Workforce housing units proposed for downtown Asheville


Public Interest Projects announced plans Wednesday to build 32 one- and two-bedroom apartments on a narrow strip of land directly behind the Aloft Hotel in downtown Asheville. Workforce housing units have been part of construction plans since the beginning of the Aloft project, which began about five years ago and includes a public parking deck financed by the city.

Pat Whalen, president of Public Interest Projects, fielded questions during a public information session this afternoon, as did architect Peter Alberice and his associates. Here’s the basic info gleaned from the meeting:

-The working name is the Garage Apartments because they’re adjacent to the parking deck at Aloft Hotel; they’ll be facing South Lexington Avenue

-32 units total, with one commercial space; of that, there will be about seven or eight two-bedroom units, and the rest will be one-bedroom; pets will be allowed

-One-bedroom units will be 500-750 square feet; the two-bedroom units will be about 850 square feet; that size doesn’t include a balcony about 6 feet deep; there are street-level units as well as a lobby to get to upper-level units

-Rents will range from $850-$950 a month for one-bedroom units; $1,300-$1,450 for two-bedroom

-The building will have a number of green features, including a green roof; construction will be wood with a type of cement covering; sidewalks along South Lexington Avenue will be extend five feet and on-street construction will be removed; renters will have access to one parking space inside the Aloft Hotel garage.

-Construction should begin in late summer or early fall and will take about 15 months.

-Original plans called for construction that would wrap up and over to the front of the Aloft Hotel. Those plans were scrapped, Whalen said, although he added that “there may be an announcement soon” about that space (which looks like a big empty indentation on the Biltmore Avenue frontage of the Aloft Hotel, on the lefthand side.) Whalen added that Public Interest Projects still plans to build a 65-unit project on nearby property that sits behind the former Laurey’s Cafe building, but that won’t happen until this project is complete.

Whalen said the goal is to keep construction costs low enough that rents will meet the definition of affordable workforce units for people who live and work in downtown Asheville, a city that has an acute lack of affordable downtown units currently. “We’re doing everything we can” to keep costs down, he said.

Whalen said he may ask the city of Asheville for funding via the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The city is contributing to the project right now by burying power lines, he said.


imjonnyquest May 22, 2015 - 7:40 pm

affordable by who’s ass?

Former Reporter at WYPN May 21, 2015 - 5:28 pm

I continue not to understand the obsession with having “workforce housing” on the highest priced real estate in Buncombe County.

Sean May 21, 2015 - 9:19 pm

Agreed. It is unreasonable as hell to expect a cheap apartment in the middle of a bustling downtown like Asheville’s.

NFB May 22, 2015 - 10:25 am

The “obsession” is based on the notion that the it might be a good idea if the people who work at the hotels, trendy restaurants, and who clean the luxury condos downtown have a place to live there (other than the homeless shelter) that they then won’t have to drive in from Canton, Marion, and other places, thus reducing traffic and the problems that come with it.

It is also an “obsession” based on the idea that downtown, and thus the entire city of Asheville, will benefit if it is not limited to only people who can afford the luxury apartments and million dollar condos.

ashevillain May 22, 2015 - 11:58 am

Well said.

Former Reporter at WYPN May 22, 2015 - 1:29 pm

That’s a straw man argument. Of course it’s a desirable idea. I’d like to live near where I work as well. But there are also many reasonable alternatives between living smack in the middle of the most expensive real estate in WNC and driving in from Marion.

ECT May 21, 2015 - 2:21 pm

What? If you have a significant other to share the apt with this is totally doable for someone with a job. That’s less than $500 per person, and you’re living right downtown. You can get rid of your car!

Our friends in any other vibrant downtown – even Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta would think this was a steal of a deal. And yes those are bigger cities, but this is also probably HALF or less the price of a new 1BR in great location there.

Claiming that a 1BR must be under $700 to be deemed affordable is unreasonable. If you’re single, let’s be honest: unless you’re making a good bit more than $12 an hour, I doubt there is anywhere at ALL you can live alone, in your own new place without a roommate, within 10 miles of the city center, in Asheville.

We all know that if you’re making <$12 you probably have multiple roommates, or a significant other to share rent with.

I say this is great!

These are in fact affordable for a middle class, employed person. FYI, currently the moderate, *non-luxury* apts downtown are $1200-$1400 a month for a 1 BR. And up.

James May 21, 2015 - 1:49 pm

I’m a server downtown, I work 5 shifts a week, it’s my only job. I make on average $150 a night, sometimes more due to our thriving tourist economy. So I make $750 a week on an ok week. I spend responsibly and cook my own food at home or eat at work. For me to be able to walk to work and live in a decent affordable appt close to all the great things downtown has to offer is amazing.

Allison May 21, 2015 - 12:25 pm

If you check on WLOS, they have quotes from Pat Whalen describing it as market rate housing for middle income people who work downtown, so it’s not intended to be “affordable” or “workforce” housing based on their story.

cwaster May 21, 2015 - 10:38 am

What normal working person can afford that? Jeez. Rents are just as high as everything else in Asheville.

luther blissett May 20, 2015 - 11:27 pm

“Whalen added that Public Interest Projects still plans to build a 65-unit project on nearby property”

There have been some… interesting property swaps on Biltmore and Lexington involving PIP over the past year. Might be worth seeking out a back story on that.

Harry May 20, 2015 - 11:03 pm

This is laughable. Does calling it “Workforce Housing” grease the skids at the permit office? Give up the pipe dream of affordable housing downtown. No developer in his right mind would, or should do it. This is a small place. It doesn’t have to be downtown. Get tax incentives from the county to build affordable units on the outskirts. They would do it for business, so do it for residents.

orulz May 20, 2015 - 9:13 pm

The answer to your issues is simple: Couples each working a job can afford that rent.

RobotDanceMonkey1975 May 20, 2015 - 4:50 pm

I could picture “Fonzi” from Happy Days living in one of those apartments…maybe instead of “Garage Apartments” we can call them “Fonzi Apartments.”

I am glad for these apartments whatever we end up calling them.

Chris May 20, 2015 - 3:58 pm

This is WAY cheaper than any other new housing that I can think of downtown. Yes, wages should be higher, but the reality of the matter is that there is huge pressure for living space downtown by people who have more money, so $850 per month sounds like a relative bargain, unless you consider public housing. It is a shame that folks don’t make more money, but perhaps living a short distance from downtown or sharing a 2 bedroom unit would be more realistic for the average downtown wage earner.

NFB May 20, 2015 - 3:31 pm

Math was never my strong subject in school but taking into account the no more than 30% of one’s income going to housing as being affordable, one’s annual income for an $850 a month apartment would need to be about $35,000.

That translates roughly to a wage of $17 an hour for full time (40 hours a week) work.

$1,450 a month rent would require an annual income of at least $58,000 which translates to roughly $28 per hour for full time work.

ECT May 21, 2015 - 2:29 pm

But if you have a girlfrend/boyfriend/spouse, you could each theoretically make $18,000 and afford the 1 BR.
And a 2BR apartment, centrally located, new, in the center of downtown? I would sort of expect anyone wanting that much house to themselves, no one to pay for the second room, just an extra bedroom not habitated, to be making $58,000+. That is a pretty luxury situation to be living in. By your math, however, if it were 2 roommates, they could make $29,000 each a year and afford it – and get rid of their cars and afford it on even less. No, that does not make it low income housing certainly, but it does make it middle-class/workforce housing.

Chris May 20, 2015 - 3:03 pm

I understand that the lowest paid workers may not be able to afford these apartments, and others will opt for more space for the same money outside of downtown. But let’s at least acknowledge that it is a step in the right direction. Where else in downtown, in such a prime spot, will people be able to rent at those prices? A condo sublet or a small loft will cost at least twice what these rents will be. Let’s at least acknowledge that this is a net positive in a downtown area where apartments could easily command twice those rents.

Eliz May 20, 2015 - 2:40 pm

$850-$950 if you have a significant other to share the apt with is TOTALLY doable for someone with a job. That’s less than $500 per person, and you’re living right downtown. My friends living in NYC, LA, DC, even Atlanta would laugh the above comments out of town for existing is some la-la land where you can live right in the heart of your city BY YOURSELF for under $700 for your own brand new apt. Come on. If you’re single, let’s be honest: unless you’re making a good bit more than $12 an hour, I doubt there iS ANYWHERE you can live alone in your own place without a roommate, within 10 miles of the city center, in Asheville.

I say this is great! These sound awesome.

FYI, currently the moderate, *non-luxury* apts downtown are $1200-$1400 a month for a 1 BR.

Katherine May 20, 2015 - 2:33 pm

If you use the 3x rule and the “living wage” is $11.85 then the rent would need to be $684 or less.

So to answer Jason’s question … no these apartments are not affordable to the average worker downtown. To pass them off as “workforce” housing is laughable at best. Don’t insult people’s intelligence.

weavervilleman May 20, 2015 - 9:50 pm

I agree 100% with you. Asheville calling these “Workforce Housing” is VERY laughable!

Harry May 20, 2015 - 11:05 pm

You’re right on the money.

Katherine May 20, 2015 - 2:23 pm

Actually, to appropriately afford this you need to make sure that you’re making at least $14.71 per hour if you use the 3 times rent gross rule

850*3 = 2550
2550*12 = 30,600
30,600/52 = 588.46
588.46/40 – 14.71

How many downtown workers (housekeepers, cooks, servers, dishwashers, hostesses, front desk staff, retail workers) make $14.71 per hour?

murphy May 20, 2015 - 6:29 pm


jared rutledge May 21, 2015 - 11:13 am

Just fyi, my baristas average about $14.5/hr NET with tips. We have incredibly generous customers who tip well, but some hospitality workers do make enough to live in this kind of housing. Which doesn’t really make it affordable, but still.

Katherine May 21, 2015 - 2:33 pm

Yes, but is that a consistent $14.50 or does it wax and wane with the tourist trade? Have you done a year long study to see how the money shakes out from a yearly salary standpoint?

ECT May 21, 2015 - 2:31 pm

I also work in the service industry and I know many, many servers and bartenders in the downtown restaurant and bar scene who make well over $14 an hour. Significantly more, actually.

Murphy May 20, 2015 - 2:06 pm

850-950 for a 1-bedroom is affordable for folks making the AVL living wage of 11.85 per hour?

12 months rent would be slightly less than half of their yearly earnings…

James May 21, 2015 - 4:09 pm

I have a house and a mortgage and guess what?? My annual mortgage is slightly less than half my annual income. Life

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