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Old motel offers new hope as Asheville's first permanent supportive housing complex

A courtyard view of Compass Point Village.
BPR News
A courtyard view of Compass Point Village.

It’s been a dream years in the making – to create housing that permanently gets members of the homeless community off the streets and into stabilized and supportive living quarters.

This month, Homeward Bound will make that vision a reality as it opens Asheville’s first dedicated permanent supportive housing site. On September 15, the nonprofit held a grand opening and tree planting ceremony at the former Days Inn in East Asheville, now called Compass Point Village.

As a permanent supportive housing project, the complex is made specifically for low-income residents with disabilities, many of whom are chronically homeless. Supportive services are an important part of the package. Residents will pay no more than 30% of their income, and for those with no income, the room will be free.

“The 2023 Point-in-Time count showed 573 people in our community experiencing homelessness,” said Jenny Moffatt, Homeward Bound’s permanent supportive housing director, at the ceremony.

“171 of them are unsheltered and 122 of them are chronically homeless. And 87 of those people will be moving here in the next eight weeks. So it will really change the landscape of our community.”

“Ultimately, this is how we end homelessness. We create more housing, more deeply affordable housing, for people who need this kind of support.”

More than just a room

Each room has been transformed into a studio apartment complete with a full bath and kitchenette. Resident safety advisers will be available around the clock to support tenants, who can often have trouble adjusting to their new living quarters after spending a year or more without a home. Each resident will also have an individualized case management plan.

“We've worked really hard to think through community partners to have on site,” Moffatt told BPR.

“We've also thought a lot through the space as far as clients having space to build community and hang out together. But also, when they don't want to hang out, they have their room.”

Gathering spaces include a library, computer room and cafeteria, where nonprofit Equal Plates Project plans to dole out lunches every weekday featuring produce grown by local farmers. Sunrise Community for Recovery and Wellness will sponsor a meeting room where residents can access mental health and addiction recovery support.

Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers will provide medical services, MANNA FoodBank will assist with food access, and Goodwill Industries will provide on-site job training. The site will also become Homeward Bound’s new headquarters and include business offices.

The entrance to the cafeteria.
BPR News
The entrance to the cafeteria.

From run-down motel to affordable housing

The $17.5 million motel conversion is part of a growing strategy to increase affordable housing inventory nationwide. California’s Project Homekey, a state program that buys motels and converts them to housing, has transformed close to 100 motels through this practice. These projects have also sprung up in cities like Seattle and Denver.

In Asheville, Compass Point Village was funded largely with public dollars and private donors, including $2 million each from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, and the Dogwood Health Trust, according to Moffatt.

Though the project was cheaper than building a new apartment complex from scratch, Moffatt admitted that it wasn’t as easy of a renovation as her team imagined. The original opening date was projected for April 2023, but contractors soon uncovered a litany of structural challenges, from plumbing to drywall, raising the final price tag from $12.5 to $17.5 million.

Homeward Bound is still trying to fundraise to cover the final $1.5 million of construction costs, Moffatt said.

“It's taken longer than we planned, but I think we're really happy and pleased with the end product,” she said. “I think it’s important for the Asheville community see a project like this be successful, and hopefully more and more people buy into this ‘Housing First’ model. We end homelessness through permanent housing.”

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.