool at Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian restaurant and get 10 percent off your meal. It’s probably a chore to eat clams linguine through a mask — but you likely won’t be the only one trying. Vinnies, which opened in 2010 in the former Savoy location at 641 Merrimon Ave., serves classic American-Italian food. More at

via  Mackensy Lunsford, mlunsford@citizen-times.com8:09 a.m. EDT October 29, 2015

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