Asheville City Council candidate guide — Lindsey Simerly

by David Forbes September 27, 2015

Name: Lindsey Simerly

Profession: Manager at Campaign for Southern Equality

In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: Democrat

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I’ve been fighting for working people while experiencing what it means to work full time and still struggle to make rent, fighting for full LGBT equality while knowing firsthand what discrimination feels like, and we need a voice for workers and marginalized people on City Council.

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?

We’re in an affordable housing crisis and general housing shortage. I serve as the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee’s Chair and am running for City Council because I believe that we must create more opportunities for working people to live here. I was once homeless and worked service and labor jobs for years, and, like many in Asheville, I often found myself unable to meet my basic needs. That was the spark that got me interested in local politics. We have policy options to solve this problem and increase opportunity and affordability for everyone.

Here are the steps we need to take:

Increase funding to our Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which lends to builders creating affordable housing

Increase housing density citywide

Mandate that all new housing developments include truly affordable housing

Improve density bonus policies to encourage more places to live on our major transportation corridors

Waive fees and offer rebates for high levels of affordability

Increase the amount of land available for affordable housing by using current city owned land and purchasing land in areas that will be the most likely to receive state and federal tax credit financing.

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?

Asheville’s history includes a lot of policies that were based in racism. It is important to acknowledge that fact. It’s up to City Council and staff to work collaboratively with our African-American communities and make decisions based on equity and fairness to create opportunity and begin to right the wrongs of our past.

We do this by building trust and prioritizing our African American neighborhoods.

Including residents every step of the way, we can partner with the Housing Authority to revitalize Lee Walker Heights – guaranteeing every family there a safe, affordable home.

Collaborating with Livingston, Southside, and Erskine-Walton neighbors, we can replace the Walton Street Pool as part of a broad process of neighborhood reinvestment.

Using the Shiloh Neighborhood Plan and the Burton Street Community Plan as templates to guide city efforts in those neighborhoods, we can be partners in good faith.

Partnering with the African American Heritage Committee, Buncombe County, UNC-Asheville, and other community institutions to build a monument at Pack Square commemorating the contributions and the history of African Americans in Asheville and Buncombe County.

We do it by building opportunity for young people and entrepreneurs.

Funding more Pre-K, afterschool and summer education programs to address the achievement gap.

Connecting African American neighborhoods to schools, parks, and jobs with sidewalks, bike lanes, greenways, and transit.

Supporting job training and community building through Green Opportunities at the Edington Center.

Partnering with Mountain Bizworks and other programs to provide training and loans to African-American owned businesses.

We do it by making sure people are safe.

Continuing the Asheville Police Department’s Public Housing Unit

Implementing the use of body cameras by the APD

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?

Our police force and the communities they protect and serve need to build trust through experience and accountability. Newly installed Chief Tammy Hooper is beginning her service to Asheville in the right way – by showing up to collaborate with the community, by including command staff and line officers in her decision making, and by committing to putting the evidence room in order.

As I stated above, implementing the use of body cameras and continuing a proactive policing style can help to build relationships and build trust.

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?

We don’t have the legal power to do much as a city, but we have the ability to advocate and partner. The state legislature sets the minimum wage, and the legislature undid the City’s commitment to pay a living wage to all contract employees. That means the reality is that the City can’t control the minimum wage for people it does not directly employ–though it tried.

But the City is a role model in two ways: for paying a living wage to all its employees (including part time and seasonal) and for updating the City’s incentives packages to require living wage jobs of all employers that get incentives. I support both of those decisions and look forward to living wage employers taking note that we value their commitment to providing living wage jobs.

Now the City can also authentically advocate living wage jobs to the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, the Chamber, Downtown Association, West Asheville Business Association, Council of Independent Business Owners–all business organizations and individual businesses that operate in Asheville. Asheville can also be a living wage advocate to other cities and counties in all their interactions.

Consistent, firm advocacy on behalf of all working people will promote a culture of living wage jobs. I ask for more Asheville employers to step up and pay living wages, and then we can take our success stories to other communities and build greater momentum for a statewide increase of the minimum wage to a living wage.

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?

Priorities are what it’s all about. We don’t currently have all of the resources we need to fulfill all of the needs at once, so we have to strategically invest.

As to top priorities, here are three: I would begin by increasing funding for our Affordable Housing Trust Fund and other affordable housing needs. Next in line is our transportation network – sidewalks, bike lanes, transit, roads. Third is our city parks, beginning with overdue maintenance and replacing the long neglected Walton Street pool.

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?


The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee spent a lot of time with this question, so, as the Chair, I have studied it at length. Asheville needs more places for her residents to live, not more places for tourists to stay. We’re in a housing shortage and affordable housing crisis. Taking potential rental apartments and houses off the market for locals to sell to tourists will only make that problem worse. I support Homestays, where the visitor is under the same roof with the homeowner (or renter) who lives here. This will allow local individuals and families to earn extra income from tourists to help pay their mortgages without denying housing to fellow Asheville residents.

I live in a neighborhood in East Asheville with my fiancee and my daughter. We just bought our first house together, and I look at this issue from a neighborhood perspective as well. Whether you’re in an apartment building or a neighborhood of single family homes, you want to know your neighbors and know that they care about building community and being a good neighbor. Tourists are intentionally here short-term and their goal is to enjoy themselves. Nobody wants to see any part of Asheville look like so many tourist towns, where folks don’t know their neighbors, houses have different occupants every week, and entire neighborhoods have no residents at all–just different tourists trading places every few days, until the houses stand empty during the “off” seasons.

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?


I’d like to see the APD, Public Safety Committee, Asheville Buskers Collective, Asheville Downtown Association, and DARN come together for a more thorough examination of the options. We need a policy that successfully encourages the following: maintaining downtown vibrancy, maintaining space for street life, accommodating people using the sidewalks, and minimizing enforcement duties for our police officers. We haven’t accomplished that.

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


I strongly support paying all of our city employees a living wage. It’s the right thing to do, and we must lead by example. I support paying all non-insured employees a minimum of $12.50 an hour and all insured employees a minimum of $11 an hour. These are the living wage standards as advocated by Just Economics. This will remain an important budgetary consideration and priority for me every year.

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?


I agree with Sasha Mitchell, Chair of the African-American Heritage Commission, when she says, “Communities tell the world what they value and what parts of their history matter by what they display with public monuments.”

“In the past, obviously, communities were deciding what was important, and it was white people in power. All the black people around were marginalized, but that’s different now and Asheville’s monuments should reflect that,” she said.

The area where the Vance Monument stands has a history steeped in slavery. It is the place where slaves were sold. It is the place where slaves were publicly punished. While putting a monument there to mark the significant contributions of our African-American community will not solve the problems of the past, nor fix the problems of today, this is a symbol that matters. I support a monument that tells the world that African Americans are deeply valued by our community.

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?


Asheville and every other city in North Carolina is under attack from the NC State Legislature. They are cutting city revenues and forcing local government to choose between raising taxes and cutting core services like police, fire, road repairs, sidewalks, transit, and parks. With that kind of difficult choice, I do not support cutting core services. In stark contrast to the ruling party in Raleigh, I believe that government’s role is important and should be adequately funded to meet the needs of our citizens.

I support compensating our police, firefighters, and hardworking city staff appropriately, and that includes our temporary and seasonal workers. Asheville must remain a living wage city, and it’s important for government to lead the way. We must continue to develop more affordable housing. We must continue to build out our transportation network. Asheville should be a city of opportunity for all.