Housing Secretary Ben Carson visits Spartanburg with Sen. Tim Scott to tour redevelopment programs

SPARTANBURG — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott brought Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to the Upstate on Monday to showcase community development initiatives, including an attempt to cure a “food desert.”

Scott and Carson started their day with a tour of the Northside Initiative, a series of public-private programs developed in an area once recognized for its lack of fresh fruit and vegetables for sale.

Neighborhood revitalization efforts in recent years included a new food hub — Harvest Park, with a farmer’s market, culinary job training program and cafe, where Scott and Carson received a brief tour.

Scott, R-S.C., said the visit would help federal policymakers “understand and appreciate that there are ways of improving the community without gentrification by making sure the community has an invested interest.”

Since taking over the department in March, Carson said he has been working to expand the emphasis beyond “just getting people under a roof” to broader human development.

“That means holistic communities, such as the one being developed here,” he said, describing education and childcare programs as a few key components.

Asked about the importance of encouraging more minority and female leaders, Scott pointed to Liberty Canzater, the founder of Spartanburg’s Butterfly Foundation that helps operate the job training programs at Monarch Cafe, as a role model.

Arguably the two most powerful black Republicans in Washington, Scott and Carson said the purpose of programs like these should be to create “organic growth opportunities” so that residents are inspired to stay in the area and help others.

“If we’re going to see the ‘American dream’ manifest in communities like the Northside project, you’re going to have to make sure that the business owners in that community have the responsibility and the opportunity to give back,” Scott said.

He cited his own experience as the owner of an insurance agency, where he said he often hired “folks who look like me, who I’d been in business with before or who I’d gone to school with.”

Later Monday, Scott and Carson toured the Drayton Mills Lofts, a 289-unit housing complex on the site of an abandoned textile mill built partly with funding from a multifamily housing loan.

They then visited Meeting Street Academy, a public-private elementary charter school venture for under-resourced children that includes an extended school day, community service programs and an on-site medical clinic.

Scott pointed to similar community programs in Richmond as another example of the efforts that can be replicated nationwide. He visited the Virginia capital over the weekend during a campaign swing for Republican Ed Gillespie ahead of Tuesday’s election for governor. 

“Ultimately what we see in the commonwealth is an opportunity for us to empower people through faith-based initiatives, through a focus on education, workforce investment and finding ways to create more entrepreneurs,” Scott said.