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Cost of Growth: One retiree's struggle to afford a place to live

Carolyn Althoff moved to Asheville from Denver in 2014. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Right now, in Buncombe County, nearly half of all renters can't afford the homes they live in.

According to Bowen National Research, the latest numbers show that 45 percent of renters are cost-burdened.

That means those renters spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs.

It's an issue affecting thousands of people of all demographics across the county.

Carolyn Althoff is one them.

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She is 70 and decided to move to Asheville after her retirement in Denver.

"So, I moved here to be closer to family. I have family on the coast," Althoff said.

She loves her simple, two-bedroom apartment, but couldn't believe how high her rent kept rising.

"Since I've been here, the rent has gone up $105 a month. It was $850 when I moved in. It's $955 now. In that same amount of time, my Social Security has gone up $13," Althoff said.

According data from Bowen National Research, she's one of more than 4,000 seniors in Buncombe County in need of an affordable home, since she is considered cost-burdened.

Right now, Althoff pays 40 percent of her income on her rent.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designated $829 a month as the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. That's the amount needed to get a "privately-owned, decent, safe and sanitary rental housing" unit.

But, Bowen National Research statistics show the median rent collected for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,061 per month in 2016.

"So, I keep getting in a deeper and deeper hole, and there aren't any options. There's no place to go to," Althoff said.

And she's right, since occupancy rates in the area are so high.

Countywide, apartment rental vacancy rate has dropped slightly to 97 percent.

But, out of 3,315 government subsidized or tax credit units, right now, only one is vacant, according to Bowen National Research.

It's so stressful that Althoff has decided to write a letter to the management company of her apartment complex.

She's suggesting things like discounts for senior citizens or lower rates for longer leases.

"I have written a letter to the management company telling this same story. I don't need a lot of amenities, just clean and quiet," Althoff said.

And it doesn't look like the situation will improve much in the future.

Bowen's data shows that of the 4,647 units planned and under construction, only 845 are considered affordable. That's less than 20 percent.

It leaves people like Althoff with no where to turn.

"There are none, there are absolutely none. There is nothing. So, this is my sit down and shut up moment," Althoff said.

The latest estimate for Buncombe County shows a need of more than 7,000 affordable units for renters and homeowners.

If you're struggling to find affordable housing, we'd like to hear from you. Email us at iteam@wlos.com.

In the coming weeks, we'll talk to more families barely scraping by and we will also hear from local leaders on what they plan to do to address the crisis.

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