Providing equitable opportunities and affordable housing for Asheville’s minority residents is the biggest challenge facing the city, Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell told a packed house during a May 8 event hosted by the Asheville Downtown Association at The Collider. Campbell was the latest speaker for the Building Our City series, which taps city planning and urban design experts to offer insight into building communities and strategic growth.
Using census data and information from the State of Black Asheville, a local research and analysis group that examines racial inequalities, Campbell highlighted disparities between Asheville’s black and white residents in education, economic status, housing and policing. The unemployment rate for the city’s black residents is twice that for white residents, she said, and black residents are also less likely to own homes. Household incomes for black residents hover at $30,000, compared to the city’s average of $42,000. Xpress also reported in January that the achievement gap between black and white students, the worst in the state, has grown larger despite a 2017 equity initiative meant to address the disparity.
The numbers paint a stark picture for Asheville’s shrinking minority population. Campbell said both the city and the private sector need to pitch in to make progress on the issue.
“What that says to me is collectively, not individually, we gotta work on this. We need tons of resources to address this issue,” Campbell said.
Campbell also outlined other priorities for the city, including expanding public transit, increasing affordable housing options and building a diverse economy that leverages sectors in addition to tourism.
“I don’t know if we can put all of our eggs in the consumer basket of tourism,” Campbell said to enthusiastic applause from the audience, which numbered about 180 attendees.
Drawing on 26 years of experience as Charlotte’s city planner, Campbell illustrated strategies implemented there with the potential to address the issues Asheville faces, such as providing density bonuses and other incentives to builders that offer affordable housing options. And while she acknowledged that Asheville and Charlotte are distinct cities with drastically different economies, Campbell recommended that the city should aim for a cohesive and intentional planning approach.
“When we’re talking about building our city or when we’re talking about planning in general, or community development, it’s about intentionality. In Charlotte and I think also in Asheville, we have a legacy of intentionality,” Campbell said. “We have to be intentional. We have to be determined and decide who we’re going to be when we grow up and once we get there, who are we going to be as we evolve. One of the most important parts of the planning process is creating the vision.”