News 13 Investigates: The cost of a living wage (Part 3)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series.
It's more expensive to live in Asheville than most other major cities in North Carolina, according to Economic Development Coalition's latest figures.
News 13 is investigating three of the main factors that contribute to that high cost of living - childcare, housing and public transportation.
PAYING FOR CHILDCARE
Brittany Baird, a single mom, supports her two young children by herself.
"I have a job, but I never made more than $8.25 an hour and I am 27 years old," Baird said.
She works as a home care aid, making slightly more than minimum wage. She said she worries every day about how she'll pay for childcare.
"Oh, yeah, it is very expensive," Baird said of childcare.
So expensive that Baird relies on a voucher program to pay most of the bill.
Baird said she would not be able to afford childcare without that assistance.
"No, I'm just being honest with you. It's something, but luckily, like I said, thank goodness for those vouchers, so they do pay a percentage," Baird said.
The Jewish Community Center prides itself on offering quality early childhood education, but recognizes how hard it can be for families to afford.
"That's really hard for families because they have to make those really hard decisions. And something's got to give, and sometimes that's the early education piece because they just don't have the money to pay for it," Kate Brantley said.
Brantley said many times moms quit their jobs because of the childcare expense. She said infant care in the Asheville area can range from $600-$1,200 a month.
She said that cost reflects high rental prices and programs that value experienced teachers.
"The childcare cost is high because we want to invest in our educators," Brantley said.
She wishes lawmakers would pitch in more state funds so the expense doesn't all fall back on families.
HOME PRICES SKYROCKET
Another big cost that's out of reach for many is housing.
"The demand in Asheville is very, very high. I tell people it's a strange community because we have a lot of service jobs but we don't have a lot of professional jobs. But the people with those service jobs are being pushed out because they can't afford to live in the city anymore," builder Brad Rice said.
Rice spent years constructing high end homes before realizing the biggest need is for homes that are less than 2,000 square feet and around the $200,000 price point. Now, Rice works for Bellwether Design and Build making smaller, more affordable homes.
"They fly off the shelf really quickly because the inventory is so incredibly low and the demand is pretty high," Rice said.
Rice said it's that demand, combined with a lack of buildable land and high regulatory costs for builders, that's pushing up home prices.
In fact, according to the Chamber of Commerce, housing costs are higher in Asheville than Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville and Atlanta.
And it's not just home sales, but rentals, as well.
"The number of rentals is shrinking, while the number of people seeking rentals is increasing. So, that's causing a big break in the supply and demand," Realtor Adam Malis said.
Malis runs the Asheville Home Rental Market, available online connecting tenants and landlords.
Malis said dozens of people from across the country contact him every day looking for an affordable home, making it very difficult to find a two-bedroom in Buncombe County for less than $1,250 a month.
"It's really hard because we just don't have that inventory where rental properties are in that $1,000 range," Malis said.
GETTING AROUND ON A BUDGET
With other daily costs soaring, many try to save by using public transportation.
Hope Mcmahan takes the bus every day and said, while it's usually on time, it could be more accessible .
"Having to walk about a mile to a bus station and having to spend two or three hours just to go somewhere for 30 minutes," Mcmahan said.
Transportation officials said they realize thousands of people can't afford a car, gas and insurance, so they've added bus stops and routes.
"More than 50 percent of the citizens of Asheville live within a five-minute walk of a bus stop, which is significant," interim transportation planning manager Vaidila Satvika said.
In fact, Asheville's transportation costs are lower than most other cities across the state, according to Chamber of Commerce data.
But, when you stack up all the factors, Asheville is topping yet another list -- one that's not as desirable for those trying to survive in such a high-demand city.
"I keep my head up. I pray, and I keep it moving. And sometimes I have to sacrifice," Baird said.
COMING UP TOMORROW: Watch at 11 p.m. as News 13 asks community leaders how they're fixing the problem.