Asking questions about trickle-down economics in Asheville is okay

Setting the community, state, and national bar too high worries folks. We know this one.

I was recently asked why I would ‘criticize’ the Eblen Charities-Buncombe Schools-NCSECU teacher housing project. As a repeatable path to really dealing with our housing and poverty issues, do we have that now with the Eblen teacher housing project? Guessing… maybe?

‘Guessing maybe’ seems to be the fallback to evidence-based policy around here too often. The Eblen teacher housing project is most likely just another singleton attempt at improving conditions with limited resources. Addressing Asheville’s deteriorating rental units and lack of affordable housing and anti-poverty strategy overall rates something well above guesswork and limited resources.

Other citizens seem to think the intense project praise—mostly from within internal leadership circles, at least initially it seems—and benefits claimed beyond simply building 24 two-bedroom relatively affordable rental units is ‘weird’. Here’s the actual comment I made that gave other citizens similar cause to present that they think:

“Local conventional wisdom says a two-bedroom unit is $900 rent for a $33,000 annual income. Therefore for rent should be $600 on $22,000, and just $300 on $11,000. One bedrooms are less.

This project totals out at 24 units. Where are the thousands of other units at those prices in Asheville? How many existing market rental and HUD units need total rehab/remodel? Surely this is about increasing HUD intervention.” – Grant Millin, 7/3/15

An Asheville citizen later pointed out his affordability challenges as someone utilizing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and suffering a severe permanent disability. He needs an affordability equation that has all the other Asheville citizens living with disabilities, including him, at the center.

I can tell folks not Eblen Charities nor any of what are thought of as the ‘Asheville leadership’ on social issues (especially government) seem to really have a solution. Most folks on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or SSDI are in poverty.So what is Asheville’s anti-poverty strategy? When I ask about the risky 1:10 ratio of ‘intergovernmental’ (Federal and state) dollars going to City of Asheville revenues in contrast to the majority of COA funds that come from property taxes, sales taxes, and COA fees and fines, I’m told the directions I introduce are like ‘building ladders to the moon.’

One seemingly popular city council candidate stated:

“Running for city council on a platform of increasing federal disbursements is like wishing for bigger birthday presents. Do you think Asheville is being offered more money from Congress and is somehow refusing it, and raising taxes instead?”

I am going to use my knowledge of strategy to make this town a better place to live in, partly because I live here. And it’s my faith to care about the welfare of others. I’m trying to cut down on the sardonic ridicule as well, but it would really help if all of us who profess a desire for real progress would add more the effort than this kind of meaningless reductionism.

Of course I will bringing up this increasing risk scope, and the alternative opportunities I see. I’m just getting rolling on the solutions I am happy to generate. And no, waiting for the GOP to heal/go away isn’t my strategy. It is not magical thinking to set the performance bar higher. It is fantasy to think people with no real knowledge of strategy and innovation and corresponding skills and tools can do a whole lot better than business as usual in Asheville as members of city council. I am not just walking into this role of city council member and expecting some favor from the insiders. The sweat equity, tears, and skills behind my capabilities are 100 percent real.

I know how powerful the sense is in some circles that Asheville independently—despite any threat—can take care of its own and the best solutions are all within city limits. That’s what leadership means for some in the final analysis, even though everyone knows better. “Look, no heavy government intervention needed!”

My tiny little quip above about government intervention doesn’t mean I think government can or should manage every aspect of American life by the way. I support evidence-based policy versus guesswork. If a nonprofit-government-private investor solution works in one small case, folks will applaud that. But what does the new level of performance for Asheville look like and who is the current state of affairs getting us there?

I also don’t claim to have all the answers. But I have some of it. That’s clear now.

Ideas, resources, etc. are a constant flow of inputs and outputs in public and private markets from the levels of government, the education system, the Internet, and just how different scales of business work. It all has real impacts and the impacts from different leadership filters on our least powerful citizens are of central concern to me 35 years into Reaganomics.

It was President Eisenhower in his farewell address who recommended we seek balance between and in concert in utilization of both the public and private economies. He was also importing a smart group ethic that asks for regular review of where we are, how we got here, and do we really want to keep doing more of the same when there’s any given set of challenges and risks.

There’s something I call innovation-killing artificial limitations set using arbitrary, capricious, and unfair ‘closed system’ strategy. I see it everywhere and that way for doing the people’s business is worse than obsolete. I’m offering a new way out of our challenges and a new way of viewing Asheville’s opportunities. It is time to for Asheville to get real about the difference between change and not really change.

But the Eblen Charities-Buncombe Schools-NCSECU teacher housing project is great too.

Posted in Asheville, Innovation and Opportunity Ecosystem, Poverty Innovation.