Why is the Cost of Living So High in Buncombe County?

I moved to Asheville from the Piedmont of NC in 2008 to go to college at UNC Asheville. I rented my first house in 2009 in Montford, a two bedroom house for $900 which at the time felt EXPENSIVE, so after bringing in an extra roommate for a while to brings costs down, my roommate and I moved to a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment within walking distance of campus for $650/month. As I remember it, at that time as college students, my friends and I expected to pay about $300-$350 per person when renting a shared house or apartment. I checked the data and that’s not too far off: the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two bedroom in 2009 was $690/ per month ($604 for a one bedroom). 12 years later, in 2021 the same two bedroom is $1,279/ month and a one bedroom is $1,099/ month. It’s worth noting that 2009 was also the last time the Federal US minimum wage was increased from $6.55/ hour to $7.25/ hour, where it remains in most parts of the US to this day.

When people ask me about living in Asheville, I find myself telling the same precautionary tale over and over about rising costs but I haven’t always been able to explain why beyond a vague explanation including tourism, high rent, rapidly increasing property values, a limited job market and low wage jobs. Asheville has made a number of media lists, perhaps most notoriously, #2 on Realtor.com’s 2017 list of 10 U.S. cities gentrifying the fastest. So what exactly is going on here?

LW Rate per hour$13.00$13.65$15.50$17.30
Living Wage Rates by year and FMR for a One Bedroom 

The Just Economics’ Living Wage Rate for Buncombe County is based on the Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom for a single individual. Over the month of April, we’re to dive into what exactly is causing the costs of living to climb so rapidly and what exactly can be done about it. Follow along with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as we talk with experts and nerd out on some data over the next few weeks. 

~ Emma – Living Wage Program Coordinator

(That’s me on left in the photo above (with a tragic, self-inflicted haircut) and my dearest college friend, Leah in 2009.

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