Look Homeward to Asheville
Asheville, North Carolina was the setting for Thomas Wolfe’s best known novels, Look Homeward, Angel, and You Can’t Go Home Again. It is a beautiful town, often compared with Charlottesville as a great place to live, raise kids, make music and enjoy the outdoors. Like Charlottesville’s Monticello, the grand Biltmore House, built and still owned by the Vanderbilt family, attracts thousands of tourists each year. Also in common with Charlottesville, Asheville has a shortage of housing within financial reach of low wage workers and the elderly on fixed incomes, among others.
The Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently released case studies of several housing preservation projects, including one in Asheville. Hoping to find some ideas for projects that might be replicable here in Charlottesville, I read the fascinating story of the Battery Park Apartments, 120 residences for the elderly created through the preservation of one of the city’s most prominent yet sadly neglected buildings. Many players, many missteps, some brilliant partnerships, and eventually, a realized vision are part of the story of this transformation. And the story goes on, as the economic activity generated by the preservation continues to transform the center of Asheville.
I was struck by the fact that every community has resources that can be put to good use in the cause of equity in housing, and often they are sitting right under our collective noses. Here in Charlottesville, Piedmont Housing Alliance has created affordable rentals from the transformation of an old shirt factory and an historic public school building. We have used vacant property to create an affordable community for elders and families in Crozet. And, while we continue to participate in creating new single-family homeowners through our lending, the need for affordable rental properties so outstrips the supply that we will make it our development focus over the next several years. It is our vision, and we hope you will join with us to make it a reality.-ktk