Press release from Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity:
The home is the primary way Americans build wealth, but laws and systems have kept people of color — especially Black Americans — from accessing homeownership. Buncombe County Commissioner and 40-year career banker Al Whitesides said, “when you’re black in America you couldn’t build wealth like the opportunities you had if you were white.”
After discovering a racial covenant on a property developed for affordable housing, Asheville Habitat decided to learn more about discriminatory housing practices that took place in our community, how those shaped our city, and how practices like racial covenants have contributed to current day racial disparities. Then, desiring to raise the profile of this issue, Asheville Habitat reached out to community partners and produced an 18-minute documentary film that includes interviews with Commissioner Whitesides as well as:
DeWayne Barton, Hood Huggers International
Kel Compton, Asheville Habitat homeowner
Sophie Dixon, Shiloh Community Association
Dr. Sarah Judson, University of North Carolina – Asheville
Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County Registry of Deeds
Parker Smith, Pisgah Legal Services
Nationally and here in Asheville, white homeownership rates are significantly higher than people of color, and the racial wealth gap is just as wide today as it was in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed. Though racially restrictive covenants were abolished with the Fair Housing Act, the damage of decades of discriminatory practices and laws was already done. “The system worked incredibly well to perpetuate white wealth and to undermine assets in the black community,” notes Andy Barnett, Executive Director of Asheville Habitat.
While working in banking and seeing property values change over time, Whitesides started paying close attention. He found some old redlining maps where neighborhoods were color-coded and graded. “I thought that everyone just moved, coming up here, because they wanted to be together. But then I found out, wait a minute, this was orchestrated.”
The way our neighborhoods look today — in Asheville and around the country — isn’t an accident. Visit ashevillehabitat.org/thisdividedland to watch the film and learn how you can get involved in supporting organizations working to dismantle systemic racism. And stay tuned to learn how you can support NC Senate Bill 427 filed by Sen. Julie Mayfield. If passed, this legislation will allow individuals to remove racial covenants from their deeds. This bill is currently before the Rules and Regulations Committee.