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Posts published in “Economy”

New Report Sounds Alarm on Affordable Housing — Again

Region needs 20,000 units to meet demand; gap is widest in Buncombe

The need for affordable housing in western North Carolina is getting more severe, a new study commissioned by the Dogwood Health Trust found.

By 2025 the region will need 20,000 more units for lower-income households, the study found, with 70 percent, or 14,000, of those new units needed in just three counties: Buncombe, Henderson, and Haywood.

The study, by Bowen National Research, conducted in the first six months of 2021 and presented to the Dogwood Trust last month, also found that:

  • Nearly half of all households in Buncombe County (48.5 percent) were already “cost-burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing; nearly two in five households in Buncombe are “severely” cost-burdened, paying half or more of all income to meet housing costs.
  • Ninety-two percent of regional employers say the shortage of affordable housing is causing problems in attracting new workers,


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Come Hell or High Water, Asheville Is Climate “Winner”

Influx of “climate refugees” expected to exacerbate challenges

By 2100 coastal communities could experience sea-levels up to 8 feet higher than in 2000. Some scholars predict 13 million people could be displaced and likely to migrate to “safe cities.”

Back in 2006, when Scott Shuford was Asheville’s planning director, he reluctantly accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a meeting about the impact of climate change on local governments. 

“I didn’t see how a two-degree temperature change could affect the community,” he recalled, referring to the predicted rise in earth temperatures in years to come. “But I agreed to attend, thinking it would only be about 15 minutes. 

“After about an hour-and-a-half I came out of the meeting drenched in sweat.”

All the plans he had drafted up to that day suddenly seemed to have overlooked an unsettled future fraught with unanticipated challenges. Those two degrees of temperature change meant greater threats of weather extremes — of torrential rains, devastating floods, and landslides, and of their opposites, extended drought and wildfire. 

“We weren’t ready,” Shuford said of Asheville’s infrastructure at the time.


Black Home Ownership and the Promise of Reparations

For many, Asheville's "urban renewal" ended the American Dream

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson surveys her childhood Southside neighborhood near New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Urban renewal "destroyed" a thriving community, she said.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson looked across the empty fields where her Southside neighborhood once thrived. “It’s all gone,” she said. “One thousand two hundred businesses and homes were lost.” 

The neighborhood, where approximately half of Asheville’s Black population lived, suffered major upheaval under Asheville’s urban renewal program in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the largest urban renewal projects in the Southeastern United States. 

Ndiaye Robinson’s memories of childhood delights — a neighbor’s cupcakes, playing with chickens, charging up the grassy hills — are tainted by sadness and umbrage at what happened. “It broke up a loving community. It tore up families,” she recalled.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson

For Asheville’s Black residents it, urban renewal also undercut the foundation of generational wealth and dashed a revered piece of the American Dream. Predominantly Black neighborhoods were razed to make way for proposed highways or real estate ventures,


Reparations, Six Months Later: So Far, Empty Promises

Asheville’s Dwindling Black Population Remains Skeptical

Valley Street, ca. 1949. Photo by Juanita Wilson

Six months ago, as part of a reckoning on racial injustice, the City of Asheville and Buncombe County both passed resolutions to consider reparations to the Black community as a way to begin making amends for slavery and generations of systemic discrimination. The votes were hailed as “historic” by The Asheville Citizen Times, and ABC News asked, “Is Asheville a national model?”

Since then, local officials concede, little has been done. Some in the Black community see zero progress.

“From my understanding, they’ve done nothing,” said Rob Thomas, community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition. 

Despite the fanfare they received at the time, the reparations resolutions are in limbo, still as lacking in specific remedies as they are in financial commitment or engagement with the Black community. The Asheville resolution called for the creation of a Community Reparations Commission to begin drafting recommendations.


How Tech Can Help Asheville’s Economy

With Tourism Hurting, Asheville Needs Other Economic Drivers

Tech entrepreneur Trevor Lohrbeer: "I don't see Asheville becoming a major tech player, though I do think the tech industry could be built up to the point where it contributes significantly to the local economy."

In 2019, if you were to ask anyone what drove Asheville’s economy, they’d tell you beer, arts and crafts, outdoor recreation, hotels and restaurants. In short, tourism. 

Today, with those businesses only just beginning to ramp back up and tourists staying home, talk of diversifying Asheville’s economy is picking up. Local technology businesses and the rise of technology-based work-from-home jobs may be part of the solution. 

Asheville already has a tech sector, albeit a small one with only 1% of the job market and approximately 1,900 jobs. But with an average salary of nearly $58,000 a year, according to ZipRecruiter, Western North Carolina tech jobs are good ones. And, more jobs are coming.

Charles Edward Industries (CEI), a minority-owned electronics manufacturer, in concert with the Buncombe County Commission, Asheville City Council, and the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County (EDC),


Asheville’s Soul Threatened

Artists and Musicians Hit Hard by Closures

The normally bustling Grove Arcade Outdoor Maker’s Market is quiet without artist vendors and foot traffic.

The pandemic that left thousands of Asheville workers unemployed has been particularly hard on the artists, musicians and performers who help define the city’s character.

“Lots of people have been broken by this — people that live day to day, week to week, month to month,” said artist David Achenbaugh of Blue Ridge Gems, who has been selling his jewelry at the Grove Arcade Outdoor Maker’s Market for 17 years. “I worked my whole life. Every day, I’d go out and go to work, and I can’t even provide for myself or my family now. 

“All my street artist people are hurting,” he said.

Ed Rowles

The normally bustling Grove Arcade Outdoor Maker’s Market is quiet without artist vendors and foot traffic.

The long-term impact could alter the very fabric of Asheville. 


The Fear of Re-Opening: Small Business Owners Opt Out

Biltmore Ave.

Asheville retailers finally received approval to reopen Friday after seven weeks of forced closure, but some are choosing to remain closed.

Their biggest fear: exposing themselves and their employees to the coronavirus. Patrons are advised to abide by social distancing, but wearing masks is not required under Buncombe’s order, and few downtown visitors appear to be complying.

Betsey-Rose Weiss, owner of American Folk Art & Framing at 64 Biltmore Ave., is choosing  to stay shut. Her fears went back to March 17, the day she temporarily closed. Gallery visitors “were touching things, even though I asked them not to,” she said. “People were trying to hand me cups for me to throw away for them.”

Biltmore Ave.

As re-opening neared, she emailed her concerns to Fletcher Tove, emergency preparedness coordinator for Buncombe County Health and Human Services,