Asheville City Council is a step closer to fulfilling its promise of reparations for Black residents. At their meeting of Oct. 27, Council members voted 6-1 to suspend the sale or change in use of any city property acquired through urban renewal, a set of practices designed to clear blighted areas that often forced out established Black communities.
But the newly approved resolution exempts property located at 172 and 174 S. Charlotte St., which is under contract to be sold to White Labs Inc., a San Diego-based yeast manufacturer and brewpub; and property on Asheland Avenue currently being reviewed for an affordable housing partnership with Haywood Street Congregation.
Community members generally applauded the move as a step in the right direction. But excluding the White Labs property — which will net roughly $3.7 million after the December sale is finalized — is akin to deciding to quit drinking or smoking, but only after the holidays, said Joe Wilkerson, a West Asheville psychotherapist who offered comment during the remote meeting by phone.
“I think you did something really beautiful and insane by committing to reparations,” Wilkerson said. “But funneling money from the sale of stolen lands back into the city’s general coffers is effectively saying that you’ll stop doing harm, right after this one last sale.”
Because a portion of the property is associated with urban renewal, federal restrictions require $1.6 million of the proceeds to fund the city’s Community Development Block Grant program. The remaining $2.1 million will go to the city’s general fund; Mayor Esther Manheimer said Council had previously decided in a closed session to use an unspecified part of that money to expand the city’s downtown transit center.
Instead, commenters urged Council to earmark the money for an eventual reparations fund.
“If you acknowledge the wrongs done by the city in the past, and you acknowledge this land has essentially been stolen and that it’s not going to be sold anymore for the profit of the city, to try to get one more deal in is inconceivably strange to me,” said Max Mandler of Asheville. “It’s almost worse than pretending that none of that was true. It’s clearly wrong and strange and comes off as trying to sneak a deal in under the noses of the people of the city.”
Council member Brian Haynes agreed, ultimately becoming the sole vote against the resolution after not receiving a direct answer from city staff regarding Council’s ability to designate general fund money for reparations. “I feel like it’d be a nice time for us to commit some funds there,” he said.
Aside from formally apologizing for the city’s role in urban renewal, Asheville’s reparations resolution directs City Manager Debra Campbell to develop recommendations to create generational wealth in the Black community and establish a commission to “make significant progress toward repairing the damage caused by public and private systemic racism.” As of Oct. 28, no information about this commission had been released.
“We’re counting on you to do the right thing,” said caller Linda Wolf of Candler. “We know that you plan to do it eventually. But especially in this political climate, it’s really hard to believe in your elected officials if things keep delaying. And we really need to see some kind of strong commitment on your part to keep your promise about reparations.”