Rich believes the city’s physical infrastructure — roads, sidewalks, city water, buildings, trees and public areas, and the stormwater system — must meet the challenge of handling both today’s demands and the future impacts of climate change and growth in our area.
With more than 80 miles of needed sidewalks still unbuilt, plus a lack of crosswalks and bus shelters, our deficient infrastructure most highly impacts residents with lower income or mobility challenges. It forces all of us to make trips by car that we could otherwise make by foot, bike or bus, compounding our traffic woes. Traffic congestion is worsening, especially on main thoroughfares, as more than 70,000 area residents and tourists pour into the city each day. A mix of roads controlled at the city, county, and state levels, out-moded highways, and drivers unfamiliar to Asheville combine to make this the most dangerous city in North Carolina for traffic accidents and car-related fatalities. Much of our city is already impacted by the flooding, a result of the increased runoff from development in sensitive areas and from a loss of tree canopy and water-retaining natural features. The daytime population of the city is nearly double its residency, straining a water system already suffering from decades of deferred maintenance.
These existing problems have worsened over decades, and that trend will continue as more people move to WNC and the effects of climate change become more pronounced. For many of us, interactions with the city’s physical infrastructure are the main signs that life in the city is changing, from the frustration of sitting in traffic to the recent water outages and quality issues.
We don’t have time to wait for vital improvements. For eight years, Rich has led successful efforts to make the changes we need now, adding sidewalks and bike lanes to neighborhoods without them, building greenways and parks to protect natural space and give people safe ways to get around without needing a car, maintaining and improving the network of city streets, fighting the Department of Transportation for better designs, expanding the bus system and pushing for smart development rules that protect overstrained areas and make transit a viable transportation option. You can expect Rich to lead more of these efforts on council.
Asheville is a growing city built on the bones of a small town. We feel that every time we go to work or school, every time we turn on the tap, every time a neighbor’s trees are cleared for a new subdivision. Smart management of our physical infrastructure and environment can keep the city still feeling like the home we fall in love with over and over again while accommodating change. It’s not too late for that work, but it’s work we need to do now.
Rich believes that attracting high-paying, career-track employers and growing career-track businesses already in our midst can help counter rising costs and gentrification.
Study after study ranks Asheville among the nation’s most expensive and rapidly-gentrifying places to live. Rich sees this every day as he works with local families to manage their incomes and housing costs, now and in the future. And he has experienced the struggle of day-to-day living himself, from low-paying service-sector jobs to buying a home and raising a family here. To live affordably here, like many others they know, Rich and Lindsay share their home and costs with another resident. We’re squeezed from both sides: a desirable location driving rising housing costs on one side, and an economy that doesn’t support enough high-paying, career-track jobs for its workforce on the other. It’s the reason economic mobility for children born in Buncombe County was recently ranked among the lowest in the state. It’s the cause behind our declining population of black residents. It affects young people, artists, would-be entrepreneurs and creators– the people who give this city much of its beauty and vibrancy– most of all.
Thirty-six percent of Ashevillians are cost-burdened by housing, spending more than one-third of their income on it monthly. For five years, Rich has campaigned on policies to increase housing affordability: land trusts, city-built housing, incentives to developers, grants to nonprofits, new zoning rules meant to encourage cheaper and denser homes, smaller and taller units.
On city council, Rich will support efforts to create more affordable housing with robust city investment, to create more opportunities to rent and own homes at any income, to support homeowners struggling with their own costs, to take a housing-first approach to homelessness, and to be a careful steward of property-tax dollars, aware that property taxes are themselves a cost burden in the city. That has always been his position, and Rich has proclaimed it consistently through all his years in public life.
But it’s also past time to be upfront that without raising incomes, the chase after housing and living costs will always come up short. Wages are essentially flat in the city of Asheville, even after years of historically high employment. It is within the city’s power to attract employers who offer rising incomes and a lifelong career track to locals. More importantly, it is within the city’s power to grow and foster local businesses across an array of industries, to create our own prosperity, especially in at-risk communities of color and in the arts, small manufacturing and technology.
Doing that will mean creating more spaces for businesses to start and grow, streamlining the process of opening an office, restaurant or store. It will mean specifically seeking out and encouraging small businesses owned by non-white people and young people. It will mean making sure city contracts for repairs, services, and food go to them. It will mean creating a quality of life that attracts companies and investors. It will mean connecting new companies with people and resources, and making sure job-seekers are equipped with the skills to fill these new positions.
Rich believes government officials and services should be accountable to the people we serve. That means all voices are heard and respected, that mistakes and abuses are recognized and handled in the open.
If local government cannot be trusted to carry on fairly and transparently, with lots of public input and accountability, none of these other needs can be met. But locals have largely lost trust in our city and county government. Violations from the county manager’s office to the police patrol on the street have drawn national scrutiny. But it’s small, day-to-day decisions happening under the radar that lead to those headlines, and public participation is our defense against abuses big and small, and we must remove barriers to that participation.
In 2012, Rich co-founded the Facebook group Asheville Politics, with the goal of helping to demystify the minutiae and insider lingo surrounding local government. Today, the group connects more than 8,000 community members to information and discussion about local political items. Asheville Politics has spurred interest in and citizen action on city budget items, zoning, regulations, and policies. Rich participated in the creation of Asheville’s Open Data policy. He led efforts in the city’s transportation department to prioritize sidewalk and greenway projects around the city for geographical and racial parity, preventing public works from happening in only a few well-off neighborhoods. He was a leader in the push for Participatory Budgeting, a step that puts spending decisions directly to affected neighborhoods. A teacher at heart, his online explainers on voting data, budgets, bonds, zoning and other city regulations have helped thousands of people understand the policies that affect them and, more importantly, to take timely action.
On council, Rich will continue this push. He will ensure that the city school board operates openly and transparently. He will create accountability in the police department and other city services. He will continue the move to Participatory Budgeting and other ways of empowering the people of Asheville with direct decision-making. He will work to make city commissions reflective of the diversity of the community and empower them to make more meaningful decisions. He will lead the city’s long overdue zoning overhaul that is still allowing the wrong kinds of development in the wrong places, with generational impacts on our quality of life. He will be reliable on the city’s progress toward its goals and careful in its stewardship of the public’s tax dollars.
Recent city councils have been largely reactive, responding to strings of internal crises. We need a steady and effective council that governs proactively and with intention.
Rich has the background, skill, and temperament to lead the change we need.
For more information or to join the campaign, contact Team Rich