For those of us who live in and around Asheville, it’s impossible to ignore the challenges that face the housing market and those taking part in it. Sky-high rent, rising property values and taxes, and a disconnect between typical wages and housing costs – these are just a few of the problems that market participants find themselves coming up against, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to any single one, let alone all, of these obstacles.
The situation can seem bleak at best and hopeless at worst – but it doesn’t have to be that way. A growing number of interest groups, organizations, and individuals are seeking a solution to what many see as a housing crisis, and are speaking up about what can be done to help turn the market around and make it accessible to everyone.
One of those individuals is Bob Swanson, a local real estate investor who also serves on the board for the Carolina Real Estate Investors Association. Swanson, who has been investing in real estate in the Asheville area for several years, is a strong believer in affordable housing and an active participant in effecting change on the local level. On a recent visit to the Asheville Real Estate News studio, he spoke about his participation in the housing discussion, the ways in which he sees the market evolving, and how anyone with an interest can get involved.
“I’ve been in real estate for quite some time, but my focus has really changed,” Swanson said, when asked about his interest in affordable housing in Asheville. “What I’m passionate about right now is strengthening the communities that I’m involved with.” These communities, as Swanson sees them, include not just the greater Asheville community as a whole, but also the community of real estate investors who are helping to shape the area’s housing market. In working to integrate these communities and get them working together, he hopes to help bring more affordable housing to Asheville while also providing opportunities for those with an interest in real estate to become involved in shaping the future of their business and passion.
So, what exactly is affordable housing? According to Swanson, it’s subjective, and depends, in financial terms, on the income of a prospective buyer or renter: “Let’s take it on the basis of personal income, and use a round number of $1,000. What you want to spend on your housing is one third of what your total income is. That’s a good rule of thumb. So if [your income] is $1,000 dollars, then you don’t want to spend more than $300. That’s in an ideal world.”
But, of course, Asheville – or at least its housing market – is not always representative of that ideal world. “The numbers in Asheville,” says Swanson, are a little bit different. “A one bedroom apartment…is almost $1,000. So that means you’ve got to be making $3,000 a month to afford that.” And in Asheville, where the average household’s gross monthly income – let alone net income – barely clears that number, that can be a difficult standard to achieve – especially if the household in question includes multiple roommates or children, who will likely require an additional bedroom or two.
These high prices, combined with lower-than-average wages for comparable markets, often force people to pay close to half of their income in rent. Swanson sees this situation as untenable for a couple of reasons: “It’s not only not sustainable, but it doesn’t give you a very good life on the other side.” Because of this, he says, it might be time for a creative approach to housing. “I think it’s the right time to be innovative, and to look for people that you like to share time with, and maybe share rental expenses so that you can get something.” He refers to this principle as “intentional” housing, and sees it as a potential way to overcome an otherwise difficult situation.
None of Swanson’s thoughts about or potential solutions for the market are hastily come by or uninformed; he’s spent over a year considering the ways in which the city handles its housing, and much longer than that working directly with and learning about the needs of individuals in the market. “Over a year ago I started to go to city council meetings,” Swanson said. “I wanted to see if there was any agendas there, I wanted to see if people really seemed to be working for the benefit of the community. And I was pleased to find out that there are very serious conversations that are taking place there, and that they really are about bringing more benefit to the community.”
But council members and representatives can only do so much; if investors and market participants really want to see change, Swanson says, they need to speak up. “The more the public contributes to that conversation, the more we in the public participate in at least knowing what’s going on, the more we can have a voice in what gets done and bring new good ideas into the conversation.”
That said, Swanson already sees certain changes in trends within the housing market, many of which may be occurring as a direct result of the public’s involvement and interest in making a change, not just in Asheville but on a grander scale as well. “I see a national trend in more affordable, more innovative, more cost-effective, and smaller housing. Asheville is one of the most progressive cities, certainly the most progressive in North Carolina, and that’s recognized by a lot of people.
“My interest is in educating the people who are interested in real estate about what the opportunities are, so they can begin to create a niche that fills the demand that is currently out there. It would be a lifetime’s work if people take the time to find a niche and then begin to create more affordable smaller housing.”
That’s all good news, and inspiring to boot, but what can the average person do to get involved and make a difference? Swanson’s advice is to search for what’s available in your area, specifically on your city’s website and group-building sites like Meetup.com, and to take advantage of these resources to make yourself heard and start effecting change where it matters most – at home.
To learn more about the organizations and resources referenced in this article, visit the following websites or reach out to us with your questions.