I go to UNC Asheville but I can’t afford to live in Asheville

Marisol Melchor
Arts & Features Writer
[email protected]

According to RENTCafe, the average rent in Asheville is $1,362 a month, which is at a 13% increase from last year, and only about 9% of properties for rent are in the $1,000 or below range. 
Leona Wrenn, a 21-year-old chemistry major at UNC Asheville works full time in order to pay for rent, tuition, gas, food and other necessities. Wrenn said she often finds herself having to choose between working for her livelihood or maintaining grades. 
“It’s hard to juggle everything because even the jobs with ‘flexible hours’ need coverage, especially with the labor shortage. And if I have to choose between a roof over my head and grades, it’s gonna be work before school,” Wrenn said.
Wrenn currently lives in a two-bedroom apartment at Manor Ridge in Woodfin, NC which she shares with another UNCA student who struggles with similar circumstances. The rent is $1,175 dollars a month which she splits with her roommate. The complex has the bare minimum in terms of amenities, and lies outside Asheville city limits.
“College students aren’t allowed affordable options because housing is included in tuition when it comes to aid, but I’m paying primarily out of pocket because of how my academics have suffered. I wouldn’t consider any of the places I’ve lived in affordable, especially campus,” Wrenn said.
Most students and even faculty and staff members in some cases said they end up having to live in small towns outside city limits such as Chandler, Black Mountain, Weaverville and Woodfin.
“I was what was called a resident director when I first started working here. I opened West Ridge and lived there when it was brand new. I moved off campus after a couple years and lived in an apartment for a year because it amazed me how much it cost to buy a house. And so we lived in an apartment about 25 minutes from campus to try and save money. Actually, I live in Weaverville now. I was able to buy a house there, ” said Vollie Barnwell, director of Housing and Student Life Operations.
According to Tom Tviedt, an Asheville-based economist and founder of Syneva Economics, these Asheville metro areas are experiencing heavy population growth in the last few years while the city of Asheville itself has seen a decrease. More and more people are migrating to these towns and cities causing rent to skyrocket, which has influenced students and staff to move to areas even farther from campus to be able to find affordable housing.
“I hear from staff all the time, new staff that have a really difficult time coming to UNCA and finding an apartment that’s affordable or finding a house. When we were building the Woods, one of the things that we considered was building another building similar to the Woods specifically for faculty and staff housing,” Barnwell said.
According to Living Wage, the current living wage for Buncombe County is $16.88 an hour for households with no children, which is a wage some students say they do not achieve, much less those with part-time positions.
“Thank god I’m not being paid minimum wage because I just wouldn’t be able to afford to live. I’ve exclusively lived with roommates or partners because having my own place is just not possible,” Wrenn said.
David Leslie, a UNCA alumnus, lived in Asheville for all four years of his college education. He transferred from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and completed his bachelor’s degree at UNCA. Leslie moved out of the Asheville city limits and into Weaverville because the rent prices were just too high, making it difficult to maintain a balance between work, school, rest and a social life. Even living in Weaverville where the cost of living is extensively lower, Leslie struggled to maintain his living situation.
“It was just too much to keep good grades and pay rent and other expenses, and I wanted to be able to have extra spending money for other things. Eventually, I just ended up moving back into my dad’s place to save money so I could focus on school. It worked out OK because he lives in Asheville too, but I know most students usually don’t have that option,” Leslie said.
Even former students with college degrees such as Leslie are struggling to find jobs that pay enough to cover expenses such as housing. Students pay thousands of dollars and struggle to maintain good grades only to graduate and realize working in the field they studied in is unrealistic.
“I’m not even working somewhere related to my degree. Entry level jobs are usually unpaid internships or just low paying jobs, and I just can’t do that right now, so I’m working in retail full time instead,” Leslie said.
Leslie now lives outside of city limits in Woodfin. He shares a one bedroom one bath apartment with his partner and they pay just a little over $1,200 dollars a month for the space.
“It’s sad that it’s a common experience, and I know there’s others like me. None of the places I’ve lived have been affordable and my academics have suffered because of it,” Wrenn said.