Students Examine Affordable Housing in Asheville, Past and Present, in “Facing Project”

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Photos of Asheville Urban Renewal Project

Over the past two semesters UNC Asheville has been one of five colleges and universities in North Carolina to carry out a “Facing Project,” examining a community issue through the collection and sharing of individual stories. For senior JaNesha Slaughter, who coordinated UNC Asheville’s “Facing Project,” this was the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at one of Asheville’s most pressing issues: affordable housing.

“When we have a 1 percent vacancy rate and three people moving here every day, there’s going to be a problem,” Slaughter said. It’s a problem that disproportionately affects African-Americans in the community, and has historically led to the destruction of African-American neighborhoods, Slaughter explained. Urban renewal projects in Asheville in the 1950s-1970s displaced several vibrant black communities, like the one at the city’s East End. The effect of that displacement is still felt in Asheville.

Asheville’s East End became the focus of one “Facing Project” interview between UNC Asheville freshman Leah Fagan and photojournalist Andrea Clark, who agreed to share her story for the “Facing Project.” Clark is the photographer and author of Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville’s East End, in which Clark chronicled the daily life of the Asheville neighborhood before and after the impact of urban renewal there.  

“She’s very honest; she wasn’t really sugar coating anything,” Fagan said. “That was an interesting experience to see her stand in her truth, regardless of how it comes off.”

Through their interview Fagan learned about Clark’s grandfather, who was a contractor in Asheville. “He built a lot of what could be considered landmarks in Asheville: a police station, a church, and he participated a lot in the community,” Fagan said. “He didn’t really get any recognition for that.”

Carrie Bergstedt, Leah Fagan, Alayna Graves, Audrey Thomas, Tatiana Miller, Hope Cary, Patrick Bahls, Not pictured: Caroline Gadsby and Ruth Svetlov. Fagan transformed her interview with Clark into a first-person narrative, striving to keep her creative work as honest to Clark’s interview as possible. That narrative, along with the other narratives collected and crafted for the “Facing Project,” will in turn be performed as monologues in a special performance and discussion event held at the YMI Cultural Center.

“It was very illuminating as to Asheville and some of its shadows,” Fagan said. “It’s an experience I never would have had in Asheville given the color of my skin, which is really valuable, and I hope it’s a message that strikes other people of privilege or other people of circumstances that wouldn’t give them so much plight.”

UNC Asheville’s "Facing Project: Facing Unaffordable and Inequitable Housing in Asheville," a performance and discussion, will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 13 at the YMI Cultural Center at 39 S. Market Street in downtown Asheville. For more information on this free event, see the press release.

Feature photo credit: HACA Records,  Ramsey Library Special Collections