Lack of affordable housing in Gatlinburg felt by families, local businesses

Local News

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – More people in Sevier County have been told they’ll have to find somewhere else to stay, this being another example of the need for low-cost housing. 

The number two has been a theme of Penny England’s year. She works two jobs to support her two kids, and she’s been had to search for a place to live two times this year.

England said was told she needed to be out of her apartment, at the Bales’ Motel, by April 13th. This came three months after she was told to leave the Rainbow Motel.

A representative from the company that now owns the Bale’s Motel confirmed Monday they’re renovating the property and converting it into a travel lodge. 

Fortunately, she’s found somewhere else to live, but the drive is about 40 minutes away. Unfortunately, that means more wear and tear on her truck, more money going to gas, and her children’s schooling is in limbo. 

She knows the drive isn’t an option for people without cars.

“We had a family that went back to Maine. We had two families that went, one to North Carolina, one to South Carolina. They were families, they were great workers, they were really good at hospitality and they’re greatly missed. It’s hard to replace good people like that,” she said. 

Julie Rhines sees that first hand. As the general manager of Flapjack’s, a staple for many families in Gatlinburg, her number one responsibility is to make sure the restaurant is staffed. She said they serve more than 500 customers they see daily.  

Sunday, she said there were more than 600 people dining in, with nine servers available to feed them all. She calls the affordable housing issue a huge problem.

“I have one girl that’s worked, I think, 25 days straight, just because she stepped up. I would never do that to her, but she stepped up and she knew we needed the help. She has worked that many days straight for me. I use contract labor because I can’t find kitchen staff,” she said. 

To curb her staffing woes, she contracts out people on work visas for three months at a time. When they’re time is up, Rhines has to start the training process over.  Rhines also attributed the worker shortfall to Sevierville and Pigeon Forge now serving alcohol.

Before, she explained, Gatlinburg was a sought-after place to work. There were also more housing options.

“There’s no medium. It’s either…the pay-by-week housing or the really expensive housing, there’s no middle class, I guess,” she said. 

She said they work to compensate and treat their employees well. Their method is working, because all but one employee commute from outside Gatlinburg to come to work. 

Apartments.com has two rental possibilities available. Granted this is one resource for locating a home, but the cheapest of the two sits at $1,200 per month. 

Sevier County Economic Development Director, Allen Newton, confirmed Monday Gatlinburg city leaders approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement for a developer, who plans to build 180 affordable apartments.

This, Newton said, is on top of a project, already making progress, involving 76 new units. He estimated the rent for the new apartments to average $600 per month. 

Under the Fair Housing Act, he explained, tenants would have to meet an income threshold in order for a developer to qualify for a low-income tax credit. 

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