'People are desperate': Black Mountain community and town staff talk affordable housing

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
According to long-time resident of Black Mountain Mack Padgett, the town has changed dramatically over the years.

The affordable housing issue in Black Mountain poses problems to residents and workers, according to community members and town staff. 

"We need some type of a solution for basically the working poor," said Cheryl Wilson,  the executive director of the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry. "It's not just Black Mountain, it's everywhere."

Along with town staff, the Chamber of Commerce and the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry have begun working to find space for affordable housing in town. Headed primarily by Josh Harrold, the town manager, Sharon Tabor, the director of the chamber, and Wilson, the group aims to find a solution to the affordability issue in town.

Harrold said the town's role would be facilitation, not funding. He said funding always poses problems to affordable housing initiatives. 

"The general market and the cost of housing is astronomical," Harrold said. "I wouldn't necessarily say it's getting any worse, but it's not getting any better."

Living and working in Black Mountain

The affordable housing issue in Black Mountain comes in two parts: forcing residents out of town due to high prices and losing out on employees to fill lost jobs. 

"A lot of the problem we're having is the town is so based on hospitality lodging, hotel lodging and retail," Tabor said. "There hasn't been a lot of long term rentals because people are turning them into short term rentals."

Tabor said if people can't afford to live in town, they can't afford to work in town. The migration out of Black Mountain had led to businesses closing, according to Tabor. 

Census data from 2017 shows that while 2,100 people lived outside of Black Mountain but worked in town and 2,000 people worked out of town and migrated in, only 460 individuals lived and worked in town. Tabor said since these numbers are old, things have likely become worse.

At the ministry, Wilson said she receives many calls asking about housing. She said it's becoming more difficult for workers in the area to access affordable housing due to an increasing cost of living and Airbnb presence. 

"We just need affordable housing," Wilson said. "We need something for those that are working at the grocery stores as clerks, restaurants, the hotels, our service provider people."

For many of the clients she interacts with, Wilson said workers often pay at least half their earnings to housing. She said ideally, housing should not exceed 30% of a paycheck. 

Additionally, for workers who have children or other dependents, expenses continue to rise. 

Cherry Street in downtown Black Mountain encompasses many restaurants and businesses. Workers in the area have been forced to live elsewhere due to rising home prices.

Mack Padgett has lived in Black Mountain for nearly 82 years. 

"We've had a lot of changes in a few years," Padgett said. 

Seeing more and more businesses move to the area, Padgett has seen more opportunities for work in town. He said the addition of nonlocal businesses such as Ingles and McDonald's as well as improved roadways brought many more people to Black Mountain.

Wilson said she's seen 'Help Wanted' signs all over town. With a loss of staff, Wilson said service industry jobs require employees to be overworked to make up for the loss.

Though he didn't have a specific number, Harrold said the "majority" of town employees don't live in Black Mountain. He said the ones who do have lived in town for a number of years and were able to buy houses when the market was more affordable.

According to Harrold, many town employees live in McDowell County.

Housing prices on the rise

While housing prices continue to rise in Black Mountain, many residents have been forced to move to surrounding towns, counties and even other states. Wilson said people hoping to have help from the ministry have had to move to neighboring Rutherford County or as far as South Carolina.

"A lot of people end up getting pushed out," Wilson said. "If they lose their housing, they can't find any new affordable housing so they're not staying in Black Mountain."

Statistics provided by Greybeard Realty which does business in Black Mountain and Asheville, show the median Black Mountain home price more than double over the past five years. The median home price in 2021 is listed at $400,000, up from $198,000 in 2014. 

According to Canopy MLS, a real estate agency based in Charlotte, home sales throughout Buncombe County declined this year, falling 16.6% compared to February 2021. Meanwhile, the average sales price increased by nearly 19% over the past year. 

In November 2021, local realtors told Black Mountain News that housing in Black Mountain could soon become more expensive than in Asheville. 

More:Black Mountain housing becoming more expensive than in Asheville, realtors say

Asheville Chamber of Commerce statistics compare living in Asheville to the national average on a point scale. The national average sits at 100 while Asheville sits at 106.2, above larger cities such as Atlanta, at 105, and Charlotte at 94.8. 

According to the realtors, Black Mountain has a higher demand for housing than Asheville.

Due to rising home sale prices throughout Buncombe County, realtors say it could become more expensive to live in Black Mountain than in Asheville.

Padgett worked as a builder in the area for roughly 40 years. He said he saw houses he built sell for five times what he built them for.

"I've seen a lot of changes in all of that," Padgett said.

What's the solution?

The town and community members hope to first identify an area for affordable housing before figuring out how to fund it. Wilson said the biggest issue will be the funding aspect. 

To properly serve its purpose, Harrold said affordable housing initiatives require public and private partnerships, either monetary or faciliatory. 

"There's not an easy answer," Harrold said. "It takes a lot of leg work and a lot of people being at the table in order to be successful."

Wilson explained that even once something has been found, it likely won't be enough to satisfy the needs of the entire town. She said it will, however, be a start.

"Some people don't realize or think about their server at a restaurant or the clerk at the grocery store that is struggling," Wilson said.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.