Housing Subsidies Deemed Racist - TribPapers

Housing Subsidies Deemed Racist

Mosley shares a constituent's perspective. Screenshot.

Asheville – By way of the consent agenda, and without much fanfare, Asheville City Council agreed to rescind a $1.2 million loan made to Bryson Investment Group in December 2020. Proceeds from this Land Use Incentive Grant (LUIG) were to support the construction of 12 condominiums that would be marketed as affordable to families earning no more than 80% AMI. These properties would further be deed-restricted to prevent their sale to families earning more than 80% AMI for ten years.

The property owners said they could not complete the project due to rising construction costs. They instead subdivided the property into three lots, and they’re building single-family homes on two of them. The city had not disbursed any funds from the loan, so the full amount will be available for other projects via the Housing Trust Fund.

The LUIG program has had a troubled history. After its launch in 2010, the city was unable to persuade developers to use it. A group of developers then met with city officials to explain that they didn’t want to ruin their credit or their business by building at a loss. Following years of iterations, the city finally seemed to land on terms on which developers could turn a profit.

Now, people are crying, “Racist!” The advocacy group Thrive Asheville asserts that LUIG is hardwired to disproportionately favor white families. This stems from the assertion that, among families of four, whites are the only demographic with a median income higher than 80% AMI. While it would be instructive to see how equitable income is distributed within each demographic before jumping to that conclusion, it didn’t matter. The narrative had already sprung legs and run out the gate.

Staff responded with another item, which was adopted by way of the consent agenda. It proposed suspending consideration of any new requests for LUIG until the program could be evaluated by Enterprise Community Partners, the consultant the city has hired to assess its Affordable Housing Plan. With the aforementioned grant refunded, nothing remains in the LUIG pipeline, so council agreed the timing was right for a hiatus.

In Other Matters –

Having continued the public hearing until more questions could be answered, council was now ready to vote on the Portland Loo. The standalone lavatory will cost $170,760, and installation, which includes improvements to the surrounding parklet, will add $183,620.

As for other options, presenter Jade Dundas said downtown shelters were not amenable to opening their restrooms out of concern for the health and protection of those they take under their wing.

The city could also reopen the restroom at 29 Haywood Street in partnership with the Asheville Downtown Association, but this will require a contract with sorting of responsibilities. Dundas showed pictures of these restrooms. They were clean and stocked, and they would be fully functional once the water was turned on.

Dundas shared that, while the Portland Loo’s upfront costs were staggering, yearly maintenance should only run around $22,500. This includes daily cleaning and vandalism repairs. The restrooms at 29 Haywood could be run for only $21,500, but that would not include 24-hour operation. For round-the-clock operation with security, these restrooms could cost $233,000 a year. Dundas added that the city had already sunk $81,000 into the study and design of the Portland Loo.

Competitive ARPA (federal COVID relief) funds were going to be used to pay for the Portland Loo, and Councilwoman Kim Roney expressed her wish that the Peak Academy be funded, too. This surprised some on the board. Funding for the Peak Academy hadn’t been on the agenda, and, no matter how councilmembers lobbied to make it so, Mayor Esther Manheimer wasn’t going to leapfrog the Peak Academy over an application process for federal funds and waive council’s rules for an unadvertised vote.

Attempts were then made to postpone the vote on the loo so it could be voted upon if and when Peak Academy funding cycled back. Dundas did not want to do this because the bid was only good until the end of the month, meaning the city would have to rebid the project in the face of rising construction costs. City Manager Debra Campbell added that the city had gotten a very good deal with the current bid. 

The only council member to vote against the loos was Antanette Mosley. “Excuse my language beforehand,” she said. “I got a call from a member of the community saying that we care more about where people take a s**t than we do about black children. And I don’t want to leave that impression with the community.”