Editor’s Note: The following is the second in a series on the current state of the housing market in the High Country.
NEWLAND — Amelia Martin is a Newland native, but a New Yorker at heart. The 17-year resident of New York City found herself at a crossroads this summer. The COVID-19 pandemic had a catastrophic effect on the city, and Martin, a novelist and TV show writer, found herself living out the dream of a character in a book she is currently working on: a girl from Red Hook, Brooklyn seeking to leave the city for a life in the mountains.
This summer, Martin fulfilled her wish and moved her family into a house near her relatives in Newland. While the majority of the housing buy-up in the High Country has been for high-dollar properties by professionals who are in the latter stages of their careers, Martin’s house has a bit more of a sentimental value. Her house borders land that her grandfather bought around the time she was born and that she became familiar with while she was growing up.
“We’re lucky. My family is here. I was born in Avery County, right here in Plumtree. I have roots here. I feel at home here. I feel safe and comfortable. I’m close to family that I’ve been with my whole life. The idea of nestling in here for a few years is far more appealing than sitting in a tiny apartment in New York City for a few years,” Martin said.
Martin said that the situation in New York City during the pandemic had become untenable, and life as she had become accustomed to fundamentally changed. She and her husband, who are both in the film industry, found themselves out of work and unable to leave their Brooklyn apartment.
“We were always moving between lots of people and different groups. We had people over for dinner almost every night that we weren’t out at a restaurant. So when everything shut down, we just couldn’t talk to people, and we just had to stay separate to stay healthy and keep each other healthy. It really broke our ability to have community. It all of the sudden made sense to be closer to family,” Martin said.
After New York City shut down on March 11, Martin’s family was extremely cautious to even step outside, as little was known about the virus at that time. Even going out to buy groceries seemed like a risky venture.
“I spent almost three full months in my apartment. We only left once or twice a month, one of us, just to go get groceries,” Martin said. “For those first two months, they were like ‘Don’t walk outside except to walk the dog,’ and we didn’t even do that. We were afraid the dog would pick up the virus on his feet on the street. We would hear sirens outside all day and were reading about people dying and hospitals filling up, neighbors sick. It was like a war zone. It was scary.”
Martin returned to Newland in June and immediately noticed the difference between New York City, which has been the epicenter for the virus in the country, and Avery County, the last place to record a case of the virus in North Carolina. While New York City was completely shut down, Martin was happy just to be able to go to the store and pick up supplies for her new home.
“One of my aunts has a house that she uses that is a second home. She wasn’t living in it full-time, so I rented it from her for the summer. I was thinking if we’re going to be sitting inside our houses, I’d rather sit in a house in a beautiful place than in my apartment. I have spent summers here my whole life, so I was super excited to be here,” Martin said. “Stores were open; it’s a better quality of life here. Suddenly, Avery County, which seemed like the middle of nowhere where I’d have to drive 45 minutes to go to a big chain store, just having the chain store open at all was amazing.”
Fortunately, Martin had the connections that enabled her to secure a home in the area. Since new affordable housing is few and far between, many of the homes in the area where working people live were typically built decades ago and sometimes passed down through generations of families that live and grew up in the area.
While renting out her aunt’s apartment, Martin kept her an eye on an apartment that had continuously been on and off the market. When the time was right, Martin bought the home and moved her family into the property that was near the land where she grew up.
“I was born in a house in Plumtree that my great grandfather built. My grandmother was born in that same house. So for me, people talk a lot about how this must be so different, New York versus Avery County. They’re both so much a part of my life and who I am. I don’t see them as different really. They’re both home to me,” Martin said.