JEFFERSON — To meet the rising need of low-income housing opportunities for Ashe County residents, Northwestern Housing Enterprises recently opened the doors of the Historic Ashe Hospital, providing 46 affordable apartments for senior citizens and those with disabilities.
The four-year project, spearheaded by NHE, came to a celebratory close Friday, Sept. 27, where more than 100 community members attended the Historic Ashe Hospital’s dedication ceremony, according to NHE CEO and Vice President E.G. “Ned” Fowler.
The project was started in part to combat the perceived lack of affordable housing opportunities in the area, Fowler said. After receiving their certificate of occupancy from the county in March, he said all 46 of the apartments at the Historic Ashe Hospital were filled by April.
“Ashe County has particularly high rent burdens for low-income households for a couple of reasons,” Fowler said.
With a change in tax laws during the 1980s, which did away with accelerated depreciation, apartment development lost many of its investments, Fowler explained, leading to a stagnation in the construction of new apartment complexes in Ashe County.
“Only a handful of apartment complexes have been built since the late ‘80s,” Fowler said.
In turn, Fowler said the current demand for affordable housing in Ashe County is not being met with supply, despite an increase in prices.
“They’re pretty much priced out of the market,” Fowler said. “You can imagine someone who worked agricultural pursuits or a small town job all of their working life, paid into minimum social security, and now they’re trying to live on minimum social security.”
According to a release from NHE, North Carolina has 291,421 renter households that are extremely low income. Most are cost burdened by having to pay significantly more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs and utilities. Further, North Carolina is nearly 200,000 dwelling units short of affordable housing supply to meet the needs of these households.
In effort to educate decision-makers and the general public about the importance of affordable housing and community development programs, NHE joined with affordable industry partners across the country in supporting the Housing America campaign.
As a part of the campaign, NHE worked for more than four years on renovating the Historic Ashe Hospital into a location to provide seniors and those with disabilities with new affordable housing and services.
“We almost lost the building to 50 years of zero reinvestment, but the renovation of Historic Ashe Hospital is now complete,” Fowler said in the release.
The project would not have been possible without continuing United States Congressional and North Carolina General Assembly support for private investment through housing and historic tax credits coupled with government housing voucher subsidies, according to the release.
“The residents are excited to be here, having completed their working careers in the area and now living on limited incomes,” Fowler said. “It’s a very good accomplishment.”