It's no secret Asheville ranks as one of the fastest-gentrifying cities in America. High costs, an influx of affluent new residents, and a weak job market have led to a city that is richer yet less diverse than ever. (Since 2000, Asheville's black community has shrunk from 17% to around 12% of the population, a loss of thousands of black residents, even as the white population has boomed.) Economically, too, the city has been squeezed as low-income workers are forced to seek housing outside city limits and longtime black families are pushed out of the middle class. If we don't act to correct this market failure, we stand to lose the cultural heritage, the arts and free spirits, and even the working-class mill-and-railroad town roots that made Asheville unique to begin with, yet local government efforts to combat gentrification have had mixed results at best.
Rich cares about protecting the working class and minority populations of Asheville. He believes every area of the city should have a vibrant, sustainable mix of middle-class, fixed-income and lower-income; black, white and Latino populations living and working together in ways that lift up everyone in the community.
Five Principles for Protecting Asheville's diversity:
1. Use the plans we have.
What does this mean? In 2014, Asheville city staff drafted a paper called "Alternatives to Gentrification for the East of the Riverway Area". It proposes a set of actions to protect the historically black Southside neighborhood from rapid turnover into a mostly white, higher end area. Since then, none of the proposed ordinances has been enacted. These include provisions for "permanent affordability and stewardship of wealth" by original black home-owning families.
To improve relationships between local law enforcement and minority communities, Asheville should implement the Code for Asheville and NAACP proposals for reducing disproportionate traffic stops by black drivers (described here, a no-cost set of changes that would mean fairer treatment of black community members by police) and should stick to the spirit of the 2013 Civil Liberties Ordinance that prevents local law enforcement resources from being used to enforce the Executive Order on Immigration. The unconstitutional order corrodes trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement and ties up resources that should go to enforcing local laws. To the extent allowable, Asheville should remain officially friendly and welcoming to our immigrant population.
2. Empower threatened neighborhoods to protect themselves.
What does this mean? Many of Asheville's historically black and mixed-income neighborhoods, including Shiloh, Burton Street, and East End, have written Neighborhood Vision Plans for how they want to grow and handle issues like zoning and public services. These are neighborhoods' best tools for protecting themselves, and they should be expanded and incorporated into upcoming Comprehensive Plans and zoning updates as official city law. As Vice President of Membership for the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, Rich believes Asheville's distinctive neighborhoods are the city's most fundamental building blocks, our DNA, and key to our daily experience. Rich will treat each neighborhood's plan as the basis for any planning and zoning decision. He will empower neighborhood groups and public housing residents to set their own agendas on issues from growth to affordable housing to police involvement, using zoning overlays and participatory budgeting. Rich will tackle the issue of low minority involvement on city boards and commissions, and will press for city council districts that increase representation of underserved neighborhoods on council.
3. Address the issues at Asheville City Schools that lead to different experiences for black and white students.
What does this mean? This is almost a big enough issue to be its own page. Rich will support the efforts of Asheville City Schools families to tackle the ongoing problems in the district. He will lobby state legislators to expand the school board and use the city's board-and-commission power to create appointed subcommittees under the school board to increase its numbers by local fiat, if necessary. To succeed, the school district needs the broadest possible range of local voices empowered to weigh in on decisions from the superintendent search, to the redistribution of students at the elementary and middle school level, to use of legal penalties in the school system that are disproportionately used against students of color.
4. Be a model local employer for racial equity in hiring and contracting.
What does this mean? "Ban the Box" is a nationwide movement to get employers to take questions about criminal history off of initial job applications. The idea is that an applicant who checks the box typically has his application discarded out of hand, and rehabilitated ex-cons should have the chance to at least make it to an interview to make their case. Two of the region's largest employers, City of Asheville and Mission Health, have already banned the box for non-security related positions. The city should take the lead in advocating for more local employers to adopt the practice (which is shown to have no public safety implications) and should require it where possible, as with the "McKibbon Standard." The city also has a set of tools to spur job creation by offering property tax discounts to companies, many from out of the area, that promise to create jobs. If they're able to show the job numbers, they get a rebate on that year's taxes. Rich would direct these same incentives to be used to grow local businesses with a history of hiring low-income and minority employees and paying them a fair wage instead. Growth from within, not without, and with racial equity. Lastly, In 2015, less than $300 in city contracts were awarded to black-owned businesses. The city needs to do better to make sure contracts are not awarded equitably, beginning with hiring more city staff responsible for review contracts that are persons of color themselves and implementing Diversity as an Asset training in city hall.
5. Be the leading local advocate to the state and federal government on behalf of citizens.
What does this mean? In addition to continuing to stand against the unconstitutional and trust-eroding Executive Order on Immigration, the law known as HB2 strips local decision-making on a host of issues and costs the state (and the city) money, as businesses and events direct their efforts away from NC. Support is building for a repeal of the law, and Asheville can be a leader in seeing it through. Once repealed, the city should work with state legislators to provide statewide protections for every citizen, so nobody's civil rights are infringed. On traffic and transportation issues, the city should champion city residents before the state DOT, especially when it comes to reducing the destruction of homes and businesses during the I-26 expansion and solving the gridlock on Hendersonville Road and Sweeten Creek. Residents shouldn't be forced to take their own case to Raleigh; that's what local government is for.