Dear Haywood St. Community and wider Asheville,
Jesus didn’t perform the greatest miracle in John’s Gospel. Although he called his dear friend back to life, provoked his selfless crucifixion by threatening Imperial Rome, and modeled the human vulnerability of God by weeping openly, the greatest miracle is what Jesus didn’t do.
After arriving at the tomb of Lazarus and drying his bloodshot eyes, Jesus, rather than handling it himself, turns to Mary and Martha. You, he says, “unbind him and let him go” (11:44). Assuming they have a primary role, that heavenly miracles often require earthly participants, Jesus empowers them to drag Lazarus back into mortality. The women discard the burial clothes shrouding his body and rip off the bandages obscuring his vision until the dead man rouses, alive enough to stumble out of his catacomb into the light.
Following the sisters’ example, we believe that an act is most inspired when it hastens someone else’s liberation. Last November, Haywood Street Community Development (HSCD) announced our proposal for a 42-unit, deeply affordable, multi-family building on Asheland Avenue, a vision for housing to free some of our most vulnerable siblings from the crypt of poverty. Throughout the subsequent season of neighborhood engagement, a slow process of listening to lament, we heard firsthand about the devastating effects of urban renewal in the downtown corridor, the redlining that destroyed once-thriving black communities, and the systemic biases legislated into our Country’s housing policy.
Exploring possible collaborations with black and brown-led groups, we became curious about how to atone for America’s Original Sin, racism, while also addressing the desperate need for deeply affordable housing on the same site. Despite innumerable attempts, we cannot reconcile, at this time, a Christian way forward. Refusing to pit one oppressed group against another, HSCD is no longer pursuing a development on Asheland Avenue. What was a holy pause of discernment has now become a complete step back, an internal pivot that began months ago. Instead of officially withdrawing our plan, we are deferring.
To those who have been thwarted financially and traumatized emotionally by white supremacy, especially Southside residents, your pain has informed our response. The decision- add the Asheland Avenue property to the moratorium, sell and fund the reparations initiative, return the land to the original homeowners- should be yours. And, at the end of your deliberation, if our vision further aligns with the cause of justice, then we’ll be ready to take our drawings off the shelf.
Until then, our charge to build deeply affordable housing remains. To all the sister non-profits, supportive churches, engaged citizens, anti-racist collaborators, community activists, and leaders of color who offered private words and public letters of endorsement, thank you. Your witness has been sustaining.
As we dedicate ourselves to what’s next, including vetting another location, we will continue to search the graveyard for murmurs of life, ready to roll away the stone, convinced that people walk out of the cemetery every day.
Rev. Brian Combs