Asheville – The final report of Asheville’s Equity Inclusion Assessment is out. The report begins, “This assessment was conducted at the request of Black AVL Demands.” The group, which City Manager Debra Campbell frequently refers to as driving policy, remains enigmatic. The only two people known to be affiliated with it are Rob Thomas and David Greenson, both frequent callers at Asheville meetings.
The report continues with a history of the city’s effort to institutionalize equity and inclusion since 2016. One of the reasons the wheels have been moving so slowly is, for example, the city needed to build a database that tracked the race of people participating in government or benefitting from its services. The first few pages are replete with mind-numbing jargon about hierarchies, restructurings, planning, public outreach, program coordination, etc. Now, with a budget of $456,499, 74% of expenditures support payroll, 10% contracted services, 5% training, 4% programming and outreach, and 7% miscellany like membership dues.
While giving a hand up to minority genotypes and perceived phenotypes remains a focus of city policy, the report primarily dealt with “the community;” or BIPOC. Editor’s Note: Articles have been written on the use of this term BIPOC with no consensus. Its definition and use both violate traditional rules of English. It’s an acronym for black, indigenous, and people of color.] One area in which the program has made strides is in aiming to recruit and retain more BIPOC. The city has even expanded outreach outside the city to find BIPOC when local interest runs low.
Similar policies extend to contractors doing business with the city. The city’s internal auditor, Patricia Rosenberg, explained that on January 1, the city adopted a Business Inclusion Policy that “moves the city from race- and gender-neutral to race- and gender-conscious for making contracting and procurement decisions.”
Giving BIPOC opportunities to explain why they don’t pursue municipal contracts, city representatives heard about barriers libertarians, free marketeers, and social justice warriors have been trying to reform for years, like the bureaucratic maze and certification and licensure requirements. Other reasons reflected a need for more time, capital, and education. This resulted in a few partnerships, which the Office of Equity Inclusion repeatedly emphasized it is trying to multiply.
The city is also taking economic interventions into the housing market. The equity and inclusion angle merely sharpens the focus of steps the city has already taken toward returning to a social system where the government owns the land and leases it to constituents. The report states because the Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination on the basis of race, “in order to promote racial equity within the legal constraints, the area median income requirement for affordable units on city land was set at 60% [of AMI] and below.”
Using grants and allocations, the city is also creating a lending program for down payment and mortgage assistance. The loan is interest-free and forgivable provided a person stays in the home for at least 30 years.
Other actions have included trying to help BIPOC receive grants from the $1.375 million One Buncombe (COVID relief) fund. The office, “emphasized that funding should be allocated based on highest need as a way to invest more in BIPOC individuals and businesses.” Unfortunately, the first-come, first-served distribution overrode that. The city is also working to educate BIPOC whose water bills are overdue about agencies that will help pay once COVID waivers are lifted.
As for climate justice, the office is convening story circles among “Asheville’s most under-resourced” BIPOC. It is also conducting interviews to “discover how community members define climate equity and climate resiliency.” Soon, it will work with youth to collect photos with captions for an exhibition that will “help define climate justice concepts.”
As for governance, the city realizes poor people working obnoxious hours for chunk change can neither afford transportation to city meetings nor the internet to participate remotely. Avoidance of government is compounded by distrust, beyond white-person levels, after a history of redlining, urban renewal, highway routing, and other acts of wrecking perfectly fine communities. The office has therefore been working on various means of being more democratic. The report also acknowledges BIPOC have often been coopted, by those claiming to be their voice, for the furtherance of agendas they do not embrace.
The goal is to make equity and inclusion part of everything the city does. To do so takes training, so to save money, the city invested in training trainers. The city currently offers nine training sessions to address implicit bias and microaggressions, becoming antiracist, cultivating black safe spaces, and seeing white. One of the first things trainees learn is the new lingo. The city’s IT department is also compiling an online racial justice library.
In addition to reimagining the police department, the city has taken smaller measures, like consulting with those most harmed by the Vance Memorial to decide its disposition, covering the historic paintings in the council chambers, restricting strategic partnership awards to programs designed to close the achievement gap, and proactively ensuring parks and recreation facilities are accessible to all underserved communities. The program makes heavy use of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s (GARE’s) Equity Toolkit. The kit requires those proposing new ideas to answer short essay questions to analyze, up-front, total costs, how what they’re proposing is supposed to work, how they will measure success, what collateral damages they could inflict, and if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Editor’s Note: This analysis consists of known facts with the reporter’s potential conjecture and conclusions.