Asheville – It was a routine vote for the Buncombe County Commissioners, predictably rubber-stamped without debate. Federal funds were available, and the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent was merely a request to start some citizen visioning, which, of course, would not only be cited at some future date as a mandate, but could build high aspirations among citizens willing and able to dismiss consideration of the national debt.
The funds came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the form of Community Development Block Grant – Neighborhood Revitalization (CDBG-NR) grants. These grants would come, competitively, from a stash of $10 million given to the state for disbursement.
Initiatives in the City of Asheville would not be eligible, as the city receives HUD funding directly.
Eligible projects included construction of infrastructure that revitalizes communities, such as greenways; rehabilitation of housing; individual home improvements; development of homes or rental units with per-unit caps of $50,000 or $25,000, respectively; public facilities; and water or sewer connections for existing housing. Depending on the project type, somewhere between 50% and 100% of direct beneficiaries were to be low- or moderate-income.
Other considerations toward “preventing or eliminating slums or blight” included deference for government du-jour words like “equity,” and “communities and neighborhoods.” Projects had to address concerns authorized by HUD, and developers had to adhere to regulations for recipients of federal funding, not the least of which were the federal fair housing acts; but no more than 10% of grant proceeds would be authorized to cover administration.
During public comment, Don Yelton remarked, “I was looking at this, and it says, ‘how to get rid of slums.’ How do you get rid of slums, folks? I saw a max in there of $50,000. What’s $50,000 going to do to a house? Nothing. $50,000 today don’t even buy but a few 2x4s.
“I can remember when Asheville first destroyed Valley Street. Valley Street was a community, had a grocery store, had a bootlegger. But it was a happy community, and the government put their big foot down and ended up building this big thing over at Westgate.
FACT CHECK: TRUE. Government leaders have long held the view that it is their job to perpetuate the protoplasm of their constituents, as compared to religious leaders who see their rule as cultivating souls. Government serves the people by supplying the Petri dish with warm, sanitized agar; while priests teach personal responsibility, respect, kindness, problem-solving, and self-control. It is therefore understandable that a person raised by government, if given a house, is not going to be really motivated to wash the windows, mow the lawn, fix the faucets, or even cooperate in the social contract that says everybody will beautify their yards so the whole neighborhood looks good.
“So, folks, think this thing through. The way you really get rid of slums is you get somebody that owns a house, that wants to fix it up, and you give them the money to fix it up so they have some sweat equity in it…. If they have sweat equity in it, they’re not going to destroy it.
FACT CHECK: TRUE. Google “Habitat for Humanity.”
“I try my best to have decent rental houses, but I’ve had two of them, had two renters in there that cost me $5000 every time they move out. That destroys affordable renting. And taxes go up. That destroys affordable rent.
FACT CHECK: TRUE. Unfortunately, focus groups must really pooh-pooh subtractive concepts, as they hardly ever play into popular public policy discussions.
“The people have to be responsible and we have to work with the people to make them responsible. And just handing out money, with all these steps that you’ve got to go through, is not doing it.”
FACT CHECK: MOSTLY TRUE. While it would be immoral to make anybody do anything; love, not money and not big government, remains the most effective agent for change.
“You guys are supposed to be close to the people and know your community. You should know what it’s going to take to find the people who want to do better and help them do better. And you know that makes a lot of sense, but it’s too big of a job for somebody to try, but somebody needs to try. And I’m looking for that person.”
FACT CHECK: TRUE. Government these days is interested in serving emotions and being inclusive rather than seeking in-depth analyses for impactful solutions. The commissioners could do something as simple as appealing to Adam Smith’s law of supply and demand to realize the way out of an overpriced housing market is to flood the market with housing. The fault here, however, lies more with Asheville, where leadership disincentivizes new construction by extorting developers for community benefits, suggesting they build at a loss even after they accede to rent-controlling a percentage of their units.
Yelton concluded, “I care about Buncombe County. I want solutions, not putting it off, not just covering a little money over it. And I remember Bill Stanley sitting over there saying, “It’s our money. If we don’t take it, we’re going to lose it. And guess what, folks. All that money right up there, is our money.”
FACT CHECK: TRUE. Those promulgating the notion that Mitt Romney was a fool for saying corporations were people contradict themselves in denying that governments, likewise, are abstractions, functioning solely through cooperation among individuals.