By 2040, the GroWNC region will be home to over 630,000 people—nearly 40 percent more people than live in the area today. This translates to a need for almost 75,000 additional housing units dispersed throughout the five counties. The majority of this growth will be in Buncombe and Henderson counties, with a smaller percentage of the new housing development in Haywood, Transylvania, and Madison counties.
With this growth comes a variety of challenges and opportunities. How can the region grow responsibly, in a manner that respects existing communities and the landscape, providing opportunities for a range of options while at the same time improving affordability?
In addition to growth-related challenges, housing development in the mountains faces unique hurdles. Flat land is a dwindling resource. In many cases, the ideal land for housing development is the same land that is in active agricultural use. Farms and forests are highly valued in the region for their contribution to the economy, the scenic landscapes, the health and wellness of the region’s residents, and the history and culture of the region. A housing solution must balance the need to sustain the region’s working and natural lands with the need to house existing and future populations.
Western North Carolina also attracts a robust second home/resort community. While there are no definitive statistics provided in terms of seasonal household data, there are an estimated 16,000 vacation homes that are only used seasonally (eight percent of the total housing supply). This market is important to the economy. However, it has pulled resources away from the development and construction of primary residences, particularly those at lower price points, which are more challenging to build profitably due to the unique constraints of the mountain region.
All of these factors result in higher construction costs and home price points. The effect is two-fold. First, production builders—those companies that specialize in the mass production of housing—are less likely to develop in the mountains because of lower profit margins. This compounds the affordability issue. Without production builders, there is less supply of housing available at lower price points. The housing that is available is usually older homes that are less energy efficient or alternatives to traditional single-family homes, such as mobile homes.
For this effort, we define affordability as a household being able to spend 30 percent or less of their income on housing. Housing includes the cost of the home and utilities. Per the 2010 Census, this region has approximately 17,000 households that are unable to find housing at less than 30 percent of their income—that is nearly 10 percent of the region’s population.
The majority of the shortfalls in supply are at lower income levels, or those making less than $20,000 per year. There are also shortages of higher-end rental units. While these households are able to rent a lower-priced unit, the supply shortage indicates market potential for households making around $75,000 per year. The market is increasingly catering to higher-income renters and finding a ready market for luxury product that is ultimately more profitable for new development. Lower-rent properties are generally either subsidized or older, which become increasingly expensive to maintain.
In addition to housing affordability, homelessness is an ongoing issue in the GroWNC region. The problem is most visible and addressed in Buncombe County, where in a given year it is estimated that around 2,000 people will experience homelessness at some point. The extent of homelessness in other counties is only available as estimates, with each county reporting numbers ranging from 30–100 homeless residents. The best estimate for the region would be a range of between 650 to 950 citizens homeless at any given time.
The ability for the region to accommodate the population in safe, affordable, and accessible places is critical to ensuring its economic, environmental, and social prosperity.
Read more about this theme in the Housing Choices section (pdf) of the Regional Plan.