Asheville’s Southside neighborhood is believed to have the highest unemployment rate in the city. Another effort to reverse that is getting underway at a church in that community.
‘Urban Renewal’ was a push by governments at all levels during the middle part of the last century to ‘revitalize’ parts of cities considered to be in decay. For Asheville’s Southside neighborhood, urban renewal arrived about 50 years ago – and it’s still felt today according to Reverend James Grant, the pastor of the Worldwide Baptist Tabernacle Church on Choctaw Street. The church has stood for 58 years, founded by Reverend Grant’s father Wesley. It’s stood witness to the long economic decline of this historically African-American neighborhood, which Reverend Grant traces to the way urban renewal irrevocably changed the neighborhood. “Daddy said they took 11-hundred homes, 155 business, five funeral homes, and five or six service stations and displaced them”, says Reverend Grant.
Reversing an economic trend 50 years in the making doesn’t happen overnight. Dee Williams of United Community Development, a non-profit that serves the Southside, conservatively estimates the unemployment rate there is triple that of the overall national rate (which was 4.1% in November of last year). Williams is the project manager for a new job training program that will operate out of the Worldwide Baptist Tabernacle’s basement. It will focus on teaching masonry and home weatherization – jobs Williams says are the future in construction. “Masonry involves three trades – like brick, block, and cement", according to Williams. "And we know we have great infrastructure that’s involved with that – highways, foundations, that sort of thing that are universally used. We also know that we will have to become more sustainable. Green infrastructure is pretty cutting edge, as well as weatherization to lower people’s energy costs.”
But Williams is quick to add more than job training will be needed to reverse the Southside’s high unemployment rate. This is just a part of the solution.