Cost of Growth: Population steady as cost of living soars

Asheville has seen a 20 percent gain in population since 2000.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Asheville’s downtown was empty with some buildings boarded up.{&nbsp;}<p></p>
Cost of Living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.{&nbsp;}<p></p>

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) —

It could be the most common thing heard in the streets — Asheville has become too expensive and too crowded.

That growth is now spilling over into smaller neighboring communities as well.

It’s an issue affecting people across the mountains, impacting everyday life.

News 13 is now investigating the true "Cost of Growth".

STEPPING BACK IN TIME

The mountains surrounding Asheville haven’t changed much over the year. They paint the picture of the quiet, scenic small town that Asheville used to be.

But the cranes and construction noise downtown show a much different reality. They reflect a growing city fighting to balance new faces and busy streets with the easy way of life that locals love.

We walked through downtown with Eugene Ellison, a man who knows firsthand about the changes the city has lived through.

Ellison was born in Asheville, helped shape the city through his years on the council, and has practiced law here for years.

"From what I saw when I was a young boy to what it is now, it’s more integrated, it’s more diverse," said Ellison.

In the late seventies and early eighties, Ellison admits that the downtown was deserted.

Buildings on Eagle Street were boarded up and businesses were struggling.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Asheville’s downtown was empty with some buildings boarded up.{p}{/p}

Now, it’s the opposite.

DOWNTOWN TODAY

We walked the exact same block with Ellison, surrounded by new construction and renovations.

He says the hustle and bustle you see now is all because of a decision made three decades ago.

That’s when leaders began working on a somewhat unpopular plan to invest millions into what was a struggling downtown.

"I think back when I was on the council, being architects of this, you got to be careful what you ask for, you might get it, well we got it. Asheville invested about 20 million dollars in downtown when it was empty," said Ellison.

That move started moving more people to Asheville.

Since 2000, the city’s population has increased 20 percent.

Asheville’s population has grown from 7,527 in 2000 to 88,512 in 2015.

But, that gain is actually much lower than other cities in North Carolina like Wilmington and Greenville.

Wilmington has grown about 30 percent over the same time period while Greenville has grown about 46 percent.

"So the area might look a lot fuller than it really is, but the actual population growth is not that dramatic," said Tom Tveidt.

HIGH COST OF LIVING

Tveidt is a research economist who has studied Asheville’s data for years.

We checked in with other cities in North Carolina, and while their population might be booming, their cost of living has stayed the same or even dropped.

But Asheville’s has skyrocketed.

Cost of Living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.{p}{/p}

The council for Community and Economic Research ranks Asheville at the top. The chart shows it’s more costly than most cities in North Carolina and even bigger cities in the south like Jacksonville, Florida and Richmond, Virginia.

So how did a thriving, booming community end up with so many struggling citizens?

Tveidt says it’s all falls back on two big factors.

"I think it’s the housing demands and the gap in wages that’s the big differences between ourselves and bigger cities," said Tveidt.

IS ASHEVILLE TOO CROWDED?

It’s a cost that’s hitting the streets of every section of Asheville.

On Haywood Road, business owner Terra Marshall is worried about the impact.

It’s changed a lot because back in the nineties, early 2000s it was pretty affordable here," said Marshall.

She watched the development herself and believes the city is close to reaching its limit.

She says we’ve hit enough top ten lists and wonders if there are now too many visitors.

"Old Asheville was awesome, you go somewhere and everyone there you knew. You go someplace now and it’s like wow who are all these people?" said Marshall.

However, Ellison says the constant flow of tourists is a good thing.

"That tax base helps keeps our taxes down so the more tourists here spending money the more money being paid in taxes," said Ellison.

But he admits that Asheville’s boom wasn’t perfectly planned.

"I think the one mistake we made, the infrastructure did not keep up with the development," said Ellison.

We want to know how Asheville’s growth is affecting you.

Email us at I-team@wlos.com

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Daphne Gaines