Government Accountability Project Asheville

The Buncombe County Commission meets this Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at 5 pm. You can attend the meeting at 200 College Street, Room 326 in downtown Asheville. You can watch the meeting online via Buncombe County’s Facebook page. The full agenda is here.

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PROBLEMATIC

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CONCERNS

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POSITIVE

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Use our prepared email template to take action on this week’s items.

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Things that seem problematic

Buncombe County Commission – Public Hearing – Recovery Housing Program Grant – CDBG (Presentation, ABCCM application)

This is the second public hearing for this proposal to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from the federal government to provide housing for individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder. The focus of this hearing is to consider an application by Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry’s (ABCCM) Transformation Village to use $1 million of this grant money to construct a building that will largely service women and mothers in recovery from substance use. “Though this demographic has been critically impacted by SUD (substance use disorder), this population is often underserved by traditional recovery programs.”

We raised a series of concerns prior to the first public hearing for this program in our March 4th GAP Report, none of which have been addressed. As we wrote then, this program seeks to address two important and intersecting problems: addiction and homelessness. National data suggest that Black, Indigenous, and Latine folks are more likely to suffer from addiction, and local data documents that Black Buncombe County residents make up 24% of the people experiencing homelessness while only representing 6% of the population. Given that, we are troubled by the complete omission of any racial equity considerations in the application document and the overall planning for the use of these funds. Targeting these funds toward one underserved demographic – women and mothers – seems wise; but we wonder why there is no apparent consideration of a racial dimension to this problem.

Given the well-known racial equity gaps that exist in the county, programs that don’t deliberately seek to remedy those gaps will inevitably continue to perpetuate them. We would suggest that the County Commission inquire what racial equity lens will be applied in the establishment of this program before giving the green light to $1 million in federal grant money to support it.

Things to do

We encourage you to reach out to the Buncombe County Commissioners and ask them to inquire whether the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry plans to address issues of racial equity in their new Transformation Village project.

We have prepared an email template that addresses this issue. You can (a) use our County Commission template to open up an email to adapt, (b) copy and paste the content below, or (c) write your own message to: brownie.newman@buncombecounty.org, jasmine.beach-ferrara@buncombecounty.org, alfred.whitesides@buncombecounty.org, amanda.edwards@buncombecounty.org, terri.wells@buncombecounty.org, martin.moore@buncombecounty.org, parker.sloan@buncombecounty.org.

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YELLOW:

Things of concern, more information needed

Buncombe County Commission – Old Business: DFI Coxe Avenue Project Update (Presentation)

This is a report-back on public engagement around a plan to convert some County-owned property on Coxe Avenue to a combination of retail and affordable housing.

We see some promise in this project, which will ultimately offer 86% of its units at 60% of Area Median Income or below, with 22% of the units at 30% or below. This represents more truly affordable housing than many proposals that carry that title.

However, the primary reason that this item is on the County’s agenda is to share the results of a public engagement process around this project, and we see all-too-familiar problems with how that was conducted and reported. The purpose of the public engagement was to assess preferences between two variations of the proposal, and whether there were any concerns about the project. 124 participants were engaged through an in-person meeting, a zoom meeting, and an online survey. As is often the case with public engagement by the County, no racial demographic data appears to have been collected from participants; if such data was collected, it’s not referenced in their presentation.

Were any Black, Indigenous, or Latine folks included in the public engagement process? Do folks with those racial identities feel similarly about the project to white people? Perhaps not, but perhaps so. We’ll never know if we don’t ask that question, and ask it routinely. While the City of Asheville has racial demographic questions in all their outreach as optional questions, the County persists in asking those questions only a fraction of the time when it’s doing public engagement to inform decision-makers. We don’t know why, and we wonder if the County Commission knows why. We’d like to see them ask their Community and Public Engagement department why collecting racial demographic information isn’t part of their standard operating procedure.

Things to do

We encourage you to reach out to the Buncombe County Commissioners and ask them to find out why their Communications and Public Engagement department only collects racial demographic data some of the time.

We have prepared an email template that addresses this issue. You can (a) use our County Commission template to open up an email to adapt, (b) copy and paste the content below, or (c) write your own message to: brownie.newman@buncombecounty.org, jasmine.beach-ferrara@buncombecounty.org, alfred.whitesides@buncombecounty.org, amanda.edwards@buncombecounty.org, terri.wells@buncombecounty.org, martin.moore@buncombecounty.org, parker.sloan@buncombecounty.org.

EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

You can open this email in your own email program by clicking here. To proceed manually, you can copy and paste the text below into an email and then send it to the addresses listed. Please consider making edits that reflect your personal interests and concerns on this issue.

Send to: brownie.newman@buncombecounty.org, jasmine.beach-ferrara@buncombecounty.org, alfred.whitesides@buncombecounty.org, amanda.edwards@buncombecounty.org, terri.wells@buncombecounty.org, martin.moore@buncombecounty.org, parker.sloan@buncombecounty.org

Subject: Prioritizing racial equity requires asking about it

Dear County Commissioners,

At your next formal meeting, you will be considering an application by Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM) to use $1 million of federal grant money to construct a building that will largely service women and mothers in recovery from substance use. This program, which seems worthwhile, seeks to address two important problems (addiction and homelessness) that we know disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and Latine populations. I wonder why there is no mention of addressing racial disparities in the application. Can you ask the applicant how they plan to address this issue?

You will also be discussing public input around the DFI Coxe Avenue Project. This project also sounds promising, but I’m concerned about who was included in the public engagement process. Did folks with different racial identities weigh in? Was this information collected? I’m not clear on why the County Community and Public Engagement only collects racial demographic information some of the time, instead of all of the time as the City of Asheville does. Can you ask them why this isn’t part of their standard operating procedure?

Thanks for your leadership,