Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, fears about the economy temporarily silenced the sound of construction sites. But now it seems there’s a resurging interest in building a home in the mountains, primarily from outside of the region.
In April, Jade Mountain Builders owner Hans Doellgast saw almost all of his construction projects go on hold. But he says, in the last month or so, things have taken a drastic turn. Doellgast says his company has received double the amount of phone calls from potential clients in recent weeks.
“Yeah, it’s a little nuts. It's all primarily people out of places like Houston, New York City, Portland, Seattle," Doellgast said.
Local construction and architecture firms say they’re seeing a feverish interest from big-city dwellers fleeing for the hills, driven by the pandemic. People living in dense metropolitan areas are ditching their urban condos for Asheville and the surrounding area’s wider, greener pastures -- to live out their days in quarantine.
“All of those people now, home has become a place they don’t leave. It’s the place where they work, it's the place that they exercise, that the whole family is together," Doellgast said. "The whole perception of what home means has changed.”
Citywide, permits for residential home construction from Mid-March to late-July were actually up 14 percent, compared to the same period last year.
While that can be read as a good economic indicator, one local architect says the city should consider the long-term effects of construction -- its impact on the environment, and even racial justice. Rob Maddox is the principal of Shelter Collective in Asheville.
“We’re at a stage in our life and our environment culturally, socially, politically that we need to readdress what home is," Maddox said. "Not just come to a new place and try do the same thing, were you move from larger markets and then try to recreate all the same problems you had elsewhere.”
Maddox says Shelter has also seen increased interest from out-of-town clients in recent months. They’re people with the financial means, who can work remotely, and are living in congested places, like Brooklyn and Miami. He adds, they may have been previously on the fence about moving to Asheville, but have now been spurred by the pandemic.
"The money always moves faster than it seems like the community can respond," Maddox said. "Things can get precarious really quickly. There’s a finite amount of natural resources, and they get eaten up pretty quickly if you’re not careful."
He says as more outsiders look to build in Asheville, the community should come together on a policy level and harness that outside investment for a more equitable and sustainable future.