Asheville City Council candidate guide — Brian Haynes

by David Forbes September 27, 2015

Name: Brian Haynes

Profession: Assistant Manager, Habitat for Humanity Re-Store

In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: Progressive Unafilliated

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I am a native, former downtown business owner and long time Habitat supporter. I am running because I do not like the current pro development direction our city is taking.

General questions

These questions are about problems, challenges or topics facing city government and how you would try to deal with them if elected. 

1) According to recent studies, Asheville has an extremely low amount of available housing and the city’s currently making national lists as an unaffordable place to live. What steps would you pursue to deal with this issue?

Affordable housing is a problem shared by almost every city in the country that is considered a desirable place to live, and Asheville is no exception. This is particularly true of tourist destinations, since low wage jobs predominate and create enormous wealth gaps between workers and visitors.  As a city, we must stand firm against the continued widening of that gap.

Asheville needs to continue to insist and advocate that a living wage be paid wherever and whenever the City has that authority. Living wages are an essential remedy for unaffordable housing and for basic necessities in general.

When zoning variances for apartment complexes are approved, a larger percentage must be dedicated to being affordable; our definition of affordable must be realistic and developer’s must be required to keep them affordable for longer periods of time, 20 years, if not indefinitely.

Independent landlords should be encouraged to rent properties at affordable prices, with tax relief or incentives offered.

Incentives for section 8 housing should be increased and landlords need to be more actively encouraged to participate in the program.

Increased residential density, through small accessory units, should be allowed and encouraged on single family lots.

All areas of our city should receive equal attention when maintaining roads and infrastructure. The entire city should be seen as a “special use district” elevating the whole rather than artificially raising values in some special interest areas while ignoring others. Special interest areas escalate the land values faster than organic growth.

When advertising our city we need to insist that an honest image of our city is presented and our call for social and economic justice must be part of our overall identity.

2) During the past year, we’ve seen an increasing numbers of concerns raised about de facto racial segregation in Asheville, an issue worsened by the impacts of redlining, racism, urban renewal and the state of public housing. If elected, what specifically would you do to help address this problem?

Social equality is found in social justice and social justice is found in social opportunity. We cannot, as a predominantly white city with greater proportions of wealth, property and opportunity in the hands of some, say to the minority cultures that they should come on up. We own the ladders and the platforms, we control the government, the jobs the schools and the businesses. If social justice is to prevail then ladders, platforms and all levels of opportunity must be available and present in affirmative ways and manners.

Publicly-funded housing should be the top priority in our overall affordable housing efforts. Here we have the houses and tenants in place and their situations as tenants should be secured and the infrastructure should be maintained and improved.

The neighborhoods that have traditionally supported Asheville’s Black community need to be protected and maintained rather than encroaching on them with “special interest districts” that will raise property taxes and change the entire rhythm of life. Property taxes should be frozen on those homeowners who have lived in these neighborhoods for a generation or more.

Young Black and minority residents need to be encouraged to stay in our community by having access to education, as they are in some cases, but also access to jobs. When integration is a goal, we must integrate by actively recruiting minority participants in all organizations.

Blacks and other minorities must be included in all conversations and organizations that address Black and minority issues. We must hear from them the solutions that they come to and we must empower minorities by helping them to start and maintain their own social support, non-profit organizations that are run internally rather than the current model of help from the outside.

3) From internal disputes and problems with morale to concerns about racial disparities, many are wondering about the state of the Asheville Police Department. What specific steps do you see as necessary to reform the APD and improve relations with the community?

There are a lot of new faces on the APD. From the new Chief Tammy Hooper to the many new recruits that are now on patrol, so we are in transition and much remains to be seen before making an assessment of the current department.

I believe that the majority of Asheville’s residents expect our police to treat all people that they encounter with respect and dignity. Use of force should at all times be the last resort and even at that, the use of force must not exceed that which is absolutely necessary to protect lives.

The APD must be diverse in its racial and gender make-up but also in its social and political ideals.
Bucking the national trends, our department should seek out those who are well-educated and culturally diverse.

Community involvement should be encouraged and officers and staff should become acquainted with neighborhoods by attending programs designed for community building and by volunteering in community projects. Officers should be hired locally when possible, as a personal history and relationship with a neighborhood can better engage citizens in partnering to keep the community safe.

Stopping crime is a priority but rehabilitation should be the goal. Attitudes of enforcement should reflect that ideal. We are not at war with one another and police must be prepared to insure that they do not create that impression in their community. Police must take responsibility for both their intent and their actions.

Police should be paid an amount that reflects our trust in the responsibilities that we invested in them. Officers should constantly have access to training in progressive, solution based enforcement and community relations.

4) Wages in Asheville are well below the state average and federal data shows pay for many jobs here remains stagnant despite the tourism boom. If elected, what specific steps would you pursue to help boost local wages?

Wages in Asheville are, much like the housing challenges we face, the result of national, even international forces and we must act locally, in every way that we can, to protect ourselves  from the effects of this widening wage gap.

First we must establish an attitude of the expectation of fair wages. We do this by paying fair wages at the city level, leading by example, as the city has already made every effort to do. We also must encourage businesses that wish to locate here, or who operate here already, to pay a fair wage by advertising their contribution and incentivizing when and where appropriate, with special focus on local, small-scale business. Economic incentives should also be targeted at local businesses, not just at external corporate recruitment.

Collectivism should be encouraged in our work force by giving support to those who organize for higher wages. City politicians should not refrain from advocacy in this area. We know that when workers fare well, the entire local economy benefits.

Asheville City Schools need to perform at top notch standards and every effort must be made to graduate our students with the knowledge needed to go on into higher education or the skills to be career-ready.

The city should continue to push for a city-wide minimum wage, even in the face of objections from external political forces.

Residents should be encouraged to shop locally and to shop at fair wage businesses.

To the extent possible, the City should reduce the outsourcing of so much of its own needs, hiring locally whenever possible.

Food should be locally grown whenever and wherever possible. Pocket parks and City-owned land could be used for this purpose; the City should also provide the leadership for the private sector to follow in-kind.

5) The last city budget estimated the total cost of the city’s infrastructure needs at around $400 million. What steps would you encourage to address this problem, what funding sources would you use and what would the top priorities be?

Asheville’s infrastructure needs are one of our most apparent and glaring challenges. Today’s residents are paying the price of years of neglect and inaction. As we look at just one element, such as the lack of sidewalks and the shape of the sidewalks that we have, it can appear to be an insurmountable problem. However, it is a challenge we must address.

Funding must be pursued in the usual ways of seeking State and Federal transportation and community development grants at all opportunities, but projects must be in Asheville’s best interests and within the shared Asheville vision of neighborhood improvements and quality growth and development.

The City of Asheville must find a way to direct tourist tax dollars into the City’s budget. The case for amending the current structure of tourist taxes going to the Tourism Development Authority for further advertising of our city, as they are currently being done, must be made and this unsupportable situation must be resolved. That the City is not able to improve its condition with a greater share of tourist tax dollars is an irony beyond belief.

The City must continue to pressure the NCGA through the League of Municipalities and other avenues to adjust tax policy in ways that reflect the real needs of our urban areas. A strong relationship with Buncombe County must exist and help with mutually beneficial projects, such as public transportation needs, parking and public park and recreation areas should be requested and found.

Above all, the City must spend the money that it has with great care. Tax dollars should not be wasted on mismanaged or over-priced projects, or for consultants to study areas that are self-evident. Dollars need to be spent on solid infrastructure improvements that have lasting value instead of on gray paint and gravel pits.

Yes/No questions

These questions are about specific proposals Council has or may consider, and how you would vote on them. The first word of each answer must be Yes or No. An explanation of one’s position — or an alternative proposal — may follow.

1) A majority of Asheville City Council recently approved increased fines and enforcement to strengthen the ban on short-term rentals (i.e. Airbnb and similar sites) in most areas of the city. Do you support this move?

No, I believe the enforcement costs outweigh the benefits, and eliminate income opportunities for many local residents that keep Asheville affordable for them and their families.  Such a move also strengthens the monopoly of the corporate hotel industry. I support a regulatory system that provides strict oversight (e.g. inspections, registration), revenue to the City, and ensures that out-of-town investors are kept out of the market. There is no evidence of the ruination of neighborhoods caused by the existence of short term rentals, despite the fact that they are already operating, even without oversight. The STR study commissioned by the City cited no evidence of STR’s negatively impacting the long term rental market.

2) City staff recently proposed a detailed plan to restrict busking in downtown in three major spots, with specific rules on the numbers of performers and the amount of space they can occupy. Do you support this proposal?

No, this proposal seems to ignore the artistic value that buskers contribute to the downtown sector as well as the economics and entrepreneurial essence of the activity. If there are noise or other complaints relative to violations of ordinances, there is an enforcement system already in place to solve these problems.

3) Do you support a $12.50 minimum wage for all city of Asheville employees, regardless of classification or status?

Yes, with the only exception being high school students working seasonally while on summer break.

4) Will you approve city funds to support the proposal, backed by the city-county African-American Heritage Commission, for a monument on Pack Square marking the contributions and history of Asheville’s black citizens?

Yes, once funds are guaranteed for minimum wage hikes and desperately needed infrastructure improvements.

5) This year’s city budget included a property tax increase, with a majority of the current Council claiming this was necessary due to revenue changes at the state level. Do you support that increase?

No, I would have voted for the garbage fee increase but not the tax increase. Garbage collection is a core service; the tax increase is for discretionary spending in the General Fund. I would have allocated existing tax dollars differently than this Council – for infrastructure and transit upgrades including sidewalks, roads, and extended bus schedules and routes. To shift spending, I would reduce economic development investments in tourism and contracted consultants. The US Cellular Center is also requiring an increasingly larger subsidy than should be needed.  I would recommend increasing fees such as admissions and classes. With budget as policy, I believe we should invest in infrastructure for citizens before we focus on any more commercial growth or development.