Earlier this week, Asheville, North Carolina’s city council took the extraordinarily rare step of adopting a measure that aims to atone for the centuries of civic injustices and destruction. Titled Resolution Supporting Community Reparations for Black Asheville, the measure apologizes for the city’s role in perpetuating slavery, redlining, and urban renewal programs, and, most notably, calls for reparations to address inequity among its Black residents. The vote was unanimous, seven to zero.
The measure directs the city manager of Asheville—home to 92,000 residents, about 12% of them Black—to make recommendations “to specifically address the creation of generational wealth and to boost economic mobility and opportunity in the black community.” But it does not establish direct payments to the victims of discrimination or their descendants, which some maintain should be a central component of reparations.
“I’m happy that there has been a step made and that there has been an acknowledgement for the wrongdoings to our Black people,” Rita Lee, an African American realtor in Asheville, said. “We’re just all waiting to see what kind of programs they put in.” Lee, 41, said that her grandparents had their home taken by eminent domain during city urban renewal initiatives. “I would love to see our family get their land back,” she said.
Councilman Keith Young, the body’s main advocate for the measure, said during the meeting that “the days of incremental change, I believe, have left us,” and emphasized that tangible efforts would soon follow. “We need to be made whole in areas of health care, education, employment, criminal justice, business ownership, home ownership, overall equity,” and generational wealth, said Young. He and Smith are the council’s two Black members.
Ile Adaramola, a local lawyer who is Black, noted that Japanese-Americans interned during World War II received monetary reparations in the 1980s and that Native Americans were given land. “As an attorney, I heard bureaucracy and saw red tape,” she said of the measure. “I understood that it was a planning mechanism.” What is needed, she argued, is a dialogue at the federal level. Adaramola, who is 35, pointed to student loan debt as one area that reparations could target, describing how many universities were built and financed by the labor of Black slaves, and that debt burdens prevent many Black people from pursuing home ownership.
“One of the losses of urban renewal is that generational wealth has not been accumulated by Black residents in this city,” said Sarah Judson, an associate professor of history and Africana studies at University of North Carolina Asheville. “The loss of capital to the community is really significant. In this community, real estate is gold.” Judson, who is white, proposed the creation of “equitable, low-interest loans” as one possible step toward equity. “And certainly not creating economic opportunity zones in historically back neighborhoods so that white people can buy up buildings and Airbnb them,” she said. “That’s not the way to do it.”
Stella Adams, a housing advocate and retired chief of equity and inclusion for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in Durham, North Carolina, called for “reparations in the form of affirmatively fair housing actions that would increase Black homeownership, through soft seconds on loans, allowing tenant ownership of multifamily housing, enforcing Section 3, and supporting local Black businesses through contracts and grants.“
As municipalities like Evanston, Illinois, Providence, Rhode Island, and Chicago have taken steps toward adopting or studying reparations, there is concern from some longtime advocates that partial, watered-down measures will be adopted in lieu of more substantive actions. William A. Darity Jr., a Duke public policy professor told the New York Times this week in response to the Asheville legislation that he was “deeply skeptical about local or piecemeal actions to address various forms of racial inequality being labeled ‘reparations.’” He pegged the racial wealth disparity needing to be addressed as between $10 trillion and $12 trillion—only the U.S. government has the resources to undertake such action.
The passage of the resolution in Asheville is a major milestone, but it is also just a beginning.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest