By Emma Castleberry
In the fall of 2016, Janet Jones froze to death lying in her red sleeping bag on the banks of the French Broad River. Jones was a Jane Doe for five days before she was identified and her friends at BeLoved Asheville held a public funeral for her. Janet’s death acted as a catalyst for BeLoved, which has been building community with people impacted by homelessness and poverty for the last decade. “We believe that people directly impacted by these issues have experience and gifts to give that can help develop lasting solutions to these problems,” says Amy Cantrell, co-director of BeLoved Asheville. Cantrell says that Jones’ death is not an isolated incident. “On any given night,” she says, “500 to 600 adults and 700 children are homeless. In 2018, chronic homelessness in Buncombe County increased by 50 percent. Too many people are dying because they can’t afford a home.” After Jones’ death, BeLoved Asheville created the first homeless and formerly homeless street medic team in the nation.
While researching the housing crisis, BeLoved’s staff discovered a gap: no one was building housing for people who had incomes at 30 percent Area Median Income (AMI). “And we also learned that when people did find housing it was often overcrowded or substandard, causing people to pay too much of their income in utility bills,” she says. “Often these houses were far away, making it difficult to access jobs, medical care, food and opportunities.”
This research and conversations with those impacted by the housing crisis led to BeLoved’s most recent project: the BeLoved Village, a community-funded neighborhood of 12 microhomes in east Asheville. A creative solution to Asheville’s housing crisis, these deeply affordable homes will be available for local people, including elders on fixed incomes, veterans, working families struggling to make ends meet and people who are currently homeless. “The idea for the BeLoved Village was born as a new innovative approach to creating deeply affordable housing where social connections and equity lead to better health, more opportunities and long-term stability,” says Cantrell.
Each microhome measures 440 square feet plus a loft. These smaller homes are sustainable by their very nature and community is an integral part of the Village’s design. “Homes have front porches and are connected by a boardwalk with plenty of room around the Village for shared amenities like gardens,” says Cantrell. “So many people told us that they wanted a place that looked and felt like a home. We set out to create a model with four distinct pillars: deeply affordable, community-oriented, sustainable and produces equity for residents.”
BeLoved was faced with finding a way to build equity for residents without causing the homes to appreciate and become less affordable. “Equity allows people to not only survive but thrive and be lifted out of the cycle of poverty,” says Cantrell. “Many housing units developed as ‘affordable’ will have the affordability sunset in 10 to 15 years.” The Village addresses this issue with an equity account for each resident with an appreciation trigger. “A good portion of the monthly payment will go into the resident’s equity account, along with a percentage accounting for appreciation,” says Cantrell. “When residents move, they will be able to take the equity from their account and the next residents will be moved in at a deeply affordable rate. Therefore, the homes will remain forever affordable.” With approval, residents will also be able to use the equity funds for other purposes, such as education and transportation.
The first model home in the Village is currently under construction and expected to be complete before spring. BeLoved is currently raising funds for the remainder of the Village and hopes to begin construction on the other 11 homes in the spring and summer, with move-in scheduled for the fall of 2020. An application process will be launched later in 2020. Residents will need to earn 30 percent AMI or less to qualify and those applications will be reviewed and placements determined by a committee of community members. “We believe that the BeLoved Village will be a game changer when it comes to the housing crisis here and throughout the country,” says Cantrell.
McKenzie Dillingham, a project manager with Morgan-Keefe Builders, has been volunteering with BeLoved for many years. She is now serving as a general contractor advisor for the BeLoved Village. A native of Asheville, Dillingham has watched the dramatic transformation of the housing landscape. “Asheville is well known for being inclusive and tolerant,” she says. “Therefore, having a deeply affordable, sustainable housing model for those in need is just another way for our community to welcome and support all that wish to live here.”
For more information on how to help or donate, visit BeLovedAsheville.com.