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Asheville will need 14,000 new homes by 2050 to keep pace with population growth, Affordable Housing draft projects

A home for sale in Asheville.
Felicia Sonmez
A home for sale in Asheville on June 10, 2024.

Asheville’s population will continue to boom over the next 25 years — and with it, the need for more housing is expected to become even more urgent.

That’s the message City Council members heard in a recent presentation on Asheville’s latest Affordable Housing Plan, which is being finalized and will be released to the public later this month.

The Plan, first created in 2008 by the Mayor’s Taskforce on Affordable Housing and last revised in 2015, aims to give the city a blueprint for addressing one of its most pressing problems.

Its latest update comes as Asheville’s population is expected to increase by 32% by 2050. The city inked a $146,517 contract with consultants Enterprise Community Partners to work on the latest plan, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Jerah Smith, program director at Enterprise Community Partners, said during a work session on June 25 that the city will need to drastically increase its housing stock in order to meet the needs of its burgeoning population.

“Based on our population projections, we’re estimating that the city is going to need to build another 14,000 homes by the year 2050 just to keep up with current population growth trends,” Smith told City Council members. “And that doesn’t even necessarily take into account adding to the supply to help increase affordability in that capacity.”

Asheville had 37,410 households in 2022, according to Census data. The expected growth represents a 38% increase by 2050, Smith said.

The city’s population is also trending older, Smith said. Since older individuals tend to live in smaller households, the number of households is projected to grow more quickly than the number of people.

Council Member Antanette Mosley asked Smith about the consequences for Asheville if the city does not create those 14,000 households.

“What happens if we don’t? Does the population not grow, or do we just end up with the equity migration discussion if we stop building tomorrow?” Mosley said, referring to the pressure on the city’s housing market created by the arrival of transplants with higher incomes.

Smith replied that “people are going to move here,” noting the city’s 2% or 3% vacancy rate.

“I don’t know what it would look like to shut down development completely,” he said. “But the market would get hotter, because people would want to move here. People are going to move here with higher incomes. Rents are going to go up, housing costs are going to go up. So the idea is that producing that 14,000 households will at least keep the city even with where it is today.”

Housing costs in the city have continued to rise since the plan was last revised in 2015. According to the presentation, 36% of Asheville households are currently “cost-burdened,” meaning that individuals are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing costs.

“The timing is right for us to have an update to this important strategy document,” Assistant City Manager Rachel Wood said during the meeting.

City staff have worked on the updated plan for the past nine months, soliciting input from community members and analyzing the tools at the city’s disposal. Those tools include Land Use Incentives Grants (LUIG); the Housing Trust Fund (HTF); Affordable Housing Bond funds; and the use of city-owned land for affordable housing.

Smith told Council members that the community feedback revealed that many residents are concerned that “the growth is occurring and it’s leaving them behind.”

He pushed back on the notion that Asheville is not doing enough to promote the development of affordable housing and recommended that the city build on its existing efforts while introducing some new ones, such as expanding home repair resources for homeowners and emergency rental assistance for tenants.

“A lot of the strategies are essentially, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing well, but do it a little bit better,’” Smith said. He also praised the city’s focus on racial equity in its affordable housing plan.

A slide from the Enterprise Community Partners June 25 presentation on Asheville's Affordable Housing Plan.
City of Asheville
A slide from the Enterprise Community Partners June 25 presentation on Asheville's Affordable Housing Plan.

Council member Sage Turner raised the question of whether affordable housing is simply a matter of supply and demand, as some have argued.

“Sometimes, what we hear as a council is, ‘Look, you just need to reduce regulations. You need to open up the market. You need to do everything you can to let the market run wild, and you'll get the units you want, and the overall cost will come down,’” Turner said.

She said sh has become increasingly doubtful of that argument, noting that the evidence shows “we can’t just deregulate ourselves out of this.”

“If we had 10,000 new units built tomorrow – no affordability built in – they wouldn't naturally be affordable, right?” she said. “I guess I just kind of want to hear you say, ‘Yes, we've got to do these programs.’”

Smith’s response prompted laughter from those in the room: “Yes, you have to do these programs.”

The full Affordable Housing Plan is expected to be published at the end of July. Staff will create a work plan along with the Housing and Community Development Committee (HCD) and the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) starting in August. The implementation of the new strategies is expected to begin in October.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.