Local non-profit makes progress on affordable housing

Savanah Seevers 

Contributor

sseevers@unca.edu

The Rev. Amy Cantrell discusses the upcoming tiny home project.

A local non-profit, BeLoved Asheville, prepares for construction of a deeply affordable and sustainable housing community to serve the homeless population within Asheville.

The Rev. Amy Cantrell, core team member at BeLoved Asheville, uses an age-old proverb to summarize the mission of the organization’s tiny home village project, a unique attempt at ending the cycle of homelessness.

“We really imagined this as a village,” Cantrell said, gesturing around to the dense bamboo forest on a plot of land in east Asheville. “We’ve said that for a very long time. We’ve said it takes a village to raise a child, but we all need a village.”

The team believes this project, scheduled to begin construction in the fall on land donated to the cause by Land of the Sky United Church of Christ, encompasses the values at the heart of their organization’s mission.

“BeLoved Asheville at its core is about building community and then taking the heart of our community together and asking how we create solutions to our toughest community struggles and be the people we’ve been waiting for,” Cantrell said.

With the want and need for affordable housing growing across America, Asheville is no exception.

“We’ve done a lot of just spending time on the land with various groups of folks, really talking about home and being grounded and what that means, particularly in a city that is rapidly gentrifying,” Cantrell said. “We’re the second most gentrified city in the nation.”

Gentrification, a process by which properties in declining urban areas are renovated to appeal to wealthy buyers, is a controversial city planning technique due to the fact many  locals are often priced out of living in their hometowns.

“What it does is it puts this great squeeze on the people,” Cantrell said. “Mostly, people that have been here a long time. Local people who are no longer finding it affordable to live in the community that they love, that they grew up in. They are then being pushed out.”

Ponkho Bermejo, core team member at BeLoved Asheville, is confident in the organization’s ability to succeed in its multitude of ventures.

“We are one of the smallest nonprofit organizations in this town and we are doing this,” Bermejo said. “Nothing is too big for us.”

Borrowing inspiration from the nation-wide popularity of tiny houses, BeLoved Asheville aims to create a new type of affordable, equity-producing housing intended to put a wrench in the cycle of homelessness.

“This is the dream of our community: to build our own homes and to do so in a way that is deeply affordable,” Cantrell said. “We say that because affordable housing in Asheville is mostly built at about 80 percent of area’s median income.”

The idea of deeply affordable housing stands as one of several pillars of the project, with equity and sustainability as the other two.

“We feel it’s important not to house people into poverty forever, which happens a lot when we look at moving people into affordable housing,” Cantrell said. “Most people build equity through their homes.”

By giving people the opportunity to build equity as they live here and set roots they become more stable and the community becomes more stable and sustainable as well, according to Cantrell.

For Cantrell and BeLoved Asheville’s Homeless Voice advocates who originally came up with the idea for the project, defining environmental sustainability means understanding the value of community living.

“Sustainability is a big piece of this project, and we talk about sustainability of the Earth and human sustainability and how they intersect,” Cantrell said. “One of the big things when you look at that is that community is a huge part of sustainability.”

The front porches of the tiny homes will be interconnected with one another via boardwalk, a feature Cantrell says is central to further fostering a sense of community among residents and ensuring the success of the village.

“You know, a lot of people build these big houses and what they really need is a good front porch to begin to create community,” Cantrell said. “The front porch is the neighboring furniture.”

The team is still on the lookout for a donated warehouse where they can gather and recycle unused building materials to help design the tiny homes. Plans to implement other eco-friendly features are taking shape as well.

“Our hope is that we can put other sustainability aspects in like solar energy and things like that as we go along,” Cantrell said. “Part of the sustainability is that folks want a really beautiful home with dignity, but we can also do that in a micro fashion. So, we’re looking at what space do people really need and use and then really minimizing the impact of how many building materials we use and how we live on the land. ”

A dense micro-bamboo forest serves as the land on which twelve tiny homes will sit. Instead of clear-cutting every stalk, BeLoved Asheville intends to leave as much of the bamboo intact while finding an environmentally conscious use for what they do remove.

“We’re doing very low impact, low disturbance on this land and that’s part of the sustainability aspect, because we want to maintain as much of this beauty as we can,” Cantrell said. “Recycling even that material into the project and into other building projects. Looking at how we live with this land has really been a part of the project altogether.”

So far the project hasn’t hit any serious snags. Adrienne Sigmon, core team member at BeLoved Asheville, largely credits the project’s success so far to the generosity of the Asheville community.  

“I think it’s really just been so overwhelming and amazing from so many community members that we didn’t even know at first,” Sigmon said.“We put the word out that after a year of doing research and saying to the community that we’re thinking about doing this, and within a month we had land. Now, within a year of being connected to the land we have a whole entire building team.”

The project’s next work day is approaching and Cantrell hopes to make more progress through the help of passionate volunteers who will help move the progress of the BeLoved Tiny Home Village along.

“Part of the invitation is to come share your gifts, but also just to receive the gift of what love can do when we set our sites on changing something that’s been such an awful problem that’s caused so much suffering,” Cantrell said.

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