Stewart serves as a program evaluator with the county and co-chair of the Haywood County Affordable Housing Task Force along with Executive Director of Mountain Projects Community Action Agency Patsy Davis.
On Aug. 29, Stewart and Davis hosted a group of elected officials and nonprofit executives at the county Senior Resource Center to discuss the results of the Haywood County Affordable Housing Assessment, which was authorized by the board of commissioners in order to serve as a baseline of the availability and affordability of housing in the county.
And while not quite a crisis, the situation is concerning both from an income perspective and a price perspective.
“I would characterize the national situation as sobering and multi-faceted, and naturally that trickles down to us,” Stewart said.
Davis agreed, saying that the data presented in the assessment “absolutely” agreed with the street-level issues she’s seen on a daily basis for many years at Mountain Projects.
“Especially with seniors,” she said. “Senior citizens are a large population with growing needs in our community.”
The assessment was presented in four different sections concerning county demographics, economics, housing supply and housing affordability.
The conclusions seem to indicate that an aging population coupled with the high availability of low-wage jobs undermine people’s ability to afford housing that is overpriced and in short supply. However, delving deeper into the information presented in the assessment reveals a number of troubling issues plaguing Haywood County.
The demographic portion of the assessment shines a light on how Haywood County is growing.
According to the North Carolina Office of Budget and Management, that growth is and will continue to be low through 2030 and relies primarily on new residents moving to the area because deaths exceed births.
But in bordering Madison, Buncombe, and Henderson counties, that growth is categorized as medium, as it is in nearby Macon and Swain counties. Such growth may have a spillover effect as residents competing for housing and jobs may look to Haywood County as a more favorable place in which to live and work.
The meager growth that is occurring in Haywood County is expected to drive population from 59,036 in 2010 to 62,414 in 2020, with the caveats that nearly one-third of households consist of a single person and are increasingly comprised of those 55 and older, which may help explain why Haywood County’s rate of natural increase is negative.
Of that elderly population, it is estimated that by 2030, almost 30 percent of households in Haywood County will be headed by someone over the age of 65. Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau says that by 2030, less than three people of working age for every senior will be paying in to the systems that support entitlements like Social Security and unemployment.
The incomes of the estimated 26,424 households in Haywood County reflect this trend, with well over 40 percent earning less than the county median income of $40,968.
Nearly half of those households that rent rather than own their housing have incomes of less than $25,000, while more than half of homeowners have household incomes between $25,000 and $75,000.
According to the assessment, an interesting picture of both the amount and quality of jobs available in the county is emerging.
While January’s unemployment numbers showed a rebound from the 12 percent unemployment that dogged Haywood County during the heart of the Great Recession in 2010 — it’s currently 5.5 percent, the lowest west of Buncombe County — hourly and weekly wages lag behind the averages for the Asheville area as well as the state as a whole.
North Carolina’s average weekly paycheck is $938; Asheville’s is $810, and Haywood County’s is $706.
This wide discrepancy can be explained by the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the area’s service-based economy; out of the estimated 17,680 jobs in Haywood County, the most were in food service, which holds an estimated $8.10 entry wage — far below the $14 average for all occupations.
Looking ahead, the most in-demand job skills as of July 2016 were “customer service,” “appointment setting,” “greeting customers,” and “mopping.”
Almost 31 percent of jobs had no minimum educational requirement, and 42 percent required only a high school diploma or GED.
The county’s stock of affordable housing is low; by 2020, less than one-quarter of the 37,756 Haywood County homes will be valued at less than $150,000. Conversely, there are currently 126 homes valued at over a million dollars.
This weighs heavily on people making merely average wages — of 29 apartment complexes and housing developments surveyed by the task force in July, not even one had a vacancy.
Renters lucky enough to find long-term rentals may not be lucky enough to find affordable long-term rentals — the largest portion of renters in the county pay between $500 and $749 per month, and an additional 29 percent pay between $749 and $999. Only about a thousand renters in Haywood County pay less than $500, even though 27 percent of renters have a household income of less than $15,000.
Vulnerable populations — like seniors who have likely lived past their prime earning years and children who are dependent on adults for income — have historically borne the brunt of poverty nationwide.
Haywood County is little different.
Seniors constitute more than one-third of very low-income households, which are defined as earning less than 80 percent of the average median income, and children make up the largest group living in poverty in Haywood County, with more than one in four below the poverty level.
Low education has always been linked to poverty, and Haywood County’s numbers reflect that. Just 3.6 percent of people with a bachelor’s degree live below the poverty level, while almost 21 percent of those who didn’t graduate high school are likewise situated.
Considering the income side of the equation at the same time as the housing cost side of the equation leaves more than 50 percent of renters — and 35 percent of homeowners — “housing cost burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their household income on housing.
Although the findings of the assessment weren’t revealed prior to the presentation, elected officials were quick to react.
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown pointed out that attacking the income side of the equation would help with the “affordable” part of “affordable housing.”
“I think it’s a problem across the state, and Waynesville is just another segment of that,” he said. “Maybe our economy needs to be addressed, and maybe our educational system needs to be tweaked again to address this problem. That would be the easy way of putting it.”
County Commissioner Kevin Ensley — a land surveyor by trade — looked at the “housing” side of “affordable housing” when he addressed the availability of buildable land in the mountainous county.
“What we need to do is find some land and put some housing on it that people can afford,” he said.
Ensley added that this was only an initial assessment of the issue as a whole, and that he was looking forward to “moving towards solutions.”
The next step for the Affordable Housing Task Force in identifying those solutions will be to conduct a resource assessment, which should be available in the coming months.
• New residents demand a supply of housing in a variety of price ranges.
• New residents are important because more people die in the county each year than are born.
Old and older
• Haywood County is, on average, older than the state and nation, and getting older.
• Many older residents are on fixed incomes and require housing that accommodates special needs.
• Largest age group of special needs populations is between 35 and 64 and only getting older.
Young and younger
• Nearly one-third of children in Haywood County live below the poverty level.
• There are approximately 310 homeless children in the Haywood County school system.
Low and Lower
• Almost one-half of renters have a household income of less than $25,000.
• Almost one-third of renters have a household income of less than $15,000.
• Almost 40 percent of households with incomes of less than $15,000 are headed by seniors aged 65 and up.
• Almost 12 percent of households with less than $15,000 income are headed by people aged 25-34.
Beast of Burden
• Affordable housing is that which costs less than 30 percent of household income.
• Half of all renters incur “housing cost burden” by paying more than 30 percent.
• More than one-third of all homeowners have housing cost burden.
• Median home sale prices have risen 17 percent since April 2015 to $169,000.
• Median home values of $172,000 should rise by 27 percent from 2015 to 2020.
• Homes valued in the $50,000-$149,000 range are decreasing.
• Asheville metro median home sale price is $253,000.
• Asheville rental vacancies are low.
• Asheville rents are high.
• Asheville market will likely affect Haywood’s.
• Supply of homes for sale has decreased by almost 30 percent since April 2015.
• Supply of long-term rentals is scarce.
• Supply of available long-term rentals often exceed HUD’s Fair Market Rent Level.
• Just 7.4 percent of county housing supply is multi-family units.
• No permits currently active for future multi-family developments.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
• Minimum wage workers need to work 86 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom home.
• Mean wage of renters is $9.83 per hour.
• Workers at mean wage need to work 63 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom home.
Source: Haywood County Affordable Housing Task Force Assessment. All data refers only to Haywood County unless otherwise specified.