Archived Opinion

Living in WNC is getting harder for workers

Living in WNC is getting harder for workers

The affordable housing crisis looms as this region’s most pressing problem. And so far, no one has proposed any kind of sweeping proposal that will solve it. 

The numbers that back this up are out there for anyone willing to do just a little research. The Dogwood Health Trust — the foundation created by the proceeds of the Mission Hospital sale to HCA Healthcare — released a report back in December that painted the picture and backed it up with numbers.

By 2025, the region will need 20,000 more units for low-income households; of that number, 14,000 will be needed in just Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties. The study — done by Bowen National Research — also found that 48 percent of households in Buncombe County are already cost-burdened when it comes to housing. That means a household pays more than 30 percent of its income just to pay for a place to live, before they’ve bought food, cars, heating fuel, health insurance, etc.; nearly two-thirds in Buncombe County are “severely cost-burdened,” meaning they pay half or more of their income toward housing costs.

One more heartbreaking stat: nearly 60 percent of households in this region don’t have the minimum $40,000 income needed to afford the average monthly rent on a one-bedroom apartment, which is $1,069 a month. Some of these numbers are for Buncombe County, but things are much the same in the region west of Asheville. The fact is there are fewer rentals and not as many professional jobs, so the problem is exacerbated.

The rental market is one story, while those wanting to buy face an even steeper hill to climb. Here’s a paragraph from Canopy Multiple Listing Service — which covers Burke, Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania and Yancey counties — that was released last week:

Tight inventory continues to pressure prices, which continued to rise. Both the median sales price ($375,000) and the average sales price ($449,120) rose by 17.3 percent and 14 percent year-over-year, while the average list price rose 3.3 percent year-over-year to $476,967. 

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To afford that $375,000 house, according to several on-line mortgage calculators, you’ll need a down payment of $75,000 (20%) and earnings of $55,955 per year. Those houses are simply out of reach for most people in this region.

Sit around any coffee shop or pub and talk to the young workers of this region, and they are fretting about how they’ll ever be able to get into a house. So, what solutions have been discussed? Is it even feasible to think the private sector can solve this problem?

There are several efforts underway from local governments to force new developers of apartment complexes to allocate a portion of their projects for affordable housing needs. Good idea, but just a drop in the bucket. Projects like the old hospital in Waynesville will help seniors — which is great — but again, the crisis is so large these few projects will barely make a dent.

Commissioners in Buncombe County are talking about changing the room tax legislation to allocate a portion of that revenue — which comes from tourists who stay overnight — toward affordable housing and other projects. Some are suggesting the county take up to 50 percent of the room tax. Buncombe rakes in about $41 million a year.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but there are some of us who think affordable housing is likely this region’s most pressing issue. If workers can’t find a place to live, the businesses looking for workers likely won’t find them. Something has to give. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Leave a comment

2 comments

  • I've got a simple answer that would solve the housing crisis in one fell swoop: ban Airbnbs.

    posted by Sarah LaRose

    Monday, 05/16/2022

  • Glad to see that you are bringing attention to a very pressing problem. As you note at the end, the problem has ripple effects that go beyond the immediate issue in that it affects delivery of services to the public when potential workers have to go elsewhere instead of working in the region.

    posted by Teri D.

    Friday, 05/13/2022

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