Older adults (age 55+) comprise 20% of Buncombe County’s population, but they have limited access to affordable housing options designed to meet their needs. Thanks to a partnership with Deerfield, 8 single-level Aging in Place (AiP) townhomes specifically designed for low-income aging adults are being built in Asheville Habitat’s New Heights neighborhood– and the first two buyers recently moved in.  

“What I found in Asheville is that every time I had an increase in income, there was an even greater increase in the cost of housing…I had pretty much given up hope that I would ever be able to buy a house,” shared Kay Ponder, Line Cook and new AiP Habitat homeowner. “To have your own place gives you a sense of stability.” 

Bob Wernet, CEO and President of Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community remarked, “As a community, we had been exploring ideas on how to complement serving others that don’t live at Deerfield.” Chris Dismukes, Board Chair of Deerfield Charitable Foundation, added “We were inspired to discover a way for Deerfield to partner with Habitat to help low-income older adults buy a home of their own. The Deerfield Charitable Foundation was in its infancy and this was a perfect inaugural project for us to work out with Habitat.”  

Andy Barnett, Asheville Habitat’s Executive Director, reflected on his initial conversation with Wernet. “I told Bob, ‘We’ve really been struggling with how we can better engage housing with older adults’. And a partnership was born at that moment.” Deerfield provided the seed money to get the project off the ground, and made a deep commitment to pilot the model at New Heights by sponsoring the 8 units ($55,000 on each). 

Specifically designed for and sold to qualified older adults, Habitat’s senior housing includes universal design elements such as:  

  • An at-grade or ramped entrance to the main floor or the capability to easily install a ramp 
  • Entry doorways and passageways at least 36″ wide
  • A bathroom that accommodates a wheelchair in a 365-degree circle 
  • Lever door handles instead of traditional round knobs 
  • One-level living that includes a full bath, kitchen, laundry, living space and 1+ bedroom  
  • Additional occupant-specific accommodations  

Like all Habitat homeowners, Aging in Place homebuyers apply for Habitat’s program, qualify, complete 200 hours of Sweat Equity and then repay an affordable mortgage. “I have met so many people in the (homeownership) classes I took. I know my neighbors, and I love it,” said new AiP homeowner Ann Cox. “It (the neighborhood) has a multi-cultural and multi-generational component and that’s so important to me.” 

To learn more about the partnership between Deerfield and Habitat, as well as the process of learning about and building a new housing type, and to hear from Kay and Ann, please watch this video.