Cost of Growth: Low wages and high housing costs

A big complaint heard around Asheville is the lack of affordable housing options.

The average price of a home in Asheville is forty percent more now than it was nearly a decade ago.

When you combine the high housing costs with low wages, it's nearly impossible for many to survive.


The Council for Community and Economic Research ranks Asheville as a 97 when it comes to cost of living. The number is compared to a national average of 100.

Economists we talked to say the biggest reason it's so high is because of our housing market.

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Julia McDowell knows the issue all too well. She lived in public housing, barely able to make ends meet.

"Yes, you can make it, but it's hard. It's really hard," McDowell said.

She works downtown, making $9 an hour.

"I survive off $25 dollars, I guess, every two weeks for food," McDowell said.

It is a typical story in Asheville.

"The cost of living is going up, as well, so it's kind of hard to make ends meet for $7.50 or $9 an hour. It's really hard for a lot of people," McDowell said.

In fact, the average weekly wage for the city is $761 a week, which is well below both the state's average of $902 a week and the national average of $1,020 a week.

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Rick Elingburg with NCWorks says they are aware of the wage gap.

"You are correct, we know that. We know there is significant lag in our wages compared to other parts of the state," Elingburg said.

Elingburg said a big part of the problem is the type of jobs common in the Asheville area.

"Tourism, hospitality, throwing money at it is not really the answer. There is such a turnover in that industry," Elingburg said.


But the other piece of the puzzle is the local housing market. In most neighborhoods, it seems like every available acre is filling up with new homes.

"This house here is roughly 3,000 square feet, and it's a custom home. It's a contemporary style," builder Tom Alexander said.

Alexander showed us a lot where the existing home was immediately torn down for a new one.

He said difficult mountain terrain, combined with increased demand, have driven up construction costs.

"Years ago, the first house I built we had a building cost of $75 dollars a square foot, and today we're seeing $250 on average," Alexander said.

It is a cost that is reflected in a rising price tag.

In 2011, the average home in Asheville cost $238,704. Since then, it has jumped about 41 percent up to $335,825.

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It's a bigger increase than the Triangle, Wilmington, and even Charlotte.

But experts say another reason homes cost so much these days is because there simply are not as many homes being built.

This chart shows the number of single and multi-family home permits each year in the Asheville Metro Area.

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In 2006, there were 4,310 home permits. During the recession, that number dropped to about 1,001, but Asheville has been slow to bounce back. Just last year, 2,622 new homes were built.


Besides housing, several other factors contribute to Asheville's cost of living.

According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, grocery costs are 94, housing is 97, utilities is 106, transportation is 97, and healthcare is 100.

News 13 will be taking a closer look at those categories as we investigate the Cost of Growth.

We want to know how Asheville's growth is affecting you. Email us at

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