Reparations commission suggests economic projects for Asheville’s Black community

After nearly two years of meetings and discussions, Asheville’s 25-member Community Reparations Commission for the first time is recommending projects they want local leaders to support.

The four projects, focused on economic starters for the Black community, are the first in what’s expected to be a series of project recommendations before the commission’s contracted facilitator ends her contract June 1.

The four initial projects the Commission is recommending are:


“I’m excited about the center itself, which should operate as a think tank” said commission member Dee Williams.

In supporting documents for the center, the commission cited a model project in Portland as an example.

“We do have a Black business hub that’s going to be dedicated to entrepreneurs,” said Azalea Renfield, executive director of the Portland’s Williams and Rusell Project. “That Black business hub is going to be three stories high.”

Renfield, who recently took over the position, said the hub is estimated to cost $26 million but $9 million still needs to be raised. She said the City of Portland approved $4 million last year but the project has not broken ground. The project also includes housing, said Renfield, who then cited the rendering showing the glass façade for the business center and housing buildings on the property the city donated to the project.

A second recommendation by Asheville’s reparations commission is a Guaranteed Income Pilot Program. Commission documents state it would “fund a guaranteed income program as a way to ensure basic needs are met for individuals with low-income and assets.” The description also stated that parameters of such a program would have to be worked out. Reparations paperwork stated 100 other cities including Durham, North Carolina provide direct payments to individuals who have been harmed by historic, systemic, and ongoing wage and employment discrimination.”

News 13 contacted the City of Durham and learned that its pilot program is focused on individuals getting released from incarceration as a way to support those entering community after prison.

The commission’s paperwork on the proposal didn’t discuss specifics. Buncombe County’s attorney John Frue was part of the Monday night commission Zoom meeting and expressed concern about the proposal.

“This could pose some challenges,” said Frue. “As written, the problem would be public funding.”

During the discussion, members of the Reparations Commission discussed that a non-profit fundraising arm would have to be developed to create such a program.


A third project to empower historically Black communities in Asheville would focus on grants to Black neighborhoods at a minimum $250,000 pledge that could go towards community-focused projects supporting youth, and could include workshops, computer labs, with programs focused on education, health, economy and community.

An example listed was the E.W. Pearson Center for Innovation to create an economic development hub. Funding documents said this could also go towards park and greenway improvements in Black communities. Another project mentioned was Development and Training of Housing Authority “Corps.” The program is developed and written by residents in Hillcrest and commission member DeWayne Barton. The details state workers would get paid to help clean the exterior of all building, litter clean-up, recycling and lawn care. Corp members would participate in job readiness training including GED assistance, money management classes and hands-on training in specific skill sets.

A fourth project recommended was a Reparations Accountability Council that would be in charge of keeping oversight over approved projects.

More project recommendations are expected in the next several weeks. The commission that’s been convened for more than two years is facing a June 1 unofficial deadline since that’s when the contract with the paid facilitator overseeing the commission’s work ends.

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