Asheville launches affordable housing initiative shaped by Harvard research 

affordable housing illustration

 

Program is designed to help landlords
make providing affordable housing more feasible

 

Twenty-five landlords in Asheville now have a chance to be part of an innovative solution to the affordable housing crisis in our area.   

 

Thrive Asheville, an initiative of UNC Asheville that brings together local community advocates, policymakers, and professionals from diverse perspectives to find equitable solutions to our city’s toughest challenges, launched a program inspired by research from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights.

 

The City of Asheville has allocated $100,000 of the Housing Trust Fund to support a new Landlord-Tenant Partnership to increase the number of landlords who accept housing vouchers — a type of payment that very low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities can use to pay for rent in the private market — then connect the landlords with tenants who have vouchers. Partnering agencies and organizations include Asheville Housing Authority, City of Asheville, and staff and trainers from City, Buncombe County, and nonprofit agencies. Tenants and landlords will receive support in this innovative approach. Those include financial incentives to offset costs associated with start-up in the program and indemnification up to $10,000 per unit, making voucher acceptance a cost-effective and low-risk proposition.

 

Right now, hundreds of children and their families in our area are unable to find safe, stable, and affordable housing, despite the fact many have housing choice vouchers. Early findings show that too few landlords in Asheville know the program exits or know how to navigate it. Similarly, many tenants who have vouchers often find navigating the rental market complex and overwhelming, on top of having a hard time finding a landlord to take the vouchers. 

 

“Expanding access to decent and affordable housing has been a priority of the City of Asheville for several years,” said Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell. “An effective and highly efficient way to address this need in our community is by leveraging City funds with the support and expertise of nonprofits and private landlords. We look forward to working with our partners to launch this important initiative and partnership.” 

 

According to Opportunity Insights, Western North Carolina has among the lowest rates of social mobility in the country. In 2015, Buncombe County ranked at the bottom in WNC for upward mobility, and 92nd worst among 2,400 counties nationwide. A key to success will be helping landlords mitigate some of the barriers and uncertainty around a new process. 

 

“I found the support of the Landlord-Tenant Partnership very helpful,” said landlord Rebecca Strimer. “They provided me with resources to find a great tenant on a timeline that worked for me.”

 

The demand for housing choice vouchers, and for affordable housing where vouchers can be applied, will continue to increase through at least 2023, according to a recent housing study on Asheville and Buncombe County. These severe challenges are attributed to neighborhoods being highly segregated by race and income. While it’s too early to know the full effect of COVID-19 in our area, we already know its impacts are already being felt in the rental housing market. 

 

“There is data to show this process can work, and a national context to measure results. With the right tools to understand and access the process, both landlords and tenants can have their needs met through housing choice vouchers so that more families in our community can find social mobility,” said Kate Pett, Thrive Asheville’s Director. 

 

A generous gift from the Deerfield Community to the City of Asheville, a grant from the Dogwood Health Trust, and the support of Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty have made this pilot program possible.

 

The research from Harvard clearly shows the neighborhoods in which children grow up profoundly shape their long-term life outcomes and that children born into concentrated poverty are more likely to experience a host of negative outcomes. Conversely, every year a child spends growing up in a high-opportunity neighborhood causes better life outcomes.  

 

“By accepting housing choice vouchers, I am part of a collaborative effort to address the affordable housing crisis in Asheville while securing a stable source for rental income,” said Strimer. 

 

Interested landlords can go to www.thriveavl.org and answer two simple questions as a pre-screen. From there, the program will walk prospective landlords through the process and eventually match them with a tenant.  

To learn more about accessing a Housing Voucher, please contact the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville at 828-258-1222.

 

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