ASHEVILLE – Average home sale prices in Ashville’s lowest household income neighborhood rose more than any other in Buncombe between 2016-2021, according to a new report paid for by county government.
The Syneva report is officially termed an “inquiry” and was created in part to investigate whether there was racially motivated inequity in Buncombe’s property tax assessment process.
Ordered by the recently formed Ad Hoc Reappraisal Committee, the report says home prices in the Southside neighborhood — defined as land between Patton Avenue and Meadow Road, north to south, and between the French Broad River and Biltmore Avenue, west to east — went up 116% between 2016-2021.
The neighborhood with the second highest average home sale price increase between 2016-2021 was Biltmore at 75%. This neighborhood includes Biltmore Forest, Buncombe’s wealthiest area where median household income, according to the report, is $173,360. Average home sale prices in this neighborhood in 2021 were $1.3 million.
The average increase in home sale prices throughout Buncombe in that time was just more than 43%, according to the report, which was created by Asheville-based Syneva Economics.
“I’m really shocked about it,” said Southside resident CiCi Weston, whose Pine Grove Avenue home has seen significant increase. “I think the way that they determine that is totally unfair.”
Weston’s Southside property value — including both the home and land —have increased 71% over two Buncombe County appraisals, going from $157,000 after the 2017 appraisal to $220,000 after the 2021 appraisal. She indicated it could be even more than that.
Weston, who was surprised to hear the average sale price of homes in Southside was more than $487,000, emphasized the neighborhood used to be mostly African American: 90% she estimated when she moved in in 2004.
Now the Black population there has dropped significantly, she said, maybe down to 25%, something other longtime community members have claimed, as well.
“Our taxes went up significantly this year,” Weston said when asked why she thought people were leaving the neighborhood. Buncombe county raised property taxes in 2021 after the latest reappraisal. “I had planned for one rate and then another rate came through.”
The Syneva report — for which Buncombe paid $27,000 according to spokesperson Kassi Day measured more than just average home sales prices.
Using multiple listing service data, U.S. census data, tax parcel information and some building permit information, according to Syneva research economist Tom Tveidt, who presented the findings on March 9 to the committee, the report also explored over and under assessed property rates, low-priced home sales and, centrally, issues of race and income in homebuying trends.
Read more:Tax increases likely to hit hard in historically Black Asheville neighborhood, east Buncombe; rich could see decrease
Across the county, property in 10 of 27 neighborhoods surveyed “experienced price appreciation growth greater than 50% over the last six years,” the report states.
But it hit Southside harder than most, with average home sale prices there rising from $225,097 in 2016 to $487,435 by 2021.
The average 2021 home sales price in Buncombe according to the report was $391,840.
Tveidt, a research economist and Syneva’s president, according to his LinkedIn profile, called the Southside data a “big shocker” and “explosive growth.”
Southside has a total population of 3,552 and a land area of about 1.8 square miles, according to 2020 census tract data.
It’s in a Housing and Urban Development Qualified Census Tract, meaning at least 50% of households have incomes below 60% of the area median gross income — or there is a poverty rate of 25% or more.
Census data shows there are more than 1,700 housing units in the Southside neighborhood, about 90% of which are occupied. This includes four Housing Authority of the City of Asheville housing communities.
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The Syneva report showed median household income for Southside was $19,747, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey data going back to 2015.
That’s the lowest household median income out of the 27 Buncombe neighborhoods surveyed.
Weston said someone in the Southside area where she lives recently built a “really nice” house, causing values of homes nearby to increase. Other homes saw renovations that increased their value and the value of the neighborhood, Weston said.
“That’s unfair to those of us who can’t make that happen for our homes,” she said. “The neighbors feel the same way.”
Roy Harris is an activist and community leader who, along with Mildred Nance Carson, was recently chosen to represent Southside on Asheville’s Reparations Commission.
Harris said many “legacy” members of the Black community, his close neighbors, have decided to leave the area in decades past.
Census reports from 2020 estimate that census tract 9, Southside, now has a 38% Black or African American population and 52% white population.
Despite rising taxes and a rapidly evolving housing market in Southside, Weston said she will stay “unless I get pushed out.” She’s executive director at the Christine W. Avery Learning Center just north of Southside. “But I don’t intend to get pushed out unless it’s a situation where the city comes through or the county comes through and says ‘We have to have this spot.’ So I’m going to stay as long as possible.”
During the March 9 meeting, Ad Hoc Reappraisal Committee member Bobbette Mays, a representative of the Shiloh community, expressed similar concerns to Tveidt.
“We have seniors who have been living (in the Shiloh community) for 30, 40, 50 years,” she said. “And then you’ve got developers coming in and they’re building homes. The incomes of the people there have gone up. How is that going to be fair to neighborhoods that have already been established?”
John Bay has lived on Southside’s Bartlett Street with his partner Kay Elliot. They moved into the home in 2011, just across the street from Harris, who Bay said has taught them a lot about the neighborhood’s history and community.
He said they bought the property for about $225,000 in 2011 and it’s now valued at about $450,000.
“It’s upsetting,” he said of the 116% increase. “One of the things that we treasure about this neighborhood is the diversity. To watch a historically African American community be priced out is just the same old story. I think that more needs to be done to allow existing homeowners to remain here and for their children and other African American people to be able to buy into it.”
Bay said he moved from Boston, “fleeing” an intense real estate market there.
“We’ve seen this cycle before,” he said.
Given the opportunity to talk to leadership, Bay, who is white, encouraged “comprehensive conversation” with the African American community, “so that words translate into funding. They’re tired of being talked at.”
Bay said if he had the power to make broad changes, he would find a way to get tourist dollars translated into infrastructure and affordable housing.
Report to guide future decisions
The report is a significant step forward for the Ad Hoc Reappraisal Committee, which is trying to view housing, assessment practices and ballooning prices through the lenses of race and equity.
Ultimately, the Syneva report claims there are no trends in the assessment process that suggest racial bias or inequity.
That conclusion runs in opposition to another study brought to the fore in 2021. Created by economic research firm Urban3, this initial study was the impetus for the creation of the Ad Hoc Reappraisal Committee.
Two Urban3 employees, firm principal Joe Minicozzi and analyst Ori Baber, helped create that study. Baber is one of the eight committee members along with DeWayne McAfee, Debbie Lane, Miriam McKinney, Melanie Pitrolo, Bobbette Mays, Jonathan Hunter and Brenda Mills.
Appraisals:‘My taxes on my home went up over $100K’ Shiloh resident says of ‘unjust’ appraisals
Minicozzi is set to present to the committee on his study’s findings and how they differ from SYNEVA’s on April 6.
Ultimately the committee will use data, anecdotes, academic and professional guidance they receive during meetings to make a recommendation to Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
Weston said, if she could stand in front of leaders and make her own recommendations, she would ask them to look closely at what is happening to Southside residents.
“Be mindful of racial equity,” Weston said. “I think it’s so unfair that we’re being pushed out of the inner parts of Asheville and the county and pushed to outskirts, further and further out. There needs to be a plan in order for us to keep our homes, and not just keep them, but keep them so that we can afford to renovate when we need to.”
Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or [email protected]. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.