Outside the box solutions to Asheville's Housing Crisis

News 13 has been investigating Asheville's housing crisis, and this investigation centers around solutions that are outside the box. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

“I don't think there's a silver bullet to solve affordable housing,” said Kirk Booth

But Asheville can't afford not to come up with more solutions to its housing crisis. And without a viable solution, our local chamber believes our region’s growth could come to a grinding halt.

TOWN HALL | Asheville's Housing Crisis

News 13 has been investigating Asheville's housing crisis, and this investigation centers around solutions that are outside the box.

PART ONE: News 13 Investigates: Asheville's housing crisis

PART TWO: Barriers to building: Why Asheville struggles with affordable housing

PART THREE: Asheville's housing crisis applies to the rental market

Many employers help their employees save for retirement or life after work, but what if they were also willing to help put you in a home? It's an option three Asheville business are giving a try, and it's helped put over 100 employees in a more permanent home.

“Just having a big room here is really helpful,” Julie Perley Rogers said.

2016 has been a year of change for Perley Rogers.

“I think we're going to put a Christmas tree right here in the middle of the room,” Julie said.

She bought her first home by herself in February, after divorcing years ago.

“I had never bought a home by myself before, and so there was a lot to learn,” Perley Rogers said.

Now she's working toward making it "theirs."

“We're looking at samples here of what to put on the floor and lots of options,” Perley Rogers said.

She's now Julie Perley Rogers after marrying her high school sweetheart four weeks ago, nearly 40 years to the day after going to their junior prom at Owen High.

But buying the home where they made their vows seemed impossible.

“My Biltmore income, even with my Navy retirement, was still going to make it quite a struggle to do this,” Perley Rogers said.

As she packs her lunch for work, she knows her employer played a part in making the dream happen.

“I think just being a homeowner and being settled can help you be a better employee for your company,” said Perley Rogers.

Biltmore, where Julie's been a ticket-taker for a decade, is one of three employers in Asheville helping their workers save for a home. The other two are Mission Hospital and the YWCA. OnTrack Financial Counseling runs the program.

“Employees enroll, they work with us to attend home buyer education, money management classes, and then sit down with one of our counselors to go through a budget to help them on their path for home ownership,” said Celeste Collins Executive Director of OnTrack Financial Education & Couseling.

The entire process takes about six months.

“When they save $1,250, employers will match two dollars for every dollar they've saved. So employers are investing $2,500 into helping their employees get stable housing,” Collins said.

At the Chamber of Commerce, Kit Cramer said it's one way Asheville employers can help tackle the housing crisis.

“Having the option instead of the 401k, perhaps, it's saving for the first home and matching those savings. Unfortunately, I don't think companies are going to be able to afford to do both,” Cramer said.

But it's just one part of the solution.

“There is no silver bullet to the housing situation. It just doesn't exist -- not here, not anywhere,” Cramer added.

There are ways to overcome the challenge. Regional transportation improvements of I-26 will improve access for those forced to settle further away from the city's core where land's more affordable.

“We also need to work at working with our neighboring counties at regional transportation solutions so that people don't just have the option, have the only option of jumping into their own private car. We need to continue working on establishing bus routes,” Cramer said.

The city's also considering proposals to reduce the minimum lot area and width by 20 percent and allowing multi-family homes like a duplex to be built on the same size lot as a single family home, increasing density.

"I think anything that helps today is something that we should be doing while being cognisant of and thinking about the future," Jeff Staudinger, Asheville’s Community & Economic Development Assistant Director, said.

“Money or incentivizing the developer,” Kirk Booth said would be a huge help toward speeding up the building process.

Incentives through the low-income housing tax credit program give investors a dollar for dollar reduction in their federal tax liability in exchange for affordable rental units. But it takes matching funds in the way of bonds.

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“Through the low-income housing tax credit program, which is extremely competitive and we have competing organizations every year for Asheville projects, but it's going to be 60 to 100 units is going to be the scale, and we won't get one every year," Staudinger said. "Or to develop housing at a scale where the developer can develop many units and therefore keep the cost of those units down, spread the cost of the land."

While the city in the past has waived more than $100,000 dollars in permit and development fees, this past year those waivers were way down, half what they were five years ago.

Buncombe County has recently reserved land for affordable housing. Last year they agreed to lease a property on Erwin Hills Road for a dollar a year to the Eblen Center for Social Enterprise and the State Employees Credit Union for 24 affordable housing units for teachers.

The city's looked at a similar venture with the parks maintenance facility on Hilliard Avenue.

“As long as there's people applying and trying, that's the way we're going to get there,” said Booth.

Mountain Housing Opportunities also says it takes private investors creating public-private partnerships. Wednesday night they held their own fundraising event towards creating more affordable homes in Asheville.

Another example, hotel developer John McKibbon provided Mountain Housing Opportunities with a $1 million, zero-interest loan to create affordable housing that some of their hotel employees might live in.

You can reach Mountain Housing Opportunities for information about affordable housing at 828-254-4030.

OnTrack Financial Education & Counseling is also offering several classes to help people solidify their credit, clear up past debt, and learn how to buy a home.

Here’s some of their classes:

  • Manage Your Money: November 21st and 28th from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM and December 3rd & 10th from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM.
  • Buy a Home: December 6th, 8th, 13th & 15th from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM it’s a four part class.

They also offer Budgeting & Debt Classes and Free Credit Classes. You can reach them at 828-255-5166.

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