Government Accountability Project Asheville

Gap Report for 1/17/22

Jan 17, 2022

URGENT

  • 1 item

PROBLEMATIC

  • 2 items

CONCERNS

  • 5 items

POSITIVE

  • 1 item
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URGENT:

Things that are top priority

UPDATE: City Council – City Manager’s Report. The City Manager gave a report on the American Rescue Plan Act, the Reparations process, and Homelessness Initiatives.

This report was not made public until it was too late to register for public comment. We continue to be alarmed by the City Manager’s repeated refusal to share her reports in advance. These issues are of vital importance to many people in our community. Every other agenda item is accompanied by documentation. This practice by the City Manager makes it impossible for the public to anticipate and adequately respond to her reports.

Things to do

Reach out to the City Manager (Phone: 828-259-5604 Email: dcampbell@ashevillenc.gov) and ask her to share her reports two business days before the City Council meeting, like other City staff members do.

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RED:

Things that seem problematic

The City is offering stipends at a rate of $15 an hour for an anticipated workload of 5-10 hours a month for Commission members. There is very little specificity about what will be expected of Commission members, which might be one reason that applications have been coming in slowly. We think outreach needs to be significantly ramped up, because many people in the community still haven’t heard about the Commission. Also, we have heard troubling accounts from some community members about a range of roadblocks to participation, which raises the question of whether the Commission selection process is being handled equitably.

Things to do

Reach out to Brenda Mills, Director of Equity and Inclusion (Email her at mailto:bmills@ashevillenc.gov or Call her at 828-232-4517). Ask her whether more specific expectations of Commission members are available, and whether a higher stipend is being considered. What safeguards is her office employing to ensure that the process of selection is handled equitably?

UPDATE: City Council – Manager’s Report. The City Manager’s report (Homelessness Initiatives).

The City recently dropped its plan to set up a low-barrier shelter, stating that it wanted to prioritize long-term solutions to homelessness. The Asheville Police Department has been clearing camps on City land, giving 24- to 48-hour notice rather than the 7 days that used to be their practice. The report offered statistics showing high crime rates in these camps as a justification. We agree that the City needs a long-term solution to homelessness, but are troubled that the low-barrier shelter plan was abandoned without a new plan for one. We believe that criminalizing poverty and homelessness is not an acceptable solution to this public health crisis. We question the selective use of statistics that imply that the camps were the cause of crime; another explanation is that these crimes surround homelessness, whether they are in camps or not, but when they are in camps, it is more likely to be reported and addressed.

Things to do

Contact the Asheville City Council and ask them what their plan is for addressing the homelessness crisis, both in the short term and the long term. Ask them for their response to some of the points raised in this report.

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YELLOW:

Things of concern, more information needed

(Note: the County Commission canceled their meeting, but this agenda item is likely to appear on the next agenda.) This calls for $2.85 million from state funds for Emergency Rental Assistance to help folks with rent and utility payments. The county is hiring three case managers and two temporary grant assistants to manage the process. We are glad the County is providing rental assistance, but would like more information on both the hiring process and the way these funds are being distributed. What racial equity lens is being applied here?

Things to do

Contact Buncombe County Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer Rachel Edens (phone: (828) 250-6523, email:  rachel.edens@buncombecounty.org) and ask her how her office will be monitoring the hiring process and this program.

(Note: the County Commission canceled their meeting, but this agenda item is likely to appear on the next agenda) This calls for close to $2 million in direct heating assistance to be administered through Eblen Charities. Once again, this seems a step in the right direction, but we’d like more information on how these funds will be distributed, and what equity lens will be applied.

Things to do

Contact Buncombe County Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer Rachel Edens (phone: (828) 250-6523, email:  rachel.edens@buncombecounty.org) and ask her how her office will be monitoring this program.

UPDATE: City Council Consent Agenda C Resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into a contract with Harper Corp. General Contractors for the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Center Expansion Project.

This was the latest step in the expansion of this community center, which includes the construction of a new pool facility to replace the Walton Street Pool. We suggested that this item be pulled from the Consent Agenda so that Council can discuss it publicly. While it is very likely a positive step, this project has a long and controversial history, and community members are entitled to some explanation of where things stand and what kind of public engagement there has been along the way. IT WAS NOT PULLED FROM CONSENT BUT ADOPTED UNANIMOUSLY.

Things to do

Contact the Asheville City Council and ask them to explain how we’ve arrived at this point, and in what ways impacted community members have been consulted.

UPDATE: City Council Public Hearing A Public hearing to rezone approximately 128 acres of property along South Tunnel Road.

This was a request to rezone approximately 128 acres from various zoning districts to the Urban Place Form district. According to the Planning and Urban Design staff report, this rezoning will lead to a more efficient use of land that encourages housing and incentivizes affordable housing along transit routes. Step 4, Question 1. (page 25) of the Equity Toolkit document indicates that affordable housing units will only be required to be considered affordable for a minimum of 20 years. See attachment.  We wondered why these affordable housing units aren’t being so designated into perpetuity rather than expiring after a set time period. The bonus densities and heights will not expire so why should the affordable housing units? THIS REZONING REQUEST WAS APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY WITHOUT ADDRESSING THE QUESTIONS WE RAISED.

Things to do

Contact the Asheville City Council and ask them why this rezoning didn’t include an affordable housing designation that doesn’t expire.

UPDATE: City Council Public Hearing B Public hearing to conditionally zone 235 Sardis Road from Commercial Industrial District to Residential Expansion/Conditional Zone

The applicant is proposing 297 new multi-family residential units of which 10% of the units (30 units total) be set aside as affordable to those earning at or below 80% AMI for a minimum period of 20 years. Once again, we wonder why the 30 affordable housing units aren’t being designated as such into perpetuity, rather than expiring in 20 years and potentially displacing those residents. THIS REZONING REQUEST WAS APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY WITHOUT ADDRESSING THE QUESTIONS WE RAISED.

Things to do

Contact the Asheville City Council and ask them why this rezoning didn’t include an affordable housing designation that doesn’t expire.

GREEN:

Things that sound like a step in the right direction

BUMPED UP FROM LAST WEEK: City Councilwoman Antanette Moseley’s recent leadership on racial justice.

At recent Asheville Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) meetings and the December 14th City Council meeting, Councilwoman Antanette Mosley raised important questions around racial equity. At several AHAC meetings, she has been asking for racial equity data, raising the possibility that these projects don’t serve people of color. At the most recent City Council meeting, she expressed concerns about the City’s plan to set up a supportive housing facility at the former Ramada Inn, pointing out the lack of transparency in the process, insufficient opportunities for local organizations to take this on, and a lack of diversity within the Step Up organization that was offered the contract. We appreciate Councilwoman Mosley lifting up these essential questions.

Things to do

Email Councilwoman Mosley, thanking her for her leadership in raising important racial equity issues in these important settings, and encouraging her to keep it up.