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For better or worse, Asheville growth inevitable?


When it comes to growth in and around Asheville, memories are short.

Many newer residents have no recollection of Asheville being anything other than a thriving, perhaps even overcrowded hub of quirky fun, restaurants and art galleries.

“I think Asheville had about 10 minutes where we were in that sweet spot between boarded up windows downtown and too many people,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said.

She said she speaks with mayors in Rust Belt cities who have the opposite problem.

“The mayors I talk to who are experiencing atrophy are suffering at all levels —  education, schools, jobs, basic services, handling the debt of the city, not enough revenue to cover the needs,” Manheimer said. “We’re not having that, but nobody is touting what we’re not experiencing, which are all those problems that go with that kind of atrophy.”

So yes, some cities would like to have Asheville’s growth problems. But they are still problems, and Manheimer said she and other elected officials — and the community at large — have to address them.

The Citizen-Times’ seven-part series on growth explored many of these concerns and offered some ideas on how to cope, how the area should grow and what it will take from the community. Here’s a look at some takeaways:

“Growth is going to happen”


The Asheville metro area’s population has grown in each year since the federal government began to track that statistic in 1969.

Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties — which make up the metro area — reached a population of 442,316 in 2014, the most recent year from which data is available, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which released the new figures last week.

That number stood at 244,960 in 1969.

“Growth is going to happen,” said Mai Thi Nguyen, an associate professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning at the UNC Chapel Hill.

Attempts to limit growth by cities with popularity similar to Asheville’s have proved unsuccessful, Nguyen said in a Thursday interview.

Instead, area leaders should focus on “smarter growth,” she said.

Nguyen defined that as pursuing policies that preserve Asheville’s character as the number of residents swell, while being mindful of maintaining the amenities people expect.

Examples Nguyen identified included density bonuses for developers and mandating inclusionary affordable-housing.

But Jack Cecil, president of Asheville-based Biltmore Farms, a real estate development company, expressed caution about implementing a mandatory inclusionary affordable-housing policy during a Citizen-Times forum on growth earlier this month.

“If you put affordable housing in developments without the (financial) support from the city” and other entities, banks often won’t offer loans for the projects, Cecil said.

Nguyen, however, who was a panelist with Cecil at the same forum, said in Thursday’s interview that developers are going to make money. “How much is the question.”

Asheville city officials and developers must collaborate so the two groups “can make the numbers work,” Nguyen said.

That is a point Cecil also agreed with, emphasizing during the forum the need for more public-private partnerships in financing affordable-housing projects.

We’ll multiply and get older


Buncombe County’s population will continue to grow but its growth rate will gradually decline, the State Demographics branch of the Office of State Budget and Management says.

Median age – the point at which half are younger, half older – will increase faster than the state as a whole, according to the agency.

Projected population/Five-year growth rate
2015 254,344 6.5%
2020 269,687 6%
2025 285,030 5.7%
2030 300,372 5.4%
2035 315,714 5.1%

Projected median age
2015 41.76
2020 42.60
2025 43.69
2030 44.61

Public money helps, but…


A lack of affordable housing is a central problem with the growth we’re having, and more money will help, but it won’t solve the problem. It’s a complex issue that will require cooperation from governments, the private sector, social services agencies, and developers.

From 2007-13, Asheville and Buncombe County sunk a combined $17.4 million into affordable housing developments, with funding coming from federal, city and county funding, according to a report commissioned by the city and called the Affordable Housing Scorecard.

During that time, the Asheville Housing Trust Fund accounted for $1.7 million in spending, while $3.6 million came through Buncombe. Those efforts resulted in 461 rental units and 223 homes on the market between 2007-13.

The report, which Mai Thi Nguyen of UNC Chapel Hill, authored, found that direct government efforts to create affordable housing here produced more than double the totals of comparable cities in North and South Carolina.

Still, the local apartment occupancy rate hovers around 1 percent, and locals say it’s tough to make enough money to afford rents.

At the Citizen-Times forum on growth earlier this month, Nguyen suggested Asheville consider passing a one-cent property tax dedicated to affordable housing, as the city of Durham has done.

In a telephone interview, Durham Mayor Bill Bell said the council voted unanimously to impose the tax in 2014 and it has created an annual stream of $2.4 million for affordable housing. They have dedicated some of the money but also have hired a consultant to study where the funds would be spent best.

“Nobody has complained,” Bell said of the tax, adding that one benefit is that the revenues increase as more properties are built.

Like Asheville, Durham’s downtown has enjoyed a renaissance, with a half-dozen market rate apartments going up in recent years.

“One proposal I’ve proposed to the county is we might want to consider rental assistance for apartments in the downtown for (low-income residents),” Bell said. “We want it to be affordable, not just for persons at the market rate, but also for those who are below the market rate.”

Manheimer said that while that one-cent tax may sound like a major revenue source, the city has simply chosen to fund affordable housing through other channels, namely through the general fund and from a designation through the city’s long-term capital fund.

A one-cent boost on the city’s property tax rate would generate about $1.1 million annually.

The city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund has a current balance of $1.1 million, with $820,000 of that committed.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the city has dedicated $750,000, with $250,000 of that going to move the parks maintenance operation away from its quarters on Hilliard Avenue so the section can be repurposed for affordable housing. The city plans to dedicate $2 million to the fund in fiscal year 2018 and again in fiscal year 2020.

But it won’t be enough to solve the problem.

“It is pretty difficult to bootstrap yourself out of an affordable housing crisis just with tax dollars,” Manheimer said. “Given the needs — the thousands of units needed — and given the difference even an aggressive city Asheville can make, we’re talking hundreds of units.”

Scott Dedman, executive director of Mountain Housing Opportunities, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing, said he’s just hoping to galvanize the community to “significantly reduce the annual increase in need” for affordable units.

The number of households in Buncombe that are “rent burdened” — paying more than 30 percent of their household income toward rent —stood at 15,930 for the five-year period running from 2009-13, a 23 percent increase over the previous five-year span, according to Syneva Economics, based in Western North Carolina.

Dedman says the county is seeing an increase of more than 500 households a year in severe levels of need, meaning they’re paying more than 40-50 percent of their income for rent.

“I’m not asking that we meet all of the need right away, just that we stop falling behind so fast,” Dedman said.

His projections suggest that “$5.6 million of local public and private investment could add 240 new affordable and workforce units — an average below $25,000 per unit,” Dedman said.

“This is more than $4 million increase over what we as a local community are investing now, I believe. In some years, 200-300 new units of affordable/workforce housing supply would dramatically slow the local increase in the most severe housing cost burden, and in all years it would significantly improve our situation.”

But, as Manheimer points out, public funding, or even public and private funding together, likely won’t be enough.

“The biggest thing that can happen is nationally we start to see wage growth again,” Manheimer said. “Nationally, we have wage stagnation.”

What do we need?


Despite boasting of North Carolina’s lowest unemployment rate in September at 4.3 percent, Asheville and its residents have not questioned whether the city has enough jobs, but whether the city has enough of the right types of jobs.

At the Citizen-Times growth forum earlier this month, Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen said some jobs, like health care and education, prove somewhat immune to economic downturns. Successful cities are ones that have diversified their economies, she said.

“You can’t just have tourism,” she said. “You have to have businesses and industries that are somewhat recession-proof.”

One area where Asheville can improve is its technology sector.

While regular events for the startup community, such as 1 Million Cups Asheville and Pitch for Pitchers, bring members of this sector together, it won’t mean anything if Asheville cannot find, recruit and retain the talent needed to fill these jobs.

Venture Asheville, an initiative spearheaded by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, is trying to do three major things to help create the high-wage jobs that often accompany the tech sector.

Josh Dorfman, who serves as Venture Asheville’s executive director, can distill the to-do list to three priorities: Connect startups with the talent they need. Foster mentorship and networking opportunities that keep high-growth ventures from moving away. Third, find the capital that startups need to take their business to the next level without having to take their business out of town.

“When you have the mechanisms in place for folks who are moving here to be able to plug into the startup scene, then it’s a solution. That’s what we’re striving very hard to continue to build,” Dorfman said.



The pace of construction has picked up, but it is still below what Buncombe County saw during the middle of the last decade, which was an unusually busy period for the construction industry.

Within the city of Asheville, the total value of construction permits issued for new commercial and residential construction and renovation last year was still well below 2008’s total, according to city figures.

The number of new residential units, single-family or multifamily, permitted in all of Buncombe County last year was less than half the figure for 2006.

Housing starts bottomed out in 2011 and have been rising since, according to numbers compiled by Knoxville, Tennessee-based research firm The Market Edge. They were up 11.1 percent for the first three quarters of 2015 over the same period in 2014.

New housing units, Buncombe County

2005 1,683
2006 2,207
2007 1,749
2008 914
2009 645
2010 540
2011 512
2012 613
2013 757
2014 829



Just last week, the owner of 51 Grill, a restaurant in an Exxon station on Merrimon Avenue, announced he is selling the .7-acre parcel to a hotel chain, CN Hotels of Greensboro.

That company withdrew a rezoning request two weeks ago just before an Asheville City Council meeting. Plans called for a five-story, 104-room hotel with 94 parking spaces, located on land next to I-240 and just east of the Exxon station.

But the land sale likely means the project will come back. In all, 17 hotels are in the pipeline for 2016, 2017 or beyond in Buncombe County — a total of 1,659 new hotel rooms.

Six are in the works downtown, including a major transformation of the BB&T Building into a luxury hotel, a project that comes before City Council next month.

Scheduled for completion in 2017, the renovated building will comprise the 133-room hotel, 41 condominiums, a hotel restaurant, a 2,500-square-foot separate leased restaurant with access to North Pack Square and 1,650 square feet of retail space that will face College Street.

Buncombe County has about 70 hotels and motels, but from the end of 2009 until last month, only two new ones had opened, said John McKibbon, CEO of the McKibbon Hotel Group, which is behind the BB&T project.

“From 2009 through 2015, the supply of new hotels grew by 3 percent, while the demand for hotels grew by 37 percent,” McKibbon said, adding that two new hotels opening now, four more in 2016, and three more in 2017.

“Some of the others you have heard about are replacing older hotels,” he said.

The Howard Johnson and the Sleep Inn near Biltmore Village have or will be demolished, McKibbon said, and several older hotels will be phased out.

Hotel building tends to be cyclical, and many cities nationwide are going through booms similar to Asheville’s, said Marla Tambellini, vice president of marketing and deputy director at the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Generally, as more supply comes to market that will level out the occupancies,” she said, adding that the construction boom likely will ebb once all the new rooms come online. “That’s traditionally what has happened. It’s a matter of simple supply and demand economics.”

The main word


“Growth” was the main word on the lips of voters interviewed Nov. 3, City Council election day.

That election will now usher in two new council members who as candidates pushed back against fast-paced hotel and other development and promoted the idea of a park on a $2.6 million city-owned downtown lot — the “Pit of Despair” — across from the U.S. Cellular Center.

That pair, Brian Haynes and Keith Young, and those aligned with them may in fact make concrete changes shortly after taking office Dec. 1.

But the new elected officials and those supporting them may find some frustrating limits to what they can do in the face of market forces as well as local, state and federal law, say those such as outgoing Vice Mayor Marc Hunt, who believes he lost the race in part because of fears about growth.

Those concerns included Duke Energy’s proposal to build a substation near a school, the proliferation of large hotels that critics said did little to help locals and a booming tourism trade that hasn’t meant prosperity for most residents.

“The park capitalized on the fears and concerns of people about growth or not enough green space or a power plant substation or not being able to ‘Make my way in this economy,’” Hunt said.

Some changes the new council might make include taking over the power to turn down midsized “Level II” projects.

All downtown hotels now under construction fall in that category. Currently council only reviews the biggest “Level III” projects, such as the proposed renovation of the BB&T building into an “upper-upscale” hotel which will soon face a vote. The council may also allow property owners to rent out accessory dwelling units, such as basement apartments and “granny cottages” on a short-term basis to tourists. That practice is now forbidden in most of the city.

Larger changes though, such as stopping new hotel construction or other large projects may be difficult because of many layers of law. Under state law, moratoriums in general are very difficult — or simply impossible, some say.

And zoning must not be so restrictive that it precludes an owner from developing a piece of land, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

City rules, meanwhile, require the council to make decisions based on Asheville’s land-use plan. That means when dealing with developers council members often have to negotiate to get changes they want, such as the inclusion of affordable housing. And that means the process often looks less like a battle and more like a dance.

What’s in store?


Areas east of the French Broad River and west of downtown will see infrastructure improvements during the second half of this decade, then even bigger road projects are set to begin in southern Buncombe County around 2020.

City government recently began acquiring right-of-way for a project to rework a 2.2-mile section of Riverside Drive and Lyman Street to include a greenway path, landscaping and parking. Work from the Lyman Street/Amboy Road intersection north to a point near Riverside Cemetery is scheduled to begin in 2017 and be completed in 2019 or 2020.

A $174 million project to widen Interstate 26 from four lanes to eight in southern Buncombe County is to begin in 2020. The project will stretch from Interstate 40 to the Henderson County line.

Future projects will be even larger. Work to reconfigure the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange on the west side of town and widen a short section of I-40 is to begin in 2021 and the state Department of Transportation’s tentative start date for a new crossing of the French Broad River north of Bowen Bridge is 2023.

Construction of a wider I-240 in West Asheville is at least a decade away under DOT’s long-range plan.

The agency also plans to widen U.S. 19-23 from Broadway north through Woodfin, beginning in 2022.

City government is studying whether it should build additional parking downtown and there is still interest in increasing use of its bus system. Ridership has increased slowly, rising by 1.9 percent in 2014-15.

“Interestingly, if you talk to any urban designer, the focus is public transportation, not parking,” Manheimer said. “I don’t know if Asheville is ready for that. I hear a lot of pushback on that, and that there’s just a desire for additional parking.”



Smaller household sizes and renewed interest in urban living mean developers will find multifamily residential projects within the city limits will be in demand in coming years, says Blake Esselstyn, a former Asheville city planner who is now an independent urban planning consultant.

“As of 2010, at least 30 percent of Buncombe County households were single-person households and I expect that to increase,” he said.

Many people living by themselves won’t want or can’t afford a single-family home and will rent an apartment or buy a condominium instead, Esselstyn said.

Sites along major commercial corridors in the city are prime candidates for that type of construction, he said.

Examples of properties that would lend themselves to redevelopment for apartment or condo complexes are Innsbruck Mall on Tunnel Road in East Asheville and the site of a former Ingles supermarket at the corner of Haywood Road and Patton Avenue, he said.

The River Arts District could see significant changes as city government invests in infrastructure in the area and New Belgium Brewing brings more visitors.

But, surely a good share of the area’s growth will continue occur in suburban areas where property costs are lower.

“Once you get outside the city limits … there is land available” for single-family subdivisions, Esselstyn said.

Staff writers Joel Burgess, Caitlin Byrd and Mike Cronin contributed to this report.


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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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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/[email protected]

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/[email protected]

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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Asheville Food Park and Market opens Friday

The Asheville Food Park and Market is nearing completion, with Edna’s at the River, the second location for the popular cafe, opening on location Friday, according to owner and manager Dean Pistor.

Food trucks also will line up that day, and this weekend will also see the kickoff of a series of soft openings at the Cascade Lounge, an onsite liquor bar with local beer and other brews in cans and on tap. Though a grand opening is forthcoming, the beer is set to flow (permits pending) at this new river- and creek-front bar.

This is the culmination of Pistor’s work to stake a claim at the edge of the River Arts District, rehabilitating a dilapidated building across the street from Carrier Park and on the corner of Amboy Road and State Street. The structure now serves as an eat-in dining room, commissary for food truck vendors and a vending space for artists and other eclectic businesses, from boutique pop-up shops to sausage vendors.

While some might credit Pistor’s real estate market savvy — he’s also a broker and co-owner of Realty World Marketplace — with snagging a hot property before the true boom hits the neighborhood, he thinks the future for the neighborhood is already here.

“I think we’re behind the times compared to what the rest of the neighborhood is doing,” he said. “The corner is usually the anchor to a neighborhood revitalization.”

Long covered with graffiti and full of garbage, the building remained vacant and derelict for years, even as Carrier Park and other property along the river corridor was revitalized. Though many thought the structure was best torn down, Pistor started digging out the garbage and sifting through years of neglect.

“Once we did that, we realized the bones would be fine. We just had to add some elements to decorate it,” he said.

With a fresh coat of paint and some architectural rehab, the Food Park is ready to serve as a commerce and riverfront congregation center, one with a half-dozen food trucks a day and a produce stand selling seasonal wares, from produce to Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees.

Though the building is within view of the river, much of the focus will be on Mead Creek, which flows down the length of the property, giving the park about 300 feet of creek frontage and a shady space for food trucks and dining.

Mobile Global Bistro, which serves pit-roasted beef and lamb gyros, and the Food Stop, which has po’boys and crab cakes, have both served as mobile vendors at the park.

Starting at 7 a.m. daily, food trucks will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with late-night shifts on weekends, two trucks per shift. Additionally, Edna’s at the River will serve coffee and cafe-style breakfast.

The Asheville Food Park also will host diverse events, from nonprofit fundraisers to barbecue battles.

Though the park has upcoming parties on the docket for rugby and hockey teams, it will serve as a natural stop for Carrier Park athletes of a different sort, particularly come summer, with kayakers coming off the river.

There’s an educational aspect to the park as well, with an Asheville City Schools gardener working to cultivate live edible plants on the site, in a space that’s meant more for native-plant education than grazing.

The 12 chickens on the property are also, at this point, more for ambiance that eating — they’re turning out a mere nine eggs daily, Pistor said. But their clucking provides a nice market-shopping ambiance, he added.

“I hear a chicken laying an egg right now,” he said.

More about Asheville Food Park and Market, 219 Amboy Road, here.

via  Mackensy Lunsford, [email protected]:56 a.m. EDT October 21, 2015

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Rand Paul in Asheville: 2016 a ‘marathon not a sprint’

Speaking Saturday in Asheville, where he came for private fundraisers, the 2016 presidential candidate and Republican Kentucky senator also said he’s optimistic he can turn around his plummeting rankings in the polls and stagnant fundraising and described himself as a “voice of reason” on both sides of the aisle.

“This is a marathon not a sprint,” Paul said of the presidential race.

Asked about concerns that he can’t actively campaign for 2016 and keep his Senate seat in GOP hands, the libertarian from Bowling Green said, “We’re in it for the duration in the presidential race.”

In Public Policy Polling’s most recent North Carolina poll, Paul was at less than 1 percent, while GOP front-runner Donald Trump was leading with 26 percent. Nationally, Paul is polling at 2 percent, while Trump leads the field with 27 percent. This week, Paul announced visits to 11 college campuses across Iowa in an effort to reach younger voters.

Paul’s support even among the party’s like-minded wing is largely thought to be sagging, with GOP rival Sen. Ted Cruz picking up his likely support in states like New Hampshire.

Paul said he thinks the polls will be closer in January, and described himself as a candidate who has demonstrated his capability to compromise and his “restrained” foreign policy approach that includes being opposed to a no-fly zone over Syria.

He cited his work with Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden on privacy bills to rein in what he sees as government overreach in collecting phone records and his work with Democrat Cory Booker on expunging minor drug crimes like marijuana possession.

“I think I’ve actually shown that I do have the ability to work with the other side,” Paul said.

He said there’s an enormous amount of waste in government.

“I think we need to exert the power of the purse, which means all spending should expire and then we should start anew,” he said.

That doesn’t mean a government shutdown, but letting spending expire and then “the burden should be on those who want to spend money to come up with the votes,” he said.

Asked about his vision for the economy and solutions to issues such as affordable housing in places like Asheville, where many young people feel priced out, Paul touted the primacy of the private sector and need for a government that is “not involved in every nook and cranny of our lives.”

And he said both Trump and likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton wouldn’t reduce government.

“I think they’d be two sides of a coin that really represents the same in many ways,” Paul said.

He supported earlier comments he’s made that Trump isn’t a “real conservative,” noting the real estate mogul’s support for higher taxes and eminent domain.

“He’s Jolly Well Good with the government,” Paul said.

Asked if he supports more protections on people who can buy guns in the wake of three shootings at U.S. colleges in the past two weeks, Paul said more self-defense is the answer. He highlighted the commonalities in places the shootings have occurred, not, he said, at police stations, but in places where guns are prohibited.

“They tend to go where it is well-known that there are no guns and no self-defense, so I think more self-defense is part of the answer,” he said.

article via Leah Buletti, [email protected]9:16 p.m. EDT October 10, 2015

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Asheville entrepreneurs look to buy Waking Life

Asheville entrepreneurs look to buy Waking Life

In the wake of the recent scandal surrounding Waking Life Espresso, several interested parties are eyeing the business for takeover.

As reported Wednesday, the proposed downtown second location of Waking Life is not opening. That 89 Patton Ave. space, which owner Jared Rutledge said in June would house a sparse and “lab-like” espresso bar, is currently for lease.

“We will not let that space on Patton Avenue sit empty,” Michael Thornton, director of property management at Whitney Commercial Real Estate, said Tuesday.

And now several interested parties are looking to take over the coffee shop’s flagship West Asheville location at 976 Haywood Road, currently serving as a focus of local protests.

Neither Rutledge nor co-owner Jacob Owens have publicly announced intentions to sell their business. “We are undecided at this point and we are keeping all options open,” Owens said.

Local small business lender Mountain BizWorks earlier this week decided to terminate its loan to Waking Life. Since then, the nonprofit has fielded phone calls and requests from investors wanting to buy the business.

“What we have been doing is passing on that information to Waking Life,” said Patrick Fitzsimmons, executive director of Mountain BizWorks. “What has happened since we passed that information along, either I don’t know or I can’t say.”

Though Fitzsimmons could not share how many have approached him about taking over the business at this time, he did say all potential investors have been local to the Asheville area.

A duo of local businesswomen, Jodi Rhoden and Amber Arthur, owners of Short Street Cakes and Battlecat Coffee respectively, on Wednesday announced their hopeful intentions to take over the lease of the West Asheville building and purchase the equipment within.

From Facebook:

Hello Asheville Community.

In the wake of the recent debacle surrounding Waking Life, Amber Arthur of Battlecat and I have been brainstorming about how we can transform the hateful negativity of Jared and Jacob’s business into a source of support, love, and healing for women in our community.

We have an idea to together buy the equipment and the lease of the business (we are not interested in handouts from those guys, thank you very much) and create a cafe and sweet shop (Battlecakes, anyone?) where a percentage of every day’s revenues (ALL sales, not just profits) will go to a different community non-profit each month, with a focus on empowering women.

Eventually we would like implement more direct social entrepreneurship programs within the business. We have a business plan, we have investors, and we have the experience and infrastructure of Short Street Cakes, Battlecat, and Penny Cup behind us, but most importantly, if you will support us, we have you. We will only move forward with this idea if you, our community, supports it. What do you say, Asheville? Should two West Asheville women entrepreneurs pirate this sinking ship and steer it towards calmer waters? You let us know. ‪#‎battlecakes‬

This morning, Rhoden said Waking Life may already be under contract by other parties, but she and Arthur continue to pursue their intentions.

“There are other businesses competing,” she acknowledged.

Rhoden said that she and Arthur want to launch a for-profit business where 5 percent of total gross revenue would go to unnamed nonprofits. She plans specifically to meet with the local chapter of Our Voice, a rape crisis center, to discuss how best to offer support.

“We want to meet with their board to make sure we’re acting in their best interest,” she said.

Rhoden also said that, with so many interested parties, she’s concerned that a bidding war will break out over the business.

“My concern is that they not receive a profit off of this,” she said. “We don’t think other businesses should allow them to profit from scandal.”

via Mackensy Lunsford and Caitlin Byrd, [email protected]9:07 p.m. EDT September 24, 2015

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Foreclosure List & Search for Asheville NC

Foreclosure Homes in Asheville, NC

Find the best foreclosure homes listings for sale — bank-owned, government (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD, etc.) and others — in and near the city of Asheville, NC at Get information on foreclosure homes for rent, how to buy foreclosures in Asheville, NC and much more. Save thousands at closing with home foreclosure listings in Asheville, NC — up to 75% off market value!

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Asheville private sector necessary to solve housing crisis

Asheville private sector necessary to solve housing crisis

An August meeting to discuss options convened by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce gives some hope that a solution is attainable.

This report is one in an occasional series on Asheville’s shortage of affordable housing.

ASHEVILLE – Gordon Smith admits to having seen eyes roll when he talks about cross-sector collaboration yielding concrete solutions to the region’s affordable-housing crisis.

Put another way, that’s getting builders, businesses and bureaucrats working together.

“People in Asheville who have been building affordable housing for years are doubtful that the private sector is going to step up,” said Smith, a city councilman and chairman of the city’s Housing & Community Development Committee and the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium.

But a meeting of the area’s captains of industry last week could give the cause a boost, he said.

About 60 people attended the Aug. 27 meeting at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s office, including members of Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce boards, the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County, the Tourism Development Authority, people involved with the chamber’s five-year plan for job creation and local developers, said chamber board chairwoman Suzanne DeFerie. She also is president and CEO of Asheville Savings Bank.

Chamber President and CEO Kit Cramer organized the meeting to ensure affordable housing would be examined within the context of the region’s many industries. Some Asheville city and Buncombe County government officials also attended the meeting.

The next meeting will occur this fall, but a date has not yet been set, DeFerie said.

“The ultimate goal really is to bring together the public sector, the nonprofits and the private sector – not just the development community, but also hoteliers, manufacturers and restaurateurs,” said Jack Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms.

Ideas discussed at the meeting – which some called a first for the region – included encouraging large employers to help employees with housing costs and making grants available for homebuyers.

“I cannot remember a time when the private sector, through the chamber’s leadership, has been as involved with the housing affordability discussion,” said Cynthia Barcklow, a Buncombe County planner who also attended the gathering.

That fact is important if Western North Carolina is to see progress in tackling the region’s affordable-housing predicament, experts say.

How the region became mired in a shortage of affordable housing for everyday workers is complicated. But it could start with Asheville’s ever-more-visible national profile, which has increased the numbers of visitors and residents. The city’s popularity combined with the post-recession reluctance of developers to build has left the region short in the supply of places to live — while demand keeps rising.

That dynamic has pushed up home prices and rents.

The Problem

A report released in December found a less than 1 percent apartment vacancy rate in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties.

That study, conducted by Ohio-based Bowen National Research, a real estate market consulting firm, found median rents for market-rate apartments ranged from $832 to $3,300 and $583 to $1,187 for tax-credit units.

And while more jobs exist than in years, many are in low-wage industries such as retail and tourism.

July marked the 10th consecutive month with the highest level of nonfarm payroll employment ever for that month in the Asheville metro area, which comprises Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison Counties, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About 19,000 retail jobs and 17,000 tourism jobs existed in Buncombe County alone during 2014, according to a study released in August by the Pennsylvania-based consulting firm, Tourism Economics. Only the healthcare sector employed more people, with 25,000 employed, that research showed.

Possible remedies

The cost of housing “has now become an issue that our economic development prospects are asking about when they talk with us,” DeFerie said during her opening remarks at last month’s meeting.

One way to confront that concern is for the private, public and nonprofit sectors to band together and seek federal dollars designated for affordable housing, Cecil said.

Priorities for those dollars would be building, repairing and renovating housing for the area’s workforce, he said.

Options someday could include local companies providing their employees with housing, Cecil said.

“That’s a good question to ask in the future,” he said.

Another option is a year-and-a-half-old program run by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta.

Arthur Fleming, a bank senior vice president and director of community investment services, told the meeting attendees that obtaining equity would be key to solving the affordable-housing conundrum.

The bank would provide $1 million to the Asheville and Buncombe County community through its 13 member banks that exist in the area, Fleming said.

But that $1 million would be contingent on the community raising $2 million over a fixed time period of nine months or a year, he said.

In one scenario, that money could be available as grants for homebuyers through the local member banks.

If the buyer, for example, qualified for a mortgage that was less than the house cost, the grant money could help make up the difference.

“It reduces the money that people need to buy the home,” Fleming said. “It’s not about buying a cheaper house. That’s not a solution.”

Fleming and his Atlanta colleagues have used that model for projects in Atlanta; Palm Beach County, Florida; and Savannah, Georgia.

The bank also helps renters by providing funding to developers of multi-family apartment complexes.

Mountain Housing Opportunities Inc., an Asheville nonprofit community-development corporation that builds and improves homes, received $500,000 to build the Villas at Fallen Spruce, a 55-unit senior-housing complex in Leicester.

And the bank offers credit enhancement that developers could use when borrowing money to build a housing project. Financing would be provided to the developers, for example, with a bond that has a lower interest rate than conventional financing. The savings then could be passed on to the renter or homebuyer, Fleming said.

Private-sector participation

That tool could be particularly useful in today’s economic environment, which Jonathan Miller described as one with persistent tight credit.

The high credit standards that have existed since the Great Recession also is a reason local governments in places like Asheville, New York and “anywhere else in the country are connecting with the private sector,” said Miller, the New York-based co-founder of Miller Samuel, a residential real estate appraisal company, and the commercial valuation firm Miller Cicero.

“There’s no money in the coffers,” Miller said. “The public sector can’t build affordable-housing units or supplement rent. It doesn’t have the money for it.”

Compounding the tight-credit situation is wage stagnation while rents and home prices keep rising.

“That dramatically exacerbates the problem,” Miller said.

And in places like Asheville, where the economy is improving, “there is no housing for the jobs being created. That’s the challenge.”

Which is also why the private sector must be part of the solution, Miller said.

“It benefits the business community for its employees to have access to housing, so business can grow in your town,” he said.

Private-sector organizations throughout the country assisting their employees with housing include Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said Maya Brennan, housing vice president at the Urban Land Institute Terwilliger Center for Housing in Washington, D.C.

“More local employers see this is as a challenge that’s affecting retention and recruitment,” Brennan said. “It makes financial sense to make obtaining housing more feasible.”

Biltmore Estate and Mission Health in Asheville also have programs that help employees become homeowners. Both companies provide up to $2,500 in matching funds per employee for a down payment on a first home.

Lew Kraus, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s executive director, agreed that wages were integral to solving the affordable-housing equation.

“I always say that the main thing that prevents us from helping more people is the lack of capital,” Kraus said. “That doesn’t mean just writing checks to Habitat. Capital also comes in the form of paying wages that allows employees to afford housing in the area.”

Kraus said he is encouraged that members of the local private sector are talking about helping alleviate the affordable-housing strain.

“It’s to everyone’s advantage to come together and find a workable solution,” Kraus said.

Throughout the years, conversations among many representing different sectors of the Asheville-Buncombe community have occurred with affordable housing at their center, Kraus said.

“I trust that all of us will continue to get together and come up with some tangible concrete steps,” he said.

One thing gives him hope about the current process: Business people say they are also considering collectively applying for grants from large organizations such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.

“That’d be wonderful, I’d love to see that happen,” Kraus said. “I’ve never seen that done here.”

But the challenge remains immense, Scott Dedman, Mountain Housing Opportunities executive director, reminded the meeting audience during his remarks.

He suggested a goal of building 200 new units of affordable housing a year – an endeavor that would cost “upwards of $5 million annually in new commitments,” Dedman said.

Councilman Smith emphasized that it’s already common knowledge that the public and nonprofit sectors can’t solve the affordable-housing problem on their own.

Even if city officials maximized the tools available to them to address shortage, Asheville leaders would be able to meet only half the area’s current need within seven years, Smith said in April.

In the most generous forecast, a total of 2,800 rental units could be created by 2022 – half of the 5,600 that a report released in January concluded the region lacked.

Smith found an idea put forth by Biltmore Farms’ Cecil to create a joint city-county affordable-housing commission that would include private-sector members particularly intriguing.

“That’s building a table for everyone to sit at,” Smith said. “The private sector is owning the problem.”

Dedman concurred.

“Any significant portion that the private sector could provide would be helpful.”

via Mike Cronin, [email protected]:54 p.m. EDT September 6, 2015 (Photo: William Woody / [email protected])

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Cat Cafe? Meow + Caffeine…

Asheville City Council to consider cat café


At its Tuesday, Sept. 8 meeting, Asheville City Council is set to consider plenty of real estate development projects — including one of the warm, fuzzy variety.

Among other zoning changes and amendments on the agenda, council will hear a presentation and public comment on a downtown cat café proposed by local no-kill shelter and nonprofit Brother Wolf Animal Rescue.

First pioneered in Japan to cater to stressed-out urban cat lovers, the cat café concept has been tweaked by North American animal rescue organizations to encourage cat and kitten adoptions. To meet health department regulations, cat areas are separated from food and drink areas.

Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance currently prohibits animal uses in the central business district, so allowing Brother Wolf’s proposed cat café will require an alteration to the code. The proposed wording of the amendment to the UDO reads:

Cat café means any premises used to house or contain homeless, orphaned or unwanted cats and that is owned, operated or maintained by an organization that is licensed by the State as an animal shelter and devoted to the welfare, protection and humane treatment of animals for the purpose of adoption, and which incorporates retail sales to support the interaction of patrons with cats, such as a café, bookshop or other permitted use.

Both the Downtown Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission have reviewed and unanimously approved the proposed change.

A new face

Todd Okolichany, new Director of Planning & Urban Design. Photo provided by City of Asheville.
Todd Okolichany, new Director of Planning & Urban Design. Photo provided by City of Asheville.

New Director of Planning & Urban Design Todd Okolichany will wrap up a long first day on the job with an introduction and welcome at the meeting. A city press release from August 2015 describes Okolichany’s recent background:

Okolichany comes to the City of Asheville from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he served as principal planner for the Department of Sustainable Development. A LEED-Green Associate accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute, Okolichany supervised major programs of the city’s Urban Design and Planning Division, including work related to strategic planning, design standards and form-based codes.


Council will proclaim Sept. 14-18 as “Minority Enterprise Development Week” and Sept. 21 as “Day of Peace.”

Consent Agenda

In addition to business-as-usual matters to be voted upon as a group under the consent agenda, three more-notable items are included: adoption of an open data policy for the city, a resolution to support redistricting reform and a motion to refer the amendment to the UDO regarding homestays to the City Council Planning & Economic Development Committee.

“Open data,” reads a memo by Chief Information Officer Jonathan Feldman, “is the automation of data records that are already considered ‘open’ by state law. Open data removes the manual labor associated with providing data and makes city government more efficient by creating a self-service portal that serves interested parties, such as media, business and interested citizens.”

The purpose of the open data policy, according to the memo, is to continue to expand the city’s efforts to provide 24/7 access to data to facilitate “economic development, commerce, entrepreneurship and a higher level of civic engagement in the community.”

The proposed resolution to support redistricting reform aims to clarify Council’s support for the creation of “an independent redistricting process that ensures diversity, partisan balance and geography, for all future redistricting.”

Finally, if approved as part of the consent agenda, Council will redirect the amendment concerning homestays (discussed at the City Council Aug. 25 meeting) to the City Council Planning & Economic Development Committee. The agenda document does not specify what the process for final approval of the amendment will be.

The full text of the consent agenda and links to supporting documents can be found here.

Presentations and Reports

Council will hear a report about the online tool SimpliCity, which allows users to simultaneously search several types of city records by property address, yielding information about property ownership, tax valuation, zoning, recent nearby development, crime statistics and trash and recycling pickup times. SimpliCity shows which governmental entity is responsible for street maintenance at a specific location and provides a link to The Asheville App for reporting problems and requests.

Council will also hear a legislative update on activities of the North Carolina General Assembly relevant to Asheville.

Public Hearings

Council will hear a presentations and public comment on the proposed adoption of the Historic Preservation Master Plan as part of the Asheville City Development Plan 2025, as well as five zoning requests related to real estate development.

Historic Preservation PlanAccording to a memo from Stacy Merten, director of the Historic Resources Commission, the Historic Preservation Master Plan is intended to “help guide the future work of the commission and further historic preservation efforts as supported through the city’s adopted comprehensive and downtown development plans. This will ensure that historic preservation remains integral to quality urban design, sustainability and the strategic planning vision of Asheville and Buncombe County.”

The full text of the Master Plan is availablehere.

Zoning requests on which Council will hear public comment include:

  • Resolution to permanently close an unnamed alley between Wyoming Road and Keebler Road
  • Rezoning 200 Asheland Ave. from Regional Business District to Central Business District and associated amendments to the officially adopted Height Zone Map
  • Modification to a conditional use permit for Biltmore Gardens originally approved in 2005 (now known as Commercial Properties at Biltmore) to include the development of the commercial portion of the project with three, 2-story office buildings and associated parking on property known as 700 Biltmore Ave.
  • Amendment to the Code of Ordinances to create a new land use that permits feline adoption together with retail sales, known as cat café, within the Central Business District
  • Conditional zoning of property located at 311 and 315 Old Haw Creek Road from RS-4 single-family medium density district to Institutional District/Conditional Zoning for church renovation, parking area, added sidewalks and construction of 10 student housing units with associated infrastructure, with conditions for reduced property line buffers for portions of the site.

New business

The final item on the meeting agenda is consideration of which, if any, of the candidates for open commission seats City Council will interview. The commissions adding new members include the HUB Community Economic Development Alliance, the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy & the Environment on the Multimodal Transportation Commission, the Recreation Board and the Tourism Development Authority.

The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 5 p.m. in the Council Chamber on the second floor of City Hall. The full meeting agenda can be found here.

article via Posted on September 7, 2015 by Virginia Daffron

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