Rising Asheville real estate prices force many out

David Donoghue, 31, one of the many Asheville residents impacted by rising real estate prices
David Donoghue, 31, one of the many Asheville residents impacted by rising real estate prices

As Asheville continues to grow, so does property rental prices in the formerly quaint mountain town. According to Zillow, a real estate aggregate website, Asheville’s rental prices have risen by approximately 8.4 percent in the last year.
The housing prices pose a serious problem for those working minimum wage jobs and living on fixed incomes. As housing becomes less affordable, they face the choice of living in subpar Asheville housing or looking for housing in the less expensive Asheville suburbs.
“My search for affordable housing in this area has been one of the most demoralizing experiences of my life,” said Angie Song, a 54-year-old sign language interpreter.
Song lived in a 1,400 square foot home in Jackson County, North Carolina before selling it and moving to Asheville to be close to her grandchild. Unable to afford a home of a similar size in Asheville, Song settled on renting a home, but said she soon found she would pay $1,500 a month in rent for even the most modest one bedroom apartment.
“It looks like I will have housemates for the first time in my life if things don’t improve,” Song said.
Rising real estate prices during the past decade force many people to resort to transience in their search for affordable housing, sleeping on friends’ or family’s couches instead of finding a permanent place to reside.
“I have moved about every six months on average in three years, and I’m looking for a place right now,” said Chelsea Myers, who works multiple jobs in Asheville to make ends meet. “It is really difficult to find a place and the prices are definitely rising.”
Myers lived in a house with seven other service professionals until the recent spike in housing prices. When her landlady learned she could profit by selling her rental properties, she put the house on the market and evicted her tenants, Myers said.
“Those of us that work service jobs keep the tourism alive in this town,” Myers said. “If we have nowhere affordable to live, who is going to work these jobs?”
In addition to high rental prices, Asheville’s property prices continue to increase at a fast pace. According to Trulia, another aggregate website, the median price of real estate in Asheville rose to just almost $500,000 in recent years. Myers said this has skewed the real estate market..
Lisa Jackson, a real estate agent at Nest Realty, said Asheville’s real estate market recovered quickly from the credit crunch, a recent financial crisis that caused banks and lending firms to be more stringent in their lending practices. The city’s destination status brought in tourists and retirees who want to live among the beautiful mountain vistas.
“We are actually back to the numbers we saw at the top of the market in 2006,” Jackson said.
Disabled and elderly especially affected
Michael Menut, 27, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. However, he suffers from a debilitating disability that prevents him from holding down a steady job.
“I am reliant on social security for my income,” Menut said. “My usual rent when I was living in Asheville was a significant portion of my income.”
Menut found reasonably priced housing after a long search, but said the house he moved into was infested with insects and other pests. Forced to move out, Menut said he was unable to find other affordable housing and moved back to Anson County with his parents.
Still looking to return to Asheville, Menut said he sought help from the Department of Social Services to find reasonably priced housing, but came up short.
“I tried my best to find new apartments,” Menut said. “I was given a rental guide by an organization that works with people with disabilities, but I haven’t found anything I can afford yet.”
Ed Stein works as a maintenance technician at Carson’s Creek apartments on Hendersonville Road. The apartments came under new ownership last month. Stein said the new owners are increasing monthly rent by at least $200 after existing leases expire, which may force out many of their elderly tenants whose sole income comes from social security checks.
“Before our general manager was dismissed, she was told that the reason we had full occupancy and long term tenants was because our rents are ‘too low,’” Stein said. “Our one bedroom apartment is nearly $900 before the rent increase.”
Stein said the new management’s plan will be implemented suddenly. The apartments’ owners are anticipating potential conflict with tenants, so much so that they hired an off-duty Asheville police officer to keep the peace in the complex office.
“The two company reps here are apparently used to this,” Stein said. “ It’s business as usual, right down to wanting a cop handy. Their attitude is ‘change happens’ and you can’t please everyone.”
Housing turned to vacation rentals
David Donoghue moved to Asheville when he was 8 years old, and maintained residency in town ever since. Now a hibachi chef at Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, the 30-year-old Donoghue has difficulty finding affordable housing in his hometown.
“A lot of places get bought up and used for vacation rentals, as opposed to housing for folks like us,” Donoghue said.
Donoghue said several property management companies bought up real estate to use on temporary rental websites like Airbnb, a popular new way for owners to rent to tourists.
Airbnb boasts more than 300 rentals in the Asheville area on its website. Many are on the Merrimon Avenue corridor and in West Asheville, previously occupied primarily by service industry professionals and students, according to Donoghue.
Well versed in the Asheville real estate market, realtor Lisa Jackson said she has seen the rise in rentals over the past decade.
“Buyers who may want to live in Asheville only four to six months out of the year are buying and renting out their vacation homes part time to help them afford to own a home in Asheville,” Jackson said.
When asked about finding affordable housing in Asheville proper, Jackson said the situation is grim for many who do not earn the high wages necessary to rent many of the available properties.
“My advice would be to look for a home that needs renovation in a good location,” Jackson said. “But that’s easier said than done.”
Taylor Harold relocated to Asheville to become a massage therapist this past fall. The apartment he rented was sufficient for his needs and reasonably priced, but he said his landlord disclosed a catch.
“The first two months, it had already been rented out almost every weekend on Airbnb,” Harold said. “I had to move in and out of my place several times, once for an entire week.”
According to Harold, the landlord discounted his rent for displacing him, but stated Harold might need to vacate the premises in future weeks with little to no notice.
“It’s an insane situation,” Harold said. “I have friends that live in $600 a month studios with no heat or air and constantly broken toilets. One friend lives in a bathroom that’s been turned into an apartment.”

By Lee Elliott
News staff writer