- Website: grantmillin.com
- Employment: Owner of Innovograph LLC
- Party affiliation: Democrat
What are three achievable goals that you would champion in the next two years?
Get the kind of government [and] political appointees into positions that we need for these times at the local, state and federal levels. We need to focus on merging sustainability and economic strategy, dealing with poverty and issues like climate change, and investing in our infrastructure and education systems again. It is achievable to finish the 21st century in a much better state than we started. It’s achievable to do things like get our sidewalks in good shape in all neighborhoods, roll out anti-poverty and racism strategies. These are all achievable things. They’re not all the things we need, but we can achieve them.
What are the best strategies for increasing affordable housing in Asheville?
The existing strategies aren’t completely flawed, but the federal programs that help fund affordable housing are being cut 25 to 40 percent. The North Carolina Apartment Association has rolled back things like mandatory inspections for apartment complexes. And North Carolina has allowed the low-income tax credit to expire. We’re getting a raw deal from the federal level because of these cuts. Renters are in a terrible position. If you’re a renter, it’s in your best interest to start talking to other renters. I’m a renter; I understand this world from the renters’ perspective. Renters should be in this mix about how things work in Asheville and what the outcomes are.
The noise ordinance. It’s not the biggest issue, but it’s just an example of the way things get managed. They did a survey asking citizens what was their most important noise issue: People said vehicles in different ways. And the survey results never really appeared in the adjustments they made to the noise ordinance. I thought that was kind of insulting, that they had us go through all this stuff … and the result is contrary to what people asked for. That’s the bottom line: If you’re going to change the ordinance and ask people what they think but not say anything about that in the final result, it’s an example of poor communication.
What makes Asheville home for you?
I was born in San Francisco; my family moved here in 1980. But what makes it home to me is the natural beauty. When I think back to 1980 Asheville, there was less going on. [Walking down the street], people might say hello, even to strangers, because there was a sense that probably that was another Ashevillean. I don’t have anything against tourists as people, but what home is for me and what I want that home to be about is a question that I hope we’ll all bring up with this election and in the future. A lot of things are in question about Asheville as a home for Ashevilleans.
Do you support expanding the tourism industry, or should we focus on other areas of economic development? Or do you think government shouldn’t play a role?
I’m looking forward to sharing the starting points for a sustainable tourism strategy that would address how much the occupancy tax should be and monitor all the money spent on hotels, restaurants, shopping at the mall or at downtown businesses. A 10 percent occupancy tax with three-fourths of it going to advertising isn’t necessary. If you mandate advertising, you’re starting to create this funding monstrosity where you’re always having to figure out how to sell Asheville to more people. If we adjust our economic development strategy, maybe there’s a drop-off in everyday tourists, but we may get more people who want to support us in new ways that alter the landscape of investors in sustainable businesses.
A recent study showed that Buncombe County had lower growth in middle-class jobs than other areas. What can the city do to address this?
You can’t rise out of poverty very well in Buncombe County. People dropped out of the middle class, and what do you do? You hear a lot of people talking about education; I talk about improving the platform for democracy, for civic engagement. Less poverty in Buncombe County immediately means more people heading toward the middle class. What do you want for Asheville’s future? What do you want for Buncombe County’s future, the state’s future and America’s future? I say we can merge sustainability and economic development strategy, doing it consciously and in a scientific, evidence-based way.
With Asheville growing so fast and several new hotels being built downtown, how do you plan to address the inevitable traffic problems on city streets and I-240?
I’d like to see passenger rail come to Asheville: Getting around by individual, privately owned vehicles isn’t the endgame. Redirect occupancy tax money to maintaining our sidewalks, and not just downtown. Each corner of Asheville has its own needs. If everyone tries to move here, we’re investing a whole lot in sidewalks and roads, and we’re going to sacrifice something else: Education, health care, better jobs will take a hit. It’s a bunch of question marks as far as “What is sustainability for Asheville?” But I’m more than happy to ask those questions and help merge sustainability and economic development strategy. Do we have the right people in our economic development strategy brain trust? Do you want new leaders in those positions?