Black Mountain Chamber Foundation requests $4 million in COVID-19 relief for housing

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Though Black Mountain shows no shortage of job opportunities, many workers in the service industry can't afford to live in town.

Finding workers a place to live in Black Mountain continues to be a persistent problem, according to locals pushing for affordable housing.

The Black Mountain Chamber Foundation has requested $4 million from Buncombe County in COVID-19 relief funding to create affordable workforce housing. The county has been awarded $50.7 million in recovery funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.

"If we don't start doing something about housing, then businesses are going to start closing because people are leaving town because they can't afford to live where they're working," said Sharon Tabor, director of the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce who helped put together the application. "Ten businesses that close in Asheville is not a big deal. Ten businesses that close here is a huge deal."

The project, titled Building Rehabilitation, proposes to create 46 units that could house up to 80 working adults. The chamber foundation states that this will not alter the footprint of the community or neighborhood where the units will be located.

"This project proposes to purchase, rehabilitate and renovate three properties within the city limits of Black Mountain to fill the gap of housing inventory for hospitality and service industry employees," the application request says.

Providing one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, the units will be within walking distance of employment, shopping, medical needs and child care. According to the application, the first two properties are being sold together on 4.22 acres and the third property includes 1.84 acres.

Utilizing census data, the foundation found the average annual income in Black Mountain is $35,000-$40,000. Data from 2020 shows the average median monthly rent was $1,240.

In April, according to the Chamber of Commerce, Indeed.com listed nearly 400 jobs in Black Mountain. At the same time, the chamber found only five houses for rent for an average rent of $2,885 per month.

Under these conditions, people would need to dedicate 53%-71% of wages toward housing.

"It's a project we're interested in doing if we can raise the money," Tabor said. "It's going to cost us over $7 million."

Tabor said securing additional funding remains in the discussion phase but securing ARPA money would go a long way for the project. 

Designated "workforce housing," rent targets are $750 for a one-bedroom and $900 for a two-bedroom, Tabor said.

The Black Mountain Chamber Foundation would handle the financial and organizational aspects of the project. Tabor said although the town has been supportive, its role will be purely faciliatory and will not hold any ownership of the property. 

The project is estimated to be concluded in 12 to 24 months with six to 18 months required for construction.

To qualify, applicants to would have to have jobs and participate in training courses such as financial management or job soft skills. 

"In one location there would be space for culinary training to help find cooks for the restaurants," Tabor said. "There's space for gardening to help teach people about nutrition and growing their own food. There's so many components that this could address for workforce and housing."

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.