Key Commons north of Carrier Park, operated by the nonprofit Homeward Bound, provides apartments for people without homes. The property was purchased and renovated with private and public funds, including a low-interest loan from the city’s housing trust fund. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

It all comes down to housing.

A safe, affordable place to live is both the primary solution to ending homelessness and the key to preventing it, according to two of the country’s leading experts.

In the final installment of Down Town, our Asheville Watchdog reporters examine the lack of affordable housing in Asheville, and whether efforts to address it are enough. We talk with those experts, Gregg Colburn and Sam Tsemberis, on the causes and solutions to homelessness.

Tsemberis, a psychologist, was a street outreach worker in New York City when he determined that the traditional response to lifting people from homelessness — taking them to detox or mental health clinics or the hospital — did little but return them to the same streets and the same predicaments.  

“What we decided we’re going to [do is] involve the person in any plan that is going to have an impact on their life, whether it’s treatment or housing,” Tsemberis told Asheville Watchdog. “‘How can we help you?’ And the person would tell us very clearly, ‘Isn’t that obvious? I need a place to live.’ ”

The Housing First method he pioneered some three decades ago has proven to be among the most effective responses to homelessness, and is in use throughout the United States and other countries.

Colburn, a housing and homelessness researcher in Seattle, set out to dispel the narrative he saw in daily news headlines trying to explain the burgeoning homeless populations in many American cities: It’s drug use or mental illness, it’s individuals’ failings and shortcomings, it’s worse in places with high poverty and unemployment, it’s because of liberal social safety nets provided by Democratic mayors and city councils.

What Colburn and a colleague found, instead, is that it’s none of those things. “The primary driver of why a community has high rates of homelessness is access to housing,” Colburn told Asheville Watchdog.

Homelessness is a Housing Problem,” a 2022 book by Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern, is a playbook for local governments to adopt long-term solutions to homelessness.

Cities and counties with the highest per capita homeless rates, the authors write, are places where rental vacancies are low and rents are high. 

Places like Asheville.

What causes homelessness, and what doesn’t

Much of the money spent by local governments on homelessness is “a response to the crisis,” Colburn said. “It’s not in any way ending the crisis.”

Gregg Colburn // Credit: Gregg Colburn

In Buncombe County, Asheville Watchdog calculated, more than $20 million is spent on homeless services each year for a homeless population that as of the January 2023 point-in-time census totaled 573 people.

Colburn argues that local governments need to focus as much if not more on identifying and investing in approaches that prevent homelessness, and that requires a more accurate understanding of its causes.

In his book, Colburn, an assistant professor of real estate at the University of Washington who specializes in housing policy and homelessness, found there are “individual vulnerabilities,” including poverty, mental illness, addiction and domestic violence, that lead to homelessness. But they don’t explain why some cities’ homeless rates are so much higher than others. 

To understand that, Colburn and his colleague examined homelessness in 30 of the largest metro areas in the United States. He described his findings to Asheville Watchdog:

Drugs/mental illness: “There are people using drugs and people who are experiencing mental illness in every jurisdiction in the country, and there’s not disproportionate numbers of people with those conditions in places with high rates of homelessness,” Colburn said. “People get really frustrated by this response. They say, ‘But I see these people on the street’ ” obviously on drugs or in crisis.

“Seattle has five times the per capita rate of homelessness as Chicago. There are people who are mentally ill and using drugs in Chicago, just as there are in Seattle. In Chicago, they’re finding housing at much higher rates than they are in Seattle. … If you fundamentally believe that this is a drug-driven crisis, you’ll need to explain for me why West Virginia, the home of the opioid epidemic in the United States, doesn’t have a huge problem with homelessness. [It’s] because people are finding housing.”

Generous homeless services attract the unhoused: “Everyone thinks they’re a magnet, from San Francisco to Seattle, to Minneapolis, to Asheville, to Middletown, Ohio,” Colburn said. “The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that homelessness is generally a homegrown problem, meaning that the people experiencing homelessness within your community are from your community. Now, it doesn’t mean that they were necessarily born and raised there. There’s a lot of mobility and especially in growing cities, people move there because they get new jobs. … We don’t see evidence of these welfare magnets, people moving to places that are more generous.”

Homelessness is worse in “blue” cities: “It’s an easy and convenient explanation to say, ‘Well, Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. are run by Democrats, and they have high rates of homelessness, therefore Democrats have a problem.’ What that analysis excludes is the fact that there are a whole bunch of other cities like St. Louis and Cleveland and Denver and Detroit and Baltimore, that have been run by Democrats for a long, long time that don’t have a problem.”

Cities with low wages, high unemployment and high poverty have higher homeless rates: Job loss and poverty, among other factors, increase an individual’s risk of becoming homeless but are not the root causes of a city’s homeless crisis, Colburn argues. “Homelessness thrives amid affluence, not poverty,” he writes. Cities with high poverty and unemployment, including Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore, have some of the lowest rates of homelessness. And in Seattle, where the minimum wage is about $16 an hour, “there’s a big chunk of the homeless population that is employed,” Colburn said. Merely raising wages is not the answer. “What would we have to do to the minimum wage in Seattle to get people to the point where they could afford housing? Are we going to have a $40 minimum wage?”

The availability and cost of housing drives homelessness: Homelessness accelerates in cities when rents exceed more than 30 percent of a household’s income and vacancy rates of available housing are below 4 percent. 

“What we see is when rents are high and vacancy rates are low, homelessness tends to be high,” Colburn said. “I challenge people to say, ‘Give me a place that has really high rents and low vacancies and doesn’t have a problem with homelessness,’ and you don’t get a response, because there isn’t a counter example.”

Colburn has presented his findings to more than 75 cities and is scheduled to visit Asheville in the fall.

He advises leaders to concentrate “on the issue that’s really driving this crisis, which is access to housing.”

As for Asheville, Colburn said, “the numbers in your community are troubling from a housing access standpoint.”

Asheville needs a ‘proper sense of urgency’

Asheville has the factors that Colburn and his co-author identified as the perfect storm for homelessness: population growth, high housing costs, and low vacancy rates.

For multi-family housing in Buncombe County, the vacancy rate was 3.5 percent, and in Asheville, 2.8 percent, according to a National Alliance to End Homelessness report presented to local leaders in January. Asheville’s vacancy rate for subsidized housing was even less — 0.3 percent.

Asheville had the highest rents in North Carolina. And 46 percent of renters in Buncombe County were cost-burdened — spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent — while one in five were severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50 percent.

A renter in Asheville would need to make at least $26.50 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment and stay under the 30 percent mark, the report said. The median hourly wage in Asheville as of 2022 was $15.87.

“There are simply not enough affordable housing options” in Asheville or Buncombe, the National Alliance report said.

Once a deteriorating public housing complex south of downtown Asheville, the Maple Crest apartments at Lee Walker Heights were demolished and rebuilt with local and federal funding. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

That’s not news to Scott Dedman, president and executive director of Mountain Housing Opportunities. The Asheville-based nonprofit has helped build more than 1,000 affordable apartments since the late 1980s and preserved more than 4,000 units by financing repairs for low-income homeowners, Dedman said. But the need was closer to 10,000 total, he told Asheville Watchdog.

“The reason I know that is because right now we have over 7,400 renter households just in Buncombe County alone, including Asheville, who are paying more than half of their income for rent,” Dedman said.

“If we as a community had a proper sense of urgency, we would be moving very rapidly toward addressing the problem,” he said. “We need thousands, not dozens, of safe, attractive, affordable homes in good neighborhoods. And that’s for the working people of Asheville and for retirees and people with disabilities and other people in need.”

Squeezed out

The population of Buncombe County has increased by about 35,000 people since 2010, or 15 percent. In that time, the county grew by a little more than 21,000 housing units, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010-2022.

The county can’t say how many of those are affordable, but a database to track affordable units is being compiled, a planner said. A spreadsheet maintained by the city shows 1,480 affordable units approved since 2013.

Asheville has also lost a substantial amount of its rental housing in recent years as property owners converted homes and apartments into vacation rentals.

“I think short-term rentals have made a difference in terms of the availability of just affordable long-term rentals,” said David Nash, executive director of the Asheville Housing Authority.

David Nash // Credit: Asheville Housing Authority

Around 2010, people who qualified for federally subsidized housing vouchers had no trouble finding rentals. Now, the wait is as long as five years.

“It’s been increasingly difficult to find private landlords who will take those [vouchers], Nash said. “I’m not saying that all of the landlords who used to offer voucher units are now offering short-term rentals. I’m just saying that Asheville’s tourist economy is driving part of that lack of supply.”

The pressure on the housing market will continue, Nash said. “We’re certainly seeing an influx of people at all income levels to Asheville since the pandemic, and also since we’ve been identified kind of nationally as a safer climate zone city. I think those trends will continue.”

Artists, musicians and service workers in Asheville’s restaurants and bars have complained that rents and home prices are forcing them to live far from their jobs. And as Asheville Watchdog reported in Part 2, fewer than one in five Asheville police officers can afford to live in the city. 

Other tourist towns with similar housing crunches have turned to creative solutions. A new 128-unit complex in Sarasota, Florida, recently opened with 76 designated affordable units, 52 of those specifically for teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and nurses. The project was a public private-partnership that included the Housing Authority, city, and a foundation with some financing provided through tax credits.

The City Council in Flagstaff, Arizona, a mountain city with a lack of affordable housing caused in part by short-term rentals, declared a “housing emergency” in 2020 that led to a 10-year plan to create or preserve nearly 8,000 housing units, 10 percent of them affordable by 2031.

The city of Asheville in May put out a request for proposals for an affordable housing plan, acknowledging that “affordable housing is widely seen in our community as one of the most pressing needs citywide.” The last such plan, the request says, “was completed in 2008.”

NIMBY attitude in Asheville

One place Colburn found that has kept up with growth and added housing is Charlotte, North Carolina. The population in Mecklenburg County grew by 28 percent from 2007 to 2019, but while rents increased, vacancy rates remained at around 7 percent, “thanks to the quick and substantial construction of new housing,” Colburn writes in his book.

And Charlotte’s rate of homelessness remained low compared to many other fast-growing regions in the country. 

Charlotte has a more accommodating topography, allowing for growth by sprawl, and less restrictive regulations than some of the other cities Colburn examined. (Asheville was not one of them.)

Keeping pace with housing needs in a growing region is tough, especially in cities constrained by water or mountains. Building up with higher density is required, Colburn found, but multi-family developments often draw contentious opposition and create a generational conflict pitting younger people who struggle to afford housing against Baby Boomers who have reaped wealth from soaring home values.

“Single-family homeowners — even self-described political progressives — may aggressively oppose zoning changes that would bring multifamily housing to their neighborhoods,” Colburn writes in his book.

Asheville has a vocal anti-development contingent. In 2021, after fierce opposition from neighbors,  developers abandoned a project to build 183 apartments including 18 affordable units at Chestnut and Charlotte streets north of downtown, which involved the demolition of about a dozen old homes. That opposition included protests and a GoFundMe campaign called “Save Charlotte Street” that raised nearly double its $6,000 goal for legal fees to fight the plan.

Protestors in 2021 pushed back against development north of Asheville’s downtown on Charlotte street where a new, partially affordable housing project would tear down old homes and trees. // Credit: YouTube

Wyatt Stevens, an Asheville attorney who represented the developer of that 101 Charlotte Street project, said the company pulled plans out of concern that the City Council would not vote to approve it. Stevens said two smaller parts of the project that don’t need council approval are moving forward and that the apartments are not going to happen anytime soon.

“At this time, it is my understanding that the developer intends to proceed with townhomes and condominiums, none of which will include affordable housing,” Stevens said. 

Asheville needs more affordable housing and market-rate housing, Stevens said. 

“Our project would have delivered a lot of both,” he said. “And (City Council) basically indicated they were not going to vote for it.”

Asheville service workers and others held a rally outside the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board meeting May 31, urging the TDA to fund affordable housing. // Credit: WLOS

Haywood Street Congregation, a ministry that serves people without homes, also faced opposition when it created the nonprofit Haywood Street Community Development to build about 45 affordable apartments just west of downtown on Asheland Avenue. Haywood pulled the project after neighborhood backlash but is now pursuing it at another site on Haywood Street.

“What’s so strange to me,” the Rev. Brian Combs with Haywood Street Congregation said at a gathering in April, “is that if you do any poll in this town about ‘What’s the biggest need?’ It’s always affordable housing, and yet when anybody tries to do affordable housing … it is astounding how well and organized folks against it come out and say en masse, ‘not in my backyard.’”

Developer: ‘Hard to make the numbers work’

From a developer’s standpoint, building affordable housing in Asheville and Buncombe is difficult.

Barry Bialik, past chairman of the Asheville Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, founded Compact Cottages, which has built more than 10s0 homes in the Asheville area. // Credit: Barry Bialik

“There’s not that many projects coming to the table because it’s hard to make the numbers work,” said Barry Bialik, a developer and past chairman of Asheville’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

“There’s not one piece of land in the city that you can build a house on right now that costs less than $100,000,” said Bialik, who also owns the Thirsty Monk pub downtown. 

Land is generally about 25 percent of the total cost, “so if there’s no lots for sale for $100,000, that means there will be no houses tomorrow for sale for less than $400,000 unless we take drastic measures to open up the land and bring the land costs down.”

Zoning regulations and infrastructure also make it hard to build, Bialik said.

“Our zoning rules kind of don’t always match up with the density, like just because a property is zoned to have more, it’s zoned multifamily, it doesn’t mean it has the road frontage,” Bialik said. “We have things that are zoned for density that don’t have water or sewer available.”

The city of Asheville “doesn’t extend any of its own infrastructure,” Bialik said. “It has to be on a private developer to do everything.”

Asheville has a housing trust fund that makes low-interest loans to developers to build affordable housing. During a recent funding cycle, the city had about $7.6 million in the fund but only received applications for projects totaling $5.2 million, and approved nearly $4.4 million.

“They put it out as an open call and they didn’t even receive enough applications to total up all the funding that was available,” Bialik said.

Givens Gerber Park in South Asheville was built with tax credits and includes more than 250 affordable apartments for lower-income seniors. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“Allocating $4.4 million all at once to four projects is significant for the City,” Asheville Affordable Housing Officer Sasha Vrtunski said. “It also allows us to make additional significant loans in the next round.”

About two-thirds of Asheville’s residentially zoned land is single-family, said Vaidila Satvika, an urban planner with Asheville’s Planning and Urban Design Department.

Asheville has a twofold strategy: trying to keep existing affordable housing from becoming cost-prohibitive, and adding more units.

“At this moment, we’re doing everything we can. Of course we’d like to do more,” Vrtunski said.

Two housing bonds, one more in the works

Renters and homeowners are being forced out as Asheville becomes more popular and neighborhoods are gentrified. Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, rents in Asheville have risen 42 percent, the National Alliance to End Homelessness wrote in its January report.

Homeowners are struggling to keep up with rising property taxes and home maintenance. This is especially true, Vrtunski said, in Asheville’s historically Black neighborhoods impacted by racially discriminatory practices including urban renewal and redlining, but it’s “probably happening all over.”

In the past seven years both the county and the city have gone to voters to approve bonds for affordable housing. Asheville dedicated $25 million in 2016 and Buncombe, $40 million in 2022.

Asheville had spent $18.5 million of the bond money as of October 2022, purchasing  32.5 acres of property and building 403 affordable units with another 197 in some stage of construction.

These 70 apartments on Simpson Street in Asheville are all designated affordable and were built with city land use incentive grants. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Buncombe is in the early stages of deciding how to use its $40 million bond and recently published a dashboard tracking affordable housing needs and achievements. Buncombe has a goal to create or repair 2,750 affordable units by 2030. Since 2020 it has completed 248 at a cost of $7.7 million.

Asheville’s request for an affordable housing plan, issued in May, mentions a future housing bond that Nash said would likely be in 2024.

Asheville and Buncombe are doing a lot of things right for affordable housing, according to Patrick Bowen of Bowen National Research, which has done multiple housing assessments in Western North Carolina, including one for the Dogwood Health Trust in 2021. Bowen said he couldn’t comment on recent developments in the Asheville/Buncombe housing market and instead reflected on what he found in the 2021 report.

“In my opinion, studying numerous communities and regions across the country, I think Asheville and Buncombe County has probably been one of the more active and progressive communities that have made an effort to address housing needs of their community,” Bowen said. 

Immediate need: housing the unhoused

Asheville remains out of reach for many. Workers are forced to take in roommates or move farther outside the city because of rising rents and home prices.

Nearly 600 people in Buncombe have no permanent home, with 171 of those living outside, according to the January homeless census.

Asheville needs a dual focus, our experts told Asheville Watchdog: adding housing — specifically affordable units — while also expanding options for moving the unhoused off the streets and into homes.

Sam Tsemberis // Credit: Pathways Housing First Institute

Tsemberis, the psychologist, said that when he worked the streets of New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the conventional approach to homelessness involved first trying to treat a person’s problems — a short visit in a mental health clinic or rehab facility or hospital. 

“I think we just had it wrong. We sort of got stuck on the first impression of helplessness and vulnerability,” Tsemberis  told Asheville Watchdog. “ ‘Oh, they’ve got to be in treatment first. They’ve got to get sober first. We’ve got to get them ready for housing.’ Nobody is more ready for housing than the person on the street.”

And he decided to try something different. “We got a grant for rent and for support services and we started bringing people into an apartment,” he said. “And then we visited people all the time.” 

The approach became known as Housing First “because that’s the first priority,” Tsemberis said. 

From those early trials some 30 years ago to now, the results of Housing First have been among the most encouraging for ending homelessness. “We have an 80 to 90 percent success rate of bringing people that no one thinks are ready for housing into housing, providing supports — and they stay housed,” said Tsemberis, who now heads Pathways Housing First Institute and is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Housing First revolutionized “the way we think about and do homeless services in this country,” said Lori Thomas, director of research at the Charlotte Urban Institute, who also is a researcher on housing studies and a former colleague of Tsemberis. 

Other models that relied on treating substance abuse and mental illness first were only 30 percent to 40 percent successful in keeping people in housing, she said.

Despite the track record, not all homeless service providers in Asheville embrace a Housing First approach. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recommended that Buncombe County adopt systemwide Housing First principles.

Colburn in his book concluded, “We encourage the continued funding and construction of permanent supportive housing” for the unsheltered. The conversion of motels into housing that started after the pandemic, the book says, “can meaningfully increase the stock of affordable units in a community.”

Buncombe had more than 530 permanent supportive units as of January 2023, and all were full at that point, according to Emily Ball, Asheville’s homeless strategy manager. Two former motels are being converted, one by Homeward Bound and the other with city funding, into 198 apartments for chronically homeless people. They are expected to open in the coming months.

Charlotte has had permanent supportive housing in place for more than a decade. 

The first complex, Moore Place — created and operated by the nonprofit Roof Above — opened  in 2012. A 2015 evaluation found that 81 percent of the tenants, who had been homeless an average of seven years, had remained housed.

As of 2022, Charlotte-Mecklenburg had 1,044 permanent supportive housing units, including more than 500 created by Roof Above.

“It’s not housing only. It’s housing plus support, and we find that formula to be critical,” Roof Above CEO Liz Clasen-Kelly told Asheville Watchdog.

The most recently published data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg dashboard on homelessness showed 1,003 people – 97 percent – who went from being homeless to having a home either stayed in permanent supportive housing or moved to other permanent housing. That rate has been stable within a few percentage points since 2015.

“We’re able to move people with quite a bit of barriers — extensive histories of homelessness and involvement in multiple systems” through housing and supports, said Karen Pelletier, director of housing innovation and strategy with Mecklenburg County’s Community Support Services.

As Colburn travels the country talking to local governments, he sees opportunity in places like Asheville to turn the tide on homelessness.

“It’s not to minimize the problem, but it’s just nowhere near the scale of what it is on the coasts right now,” he said. “You have the opportunity to get out in front of this and… take the steps now to avoid the unfortunate path that coastal cities have taken.”

Staff writer John Boyle contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email

39 replies on “Down Town, Part 12: Affordable Housing Solves Homelessness. Asheville Has a Problem”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Wyatt Stevens an attorney who represents Ingle’s? And doesn’t Ingle’s own lots of property where multi-use development and affordable housing could be incorporated next to appropriate transit corridors? And isn’t the mayor of Asheville a partner in the law firm who represents Ingle’s? I don’t like the term NIMBY, really, but these folks seem to be some of the biggest NIMBYs in town.

    Also: I think the quotes about short-term rentals being part of the problem went a little easy on the fact that tourism has been the biggest killer of our local affordable housing market, and the TDA just keeps advertising for people from NY and CA and FL to come here (and then those people from more costly places to live snap up bargain ‘affordable’ homes). Thus, we have lots of wealthy folks (including many retirees) who own 2nd and 3rd homes here (and are not part of the work force), and those facts should be acknowledged and some statistics perhaps provided…?

    1. KW, completely agree, and add that the 101 Charlotte St citizen furry was not only due to overriding the overlay map that was in place, but the loss of those existing historic homes that housed 70 plus people living at an AMI they could manage working in service and tourist industry jobs. If our elected officials weren’t solely driven by profit, they could’ve helped the process of guaranteeing that those houses remain for those living there affordably and infill on the remaining unbuilt areas of that property with higher priced condos.

  2. I have loved this series, but this last one leaves me cold. All the critisicm goes on the folks who currently own homes here, perhaps they purchased 10 years ago, or more, but the fingers get pointed at them as NIMBY’s. If you are fortunate enough to own a home why should you be okay with a giant complex full of problems being built adjacent to your house.
    I do not agree with Housing First program that it touted as the solution to everything. If you put a person with huge issues, drug abuse, mental health, no way to support themselves, lots of ‘friends’ into a unit, magically their issues go away? This is not true. I prefer the Rescue Mission model where they stablize people first, get them off drugs, into jobs, making their lives meaningfull, set them up for success, not failure. And there is no point in building more housing under the guise of HACA without fixing the massive drug dealing that goes on at these facilities. Would you want to be living adjacent to an aggressive dealer if you were struggling to get off drugs?
    The other thing this article leaves out, is how much tolerance does a city have for people doing whatever they want without consequences?
    The City should really be working with the big box companies and companies like Ingles, to incorporate housing into their projects. Every Ingles should have 5 stories above it that is housing. Reduce the massive parking lots and use some of that space as well.
    AirBNB is much larger than people want to admit, so many 2nd homes are used as AirBNB because it is so much more convenient to use it yourself when you want to, and also not to have to deal with the issues of longer term renters, plus you make 4 times as much money, so why not? It is an investment, and everyone needs an investment if you are going to survive retirement.
    The city should also fix its old water system so developers dont have to it add to their costs to fix everything the city should have done 50 years ago.
    The huge mess at the Cox/Asheland abandoned site should have been averted if the developer had been given the heads up on what a difficult site that was. It should never have been approved as a giant complex. And if the developer was given the heads up, then the City should have adjusted the plans to make it a viable project. I think everyone knows that is a landfill site, except the folks that have the power to make a decision.

    1. Totally agree. The residents that pay taxes here are not the problem. Neither are the residents that can’t afford or don’t want to pay for the homeless flocking to Asheville for its array of freebies.

    2. You took the words right out of my mouth (and echoed what KW said above).

      I wonder if the Watchdog could clarify this paragraph:
      ‘A renter in Asheville would need to make at least $26.50 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment and stay under the 30 percent mark, the report said. The median hourly wage in Asheville as of 2022 was $15.87.’
      So…when I was younger and living hand-to-mouth, I typically had a roommate in a 2-bedroom apartment. What gives?

  3. I would just like to say on behalf of the Charlotte Street Neighborhood that we weren’t ALL opposed to that development. Many of us supported it because we agree with the need for dense, affordable housing, and were embarrassed and frustrated by the louder opposition. Those of us who supported it did all we could to make our support known to the City and to the developers, but unfortunately, the NIMBYs and historic preservationists with funding for “Save Charlotte Street” signage won out. And here we are. I hope after reading this excellently presented, accurate data, the NIMBYs will reconsider. I won’t hold my breath.

  4. In previous articles, the chronically homeless who were interviewed were all from other cities. The people in our streets were not Asheville renters who fell on hard times.

    NIMBY’s have said “no” to approximately a 1000 units when you add up all the projects that didn’t happen. The Asheville mall project, the one on the edge of Montford, Charlotte Street and others. People in this town say they are liberals, but not when it impacts them. Remember when everyone flipped out over Larchmont? It turned out to be a successful project.

    Please look at what happened to the Ramada Inn. It was a Low Barrier disaster. A woman died and was not discovered for nearly two weeks from an overdose. People were dealing drugs in the parking lot morning, noon and night. Management? Was there any? That Low Barrier model impacted the surrounding neighborhood within a mile. Hopefully Step-up will pay a living wage so that the management doesn’t look the other way and let the dealers come back.

    The Housing First cities all have sanctuary camping. Asheville does not have it on official policy, but we have organizations that are enabling people to come here and camp.

    People will be flooding into Asheville when we build this new Low Barrier housing and it will never be enough. The focus should be on workforce housing not becoming Mecca for the chronically drug addicted and alcoholic homeless. “If you build it, they will come.”

  5. The research in this article is correct that the Housing First model has been shown to be most effective for people who are chronically homeless. It does not assume that people’s problems magically go away. It recognizes that a person can’t stabilize their other issues without housing stability. Supportive housing depends on having staff and resources in-house to help residents. Even with that staffing it has been proven to be more cost-effective than letting people cycle through emergency rooms and jails.

  6. What an excellent series this has been. Thank you for naming the problem in depth from across the spectrum of those impacted, with is to say all of us, and for bringing hope to the situation by providing examples of cities and approaches that work. It really comes down to having the will as a people to work for proven solutions or being content to judge people while Asheville degenerates. We have a choice, folks. Thanks to AVL Watchdog for illuminating a path forward.

  7. You’re not going to come anywhere close to producing the amount of affordable housing needed by doing much of any of it in Asheville city limits. I’m not being NIMBY here, just pragmatic economics. The county has the large tracts of land that are much more affordable. We could start with well designed mobile home parks and go from there. Mobile homes are the most affordable forms of sheltar.

    Install a small park management team as these types of communities might benefit from regular oversight and should be tasked with forming a sense of community; very important. Set up Mountain Mobility bus transit to support these more remote locations with service to bus lines, Asheville, VA, etc.

    The City of Asheville needs to stop trying to develop very expensive projects in the city and particularly near downtown. It’s too expensive and will never put a dent in the problem. The County leadership needs to start showing some real leadership in this area that primarily impacts Asheville and downtown.

    1. And some of the so-called NIMBYs have opposed projects *not* because they did not want neighbors, but rather due to public safety concerns. Woodfin’s former ‘leadership’ tried to jam 1500 units next to Richmond Hill Park with just one narrow residential street to reach it (after a former Asheville city council gamed the system and had the land annexed into Woodfin). That street is already heavily traveled with park visitors and residents. There are no sidewalks and there is still no road from Woodfin to reach the proposed Bluffs site. Current residents are terrified for their safety and how their quality of life would be destroyed, what would happen if there were a fire and need to evacuate thousands of people…? The fire marshal has determined that the project needs another access road that does not spill onto Richmond Hill Drive, and yet the developers are still trying to push it through.

    2. mr rains, you state that the county must step up for a problem that mostly affects asheville and downtown. thank you for making ashevilles mistakes and woes ours. really appreciate you pushing them on us county folk who do not agree with ashevilles approach to homelessness ( or a lot of things you do ). asheville caused this problem with poor management and policies. do not involve us in solving your problem. we would prefer not to fill our neighborhoods with trailer parks if you do not mind. cheap, poorly made housing is not the answer. as for creating a small park management team, we all see how well asheville runs its housing authority, what makes you think the county is any better?

      1. I was commenting, not as an Asheville citizen, but as a Buncombe County resident…. also. I pay more in taxes to live in Buncombe County than Asheville, in case you didn’t know. My recommendation was based solely on devising a pragmatic approach to providing a greater amount of affordable housing for those in our society that are struggling. If you think Asheville is the sole cause of this problem; I’d suggest you need to reflect on this. We’re all in this together, whether you like it or not.

        1. mike , their is nothing pragmatic about your approach. You want to take a problem that Asheville has allowed to florish and thrive and push it on those of us who do not agree with ashevilles approach to the problem. some of us do not approve of needle exchange programs, would you give a gun to a child? no. some of us do not approve of open air drug use .we would prefer not to witness that. some of us do not approve of taxpayer funds going to folks who come from elsewhere to enjoy all the “freebies” asheville has to offer, ( using your tax dollars ,mike.) i am sorry you chose to pay double taxes by moving inside city limits mike. that is kind of on you. We are not “all in this together “mike. some of us refuse to help drug addicts get housing next door ,My wife and I have worked too damn hard for what we have. my point is Asheville enjoys its liberal take on things, do not force that view on us out here in the county.

    3. mike, your comment that buncombe county must help with what you call something that primarily affects asheville is akin to NYC bragging they are a “sanctuary city” and then sending all the migrants to other counties to help THEM with their problem that they alone created. thanks but no thanks mike, you wanted them, you keep them.

      1. Your response to my proposal sounds a bit one-sided. Asheville created this problem? I guess no one living “out in the county” has housing/drug addiction/mental health problems? As stated before, Asheville citizens pay as much in taxes to Buncombe County as we do to the City of Asheville. It’s not “us” versus “you all”. It’s “us” and “us”. Think about it.

        1. hi mike , I appreciate your response. Yes Asheville residents do pay both taxes. this is why i would never live inside a cities limits. only a fool would pay twice for the same services. I will retract my comment about Asheville “creating” the problem. what they have done though is mismanage and encourage the problem to the point that it is now out of control and unmanageable. The fine citizens of this city and its leadership have chosen a path that was misguided and just plain wrong and are stuck being unable to admit they failed the cities taxpayers. As the series seems to confirm, i did not see any homeless family units or beaten women fleeing abuse on our streets. these people have chosen , for the most part, this way of life. as a taxpayer of buncombe county, I prefer my tax dollars be better spent. it is us against you all, meaning we disagree with Ashevilles silliness and want no part of it Mike.

  8. What this series of articles has taught me is that there is no one solution or “silver bullet” to homelessness and its problems.

    It’s easy to ask others to financially contribute more, it’s easy to ask someone else to fall upon their financial sword, it’s easy to say “woulda, coulda, shoulda” when it’s not your own skin in the game.

    All the identified issues will never go away in a reasonable time frame using only one strategy. It is foolish to believe the wealthy among us will voluntarily give more versus moving away from the area and the problem, leaving this mess in the hands of do-gooders, Karen’s, and the financially bereft. My first course of action has always been to first take care of myself, then my immediate family, making sure they are fed, clothed, and with a roof over their heads. Then, after that is accomplished, maybe look to help/assist someone else.

  9. $20 million dollars was spent yearly on 573 homeless persons in Buncombe County. $20,000,000.00 / 573 homeless individuals comes to $34,904.01 per person. Our local homeless situation is a profit scheme for somebody.

    1. I agree with you Mary. The various grants in this program could have more than paid for apartments for every last person living outside. $2,900 rent per month is what that works out to. Asheville had a plan to end homelessness 10 years ago, but did not follow it. They just hired people, paid non profits, creating a lot of jobs that rely on keeping the problem alive and well. If you solve the homeless issue, you dont have a job so it is better to just keep it bubbling along. Non profits like BeLoved, who do some very good work with food distribution, get most of their revenue from donations by creating videos of themselves running around ‘handing out a pair of socks and a bag of chips’ to a person in a bad situation. Send money send money, help, help. And if you say anything to them, you get blocked immediately. This is profiting from homelessness because it is your business.

  10. So, a lot has been left off regarding the Charlotte Street development, first they did not want affordable housing but they went over their density requirement and that kicked in the UDO requirement of requiring affordable. They were going to fund those few units privately at an AMI of 80% with a lot of citizen outcry that 80% is not affordable. Then they were going to use the LUIG option which would have given them a break on tax credits for several years. The article is misleading as to what was really going on with this development. Also the problem with the neighbors and Reverend Combs development was not the affordable housing but what type of day use was this development going to be used for.. They said a drop in clinic for drug counseling, homeless counseling but they could not state how they were going to staff this and how exactly was the program going to work and be monitored. This neighborhood experienced red-lining and the deed specifically stated how the property should be designated and it was not for this type of development. One has to have their eyes and ears open to what exactly is going on where otherwise there is a lot of obfuscation by parties that want to see mass development in our neighborhoods at any cost. Don’t get me wrong I am for affordable housing, but you will not see a developer offer an AMI at 60 or 40% as they say the cost for building is much too high. So builders need to lower their rate of return, the many illegal STR’s need to be shut down and cheaper funding for ADU’s allowed. And Voucher requirements need to be loosened up. I could rent my downstairs with a Voucher if it had 2 doors, it is a perfectly small great affordable place that I would take Vouchers but I do not qualify as I only have one door. There are many many holes to be plugged to make us barely a livable city, but Wyatt Stevens is not the spokesperson for what’s affordable.

  11. the fact that the 2 “experts” you spoke to in this article are from NYC and seattle, which continue to have a crushing problem with homelessness, tells me what i need to know. big cities love to tell us how too fix things that they can not even fix themselves.

    1. Amen. Sing it John. Seattle has gone WAY downhill. “Housing First” cities tout that they house people, but they neglect to mention that all these people go to these cities for sanctuary camping and the freebies. They are creating an endless line of people coming from all over living in unsafe campsites that are open air drug markets.

      Asheville has gleefully paid a consultant to come here and turn us into a West Coast failure as part of the Industrial Homeless Industry for federal funding. The consultants literally told the city they can teach the staff how to get that funding. It’s the beginning of the end. How about we focus on the actual people & businesses who live here and have to pay for it all? Basic infrastructure is a thing you know?

  12. ‘Affordable Housing’ is potentially the next Big Grift in Asheville and other cities around the USA. Why, I could sell the home I currently own, work part-time remotely for a company in California, qualify for ‘affordable housing’, take in a roommate for part of the year, get paid rent in cash, work side-gigs for cash, stay within the parameters of the income level for ‘affordable housing’, and then spend winters in Costa Rica. I could provide a million other ways that people will surely game the system. Does anyone remember the financial crash of 2008 and how bankers took the free money and gave themselves big bonuses? Housing alone will not solve homelessness. Get your f-ing heads out of the sand and tell the TDA to stop whoring us out…that will greatly help the lack of long-term housing.

    1. Agree! And limit the housing stock investors can buy for STR’s. They are whole house/whole apt STR’s all over Asheville. Money wins and Asheville is losing a lot of housing to tourists. Watchdog might want to take a look at how many illegal STR’s there are here. There’s a lot.

  13. I’ve read every article in the “Downtown” series and I’m grateful for what the Watchdog reporters have uncovered. I was particularly engaged by installment 12 which featured the approach to homelessness called Housing First, which stressed that housing must first be provided and that an array of support services for those housed are essential. I followed up some of the links in the article and I found them useful. So, I was very surprised when I looked at the front page of the “Wisconsin State Journal” today–I moved to North Carolina in 1974 but keep in touch–and saw this headline: “Housing First in trouble”. No, the idea of Housing First is not in trouble, but when operated at a larger scale companies are hired to manage things and sometimes they do a poor job, which was the case in Madison, the source of the story. Also, although the idea of Housing First is that there will be an array of support services, sometimes they are not provided, which was the case in Madison. To me, this clearly points out that cities and counties looking to embrace Housing First, need to: vet managers carefully, whether for profit, nonprofit, or government; ensure that the necessary services are provided and of good quality; and provide continual oversight.

  14. First, I would like to thank you for this outstanding series.
    As you probably know, Asheville has always had a homeless problem long before it became a tourist attraction with outrageous rents. Publicly available data indicates the homeless point in time counts are: 1999-487(ACT), 2005-490 (HUD), 2006-498 (HUD), 2007-635(HUD), 2008-509(HUD), 2009-518 (HUD)…..2023-573 (ACT). I believe this is an important statistic on solving Asheville’s homeless problem. Perhaps one of the experts in this field could address why the Asheville homeless population has averaged 537 over the last 20 years or so. Is it related to the level of services?

  15. Respectfully, the defensive, deflecting responses in most of these comments completely underscore the points made in this article.

    One comment in particular perfectly encapsulates the prevailing attitude of so many local homeowners (no doubt many of them who believe themselves to be good, righteous people): “I have loved this series, but this last one leaves me cold.” In other words, this person accepts the measured, comprehensive, deeply reported findings in the previous 11 articles (some 10,000+ words by my count) but refuses to accept the findings of this final 1/12th—which, not coincidentally, implicates them as part of the problem (and solution).

    Refusing to believe that the laws of supply and demand don’t apply to housing almost feels like the liberal/left equivalent of client denialism. But when the issue at stake is a hard asset furiously increasing in value via engineered scarcity, I suppose this is the predictable outcome. But it’s still depressing. If you’re progressive only when it’s nearly cost-free to you, I’m not sure you’re doing it right.

    I’m a homeowner, too, but I’d easily trade massive year-over-year real estate value gains for a far more sane, stable housing market that’s accessible to young, middle class, and working class buyers and renters. Teachers, firefighters, and service employees should all be able to live within or very close to the communities they serve and make their lives in (I include the County in this too). With the way things are going, my young children may never be able to return here and start families of their own someday. At least until I’m gone, I guess—which sort of defeats the purpose.

    1. Yes, but the *main* reason housing supply is low is directly related to the TDA constantly whoring us out. We cannot simply build our way of this and maintain the current exponential increase in wealthy guests who ultimately absorb formerly long-term rentals and then buy these ‘very affordable’ 2nd and 3rd homes. I voted against the Affordable Housing bonds precisely for this reason, the many ways the system can and will be exploited, the fact that there is a shortage of multi-use development (thanks partly to Mayor Mannheim and Ingle’s) and the fact that there is no long-term cohesive plan or end game uniting county and city leaders and the TDA…All they do is keep inviting guests to a home that isn’t in order.

  16. Not surprised that people would want to begrudge someone a roof over their heads. Like anything in life gets better if you have to live outside like an animal. Housing First makes sense. Homeless people are traumatized for various reasons and housing stability has to come first or nothing else will matter. You expect someone to go to counseling or drug classes and then go back under the bridge at night and get better? Common sense says a home of some sort is necessary. Homeless shelters are far worse than living outside and only function if the alternative is freezing to death in the winter. There are tiny house communities just next door in Newport TN that would serve as a model to house people on the cheap designed to be true affordable housing, not these federally funded tax scam kickback deals to build high rises in 5 years time. Nobody in Asheville leadership has an ounce of intellectual curiosity or imagination. They prefer to be spoon fed by consultants a bunch of contradictory data that they don’t plan to act on. We now know thanks to the Watchdoggie that the Asheville government is inert and impotent by design. And as far as mental health treatment in the area, we know that’s an oxymoron. The quality of mental health treatment is an absurd disgrace nationwide, so don’t hang your hat on that one to fix this.

  17. There is NO housing except free housing that is “affordable” to people who are unemployable due to drug addiction and / or mental illness.

  18. A great series, as it examined problems but also explored possible solutions. In my opinion, many if not most of Asheville’s leaders appear to consider themselves intellectually superior to their constituents. Assuming those in charge see homelessness, drug use and crime as problems, which I am not sure they do, any interest in remedying the issues seems scant. But to be sure, their greatest interest is controlling the narrative.

  19. The apartments in the houses the Charlotte Street developer tore down were actually affordable. Preserving them would have been a positive for affordable housing.

  20. As a long time Buncombe County and then forced annexation into the city of Asheville back in 2004, I pay County and City taxes. The only thing gained when we were annexed was a big green garbage can.
    A few years ago the county gave the city control of the water and sewage. BIG mistake. (December-January water outage due to choice to turn the water off in the southern portion and western parts of the city).
    Our county and city have gone downhill since the current city officials were “elected” and a county manager was hired, at a cost of almost a quarter of a million dollars a year in her salary, to run our county and city.
    This used to be a great place to live. The city officials basically ran all the police officers out by not giving them the backing and support needed. (ie: the riots that the city condoned from people that don’t even live in our state).
    The sorry state of our county and city is because of sorry leadership.
    Asheville is not a safe place. Shootings in broad daylight, local shops windows broken, thieves just walking in and taking merchandise, mugging and homeless people everywhere. The word got out that the city officials are slack on crime.
    We need a grassroots leadership in our county and city that remembers what a great place Asheville was.
    BTW: the county manager’s contract is up very soon. It’s time to find a local strong manager for this position. I imagine we can find someone local that would do this job for less than a quarter of a million dollars a year in salary.

Comments are closed.