Only 9% of registered Durham residents voted in the last election, and participation is crucial to empower government to work for our whole community. Vote on Tuesday, November 5th, and see below our endorsement of Durham’s Housing Bond Referendum and information on the candidates including their responses to the Herald-Sun on many of our interconnected issue priorities: economic development, workforce development, education, health, transportation, housing, community safety, and sustainability.
The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce supports this fall’s affordable housing bond. In service to our members and community, we advocate for initiatives that foster our innovative business environment and create opportunities for Durham and its residents to thrive and grow. Availability of affordable housing throughout the community is important to our employers, workforce, and families, and the proposed bond will advance positive redevelopments to ensure equity and inclusion downtown and beyond. This bond and other initiatives to maintain diverse housing options in and around downtown Durham will complement continued growth in jobs and commercial spaces to make our whole community and region even more vibrant and successful for all.
MAYOR (You may vote for ONE)
Steve Schewel (incumbent)
CITY COUNCIL AT-LARGE (You may vote for THREE)
Javiera Caballero (incumbent)
Jillian Johnson (incumbent)
Charlie Reece (incumbent)
- Would you support increasing the number of officers in the Durham Police Department?
SCHEWEL: Yes. I proposed a compromise measure to add nine new officers, but it did not get a majority of council support. We have budgeted for 550 uniformed police officers, a large force and right in line with cities our size. However, Chief Davis asked for more officers to reduce overtime policing, and I support that. I also support our work against the root causes of violence, and I support common-sense gun control measures.
WILLIAMS: Yes. The homicide rate doubled in June of this year from last year. To consider it an anomaly, as was reported that one city councilman stated, is disrespectful to the parents and loved ones who lost someone due to homicide. The initial request for 72 additional police officers would address the nearly $900,000 a year in overtime pay as stated by the chief of police in her request for additional officers. It would also give every citizen in Durham the feeling of greater safety in the city.
CABALLERO: No, not at this time. I would support increasing the number of officers to ensure our response times continue to meet the Police Department’s targets as well as our clearance rates.
GUNN: I would, in the short term support the recommendation of Chief Davis for the additional officers that she needs. Our city is growing by 13 people per day, and we need to ensure all of our agencies are properly resourced, specifically those tasked with keeping us safe. This will also cut down on overtime expenses and overworked officers. I also support the funding and creation of a community safety task force, and necessary measures to evolve our overall community safety strategy.
JOHNSON: No. I will support increasing the number of officers in the DPD when it’s clear that more officers are needed to respond to calls in a timely manner, investigate incidents, or perform other critical functions. As we already have more officers per capita than most cities our size and calls for service are on the decline, I’m hopeful that more officers won’t be needed for at least a few more years.
MEIER: Yes. We have a nationally recognized chief of police, we should trust her when she says she needs more resources to keep us safe. In addition, Durham is growing 13-20 people every day, we need to increase the number of officers just to keep up. The chief requested 72, there was an attempted compromise at 18 and nine, she ended up with zero. We have to trust the professionals we hire, and we need to make sure we adequately fund public safety.
REECE: No, not at this time. Our ratio of patrol officers to population is slightly above the national average for cities our size, and our officers are currently responding to fewer urgent calls than they did last year. Moreover, they’re responding to those calls more quickly than they did last year. These data show that our Police Department is doing a good job meeting the challenge posed by this year’s small increase in crime.
WAGSTAFF: Yes. I believe the recent council vote was a one-sided decision that did not incorporate the voices of people affected by gun violence especially the black mothers that are burying their young children at an alarming rate.
- Is the city doing all it can to reduce gun violence?
SCHEWEL: We are doing a tremendous amount, but we can do more. We have increased police pay to be able to hire the best officers and retain them in Durham, and we have an extremely capable and well led police force. Most of the violence is caused by a relatively small number of people, and I support the focused deterrence strategy of Chief Davis and Sheriff Birkhead to stop those individuals from causing this violence.
WILLIAMS: No. It is not a coincidence that 90% of homicides in Durham are committed by blacks with a gun. What is overlooked is that approximately 48% of the people living in poverty are black. Instead of handicapping a group through redlining, disproportionately expelling or suspending them from the public school system or destroying their neighborhoods through road building, as Durham has done, every group should be treated equally. As a pastor and follower of Christ Jesus the Son of the Living God I have seen positive results from treating everyone equally in the reduction of crime.
CABALLERO: No. Our Police Department increases its patrols in areas where there has been increased gun violence, and that is a good short-term strategy. We must continue to focus police resources on reducing violent crime. Longer term, we must think about community safety beyond law-enforcement and commit to funding strategies that will help us deal with the root causes of violence — poverty and trauma. We must also demand change at the state and federal level to enact comprehensive gun reforms — we need less access to guns in our communities.
GUNN: We are experiencing a crisis of violent crime in our city. While our leaders are doing their very best, I don’t think we are doing all we can to reduce the crime. We need to better resource our law enforcement professionals, and ensure they have the technology they need to respond to this rise in gun violence. We also need to focus on community measures, including safety task forces and trainings, and re-engage our neighborhoods so that we can all work together to address this issue.
JOHNSON: No. We could always do more. We should redouble lobbying efforts at the NC General Assembly for authority to enact strong gun laws and implement programs that facilitate intervention in situations that are likely to become violent. Community-based solutions like violence interrupters are effective at stopping cycles of retaliatory violence, preventing harm before it occurs. We should invest more in crime prevention, re-entry services, and meeting residents’ basic needs.
MEIER: No. The current City Council refused to give the chief even a fraction of the extra officers she felt she needed to adequately police Durham. In addition, there is a perception of anti-police bias on the City Council. We need more police for short-term security as the long-term criminal justice reforms/community investment take time to take root. In addition, gun crimes are different, we need to make it clear that we will have zero tolerance for gun crimes/violence.
REECE: No, and we can and must do more. We can’t enact common-sense gun safety legislation, but we can and should continue to fund more patrol resources in hot spots around the city on a short-term basis. And we have begun the process of working with communities hardest hit by violent crime to develop strategies they believe will increase safety in their neighborhoods. More affordable housing and more living-wage jobs will also help.
WAGSTAFF: No. Gun violence and homicides affect people, and until we start viewing gun violence as a people issue and not a numbers game we will continue talking about rising homicide rates and police mistrust instead of finding solutions. Economics is the No. 1 driving force in criminal behavior. If the city would focus on bringing middle-skill jobs to justice-involved, low-income, under-served and overlooked Durham residents people would be less likely to be involved in criminal behavior. We need solutions that engage the community and law enforcement in a positive partnership rather than the adversarial relationship that currently exists. The residents of Durham are our customers and our customers deserve better.
- Would you support extending the policies of Expanded Housing Choices to other areas of the city beyond the Urban Tier?
SCHEWEL: We need to first evaluate how Expanding Housing Choices operates in the Urban Tier. It is a new policy, and we will need to evaluate its success first.
WILLIAMS: Yes, if it includes everyone in poverty. I would support guaranteeing that those at the poverty level have adequate housing. Incentives built the downtown area at the expense of low-income surrounding areas as detailed by the Planning Commission. It is now time for the city of Durham to focus on the eradication of poverty in the city and address homelessness for those in poverty. Income inequality affects every society.
CABALLERO: Yes, and the current EHC text amendments did provide some changes beyond the Urban Tier. If broadening the types and variety of housing increases supply and helps with housing affordability across Durham, then I would support implementing those changes in our zoning regulations.
GUNN: As Durham continues to grow, and become less affordable for many of our residents, I believe multiple measures are necessary to address this issue. One measure is increasing the supply of affordable homes throughout the city, which includes allowing for increased density beyond our Urban Tier. This is not the entire solution, but I do support this measure as a part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure Durham’s housing mix is diverse and affordable.
JOHNSON: Yes. Many provisions of Expanding Housing Choices already apply beyond the urban tier including the ability to build larger ADU’s by right and build denser housing in cluster and conservation subdivisions. I believe it would be reasonable to allow smaller homes on smaller lots and duplexes to be built in any residential zoning district in the city.
MEIER: Yes. I think EHCs are beneficial not only to combat gentrification but also to increase density overall, which is a better use of land and better for the environment. I know some neighborhoods will not want it, so they can establish HOAs if they want more control, which come with their own benefits and drawbacks. However, I believe that increased density is a good thing, and a way to help give landowners options other than eviction and gentrification.
REECE: Yes, though to be fair some of the Expanded Housing Choices text amendments already apply citywide. While I support broader applicability for the EHC provisions that make more diverse housing choices possible, I deferred to our staff’s judgment that limiting some of those provisions to the urban tier was the right path forward at this time.
WAGSTAFF: Maybe. EHC is not aggressive enough and will not address affordability with the under-served and overlooked populations that don’t live downtown who are experiencing gentrification and that are at risk for homelessness and displacement. EHC should be included in the comprehensive plan next year for more thorough vetting. Because currently, EHC makes it easier for wealthy homeowners and developers to make more money. Ultimately it doesn’t address our need for more affordable housing and will probably increase gentrification.
- Are additional revenue measures needed beyond the proposed bond to help the city address affordable housing?
SCHEWEL: No, not at this time. It is critical to the future of our city that we pass the affordable housing bond. That will complement the resources we already have in hand, including federal funding, to allow us to reduce homelessness, increase home-ownership, add and preserve thousands of units of affordable housing, and keep our beloved city affordable and diverse. The bond will provide enough resources to do what we need now.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Along with tapping the fund balance for an additional $4 million for street resurfacing the city could use the fund balance to address affordable housing without raising taxes from the issuance of a bond. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2018, the City’s Unassigned Fund Balance was 28.3% ($51.1 million) even though the target level was 16.7%. The target rate of 16.7% there could have been an additional $20 million for affordable housing.
CABALLERO: Yes, but our first priority needs to be implementing our five-year housing plan, which is only possible if we pass the affordable housing bond. The affordable housing work the bond will allow us to accomplish is crucial if we want our city to remain a diverse place where all of us can can thrive not just the affluent.
GUNN: Additional revenue measures are certainly needed to address many of the city’s issues, including affordable housing. The bond is placing a big part of the burden on individual taxpayers. I believe we need to focus on growing Durham’s economy, which will not only create jobs, but new businesses also generate much greater tax revenue; this revenue can be used to solve these problems without placing all of the burden on Durham’s taxpayers.
JOHNSON: No. The bond, along with other measures, will be enough funding for the next five years. The housing plan also includes federal funding, as well as funds from the dedicated housing fund and general fund. It relies on robust private-sector participation through debt financing and tax credits. We need to continue to provide regular city funding and leverage federal and private dollars to address our housing needs.
MEIER: This question presupposes we are on board with the proposed bond, and I’m not there yet. We need to look at/address affordable housing, but I’m not sure the bond, which focusing on downtown and delays addressing the deferred maintenance of our existing public housing for another five years, is the solution. I feel that we are being rushed into this decision, and aren’t being given enough specifics. Rather than rush into a proposal right before an election, and say “you must support this,” I think we need to take a step back and let the new City Council look at the issue, and if they determine we need the bond, or more revenues, they can propose it. The current bond just feels rushed. I support addressing affordable housing, but I need to sit down and talk with everyone before I can say we need to keep raising taxes for it.
REECE: No, not at this time. The $95 million housing bond is just one of the revenue sources for the city’s proposed $160 million five-year spending plan for the city’s affordable housing work through 2024. This is an incredibly ambitious plan that deserves our support! Let’s pass the bond and start implementing this great plan before we start thinking about the need for additional revenue after 2024.
WAGSTAFF: Yes. Instead of the bond, the city needs to devote more attention, energy, and funding to affordable housing. Continually borrowing money on the backs of residents is not the right way. Bonds increase property taxes and inevitably fees for city services, overlooked and under-served residents like seniors, underemployed, youth, low wage workers cannot afford this. We need a more equitable solution that brings some creative thought to this issue. Other communities in the country use a tax policy called Tax Increment Financing to fund affordable housing and curb gentrification.
- Do you support additional city funding to reduce evictions?
SCHEWEL: Because Durham has an enormously high eviction rate of 500 per month, the city council voted to increase our funding of eviction diversion from $200,000 yearly to up to $500,000 yearly, which is the right amount at this time. This funding is dependent on the eviction diversion program demonstrating that it is working as it is intended. It will be evaluated for that before the new funding is forthcoming. I strongly support this program.
CABALLERO: Yes, and we increased funding for eviction diversion in this past budget cycle. Eviction diversion is a really effective way of dealing with our affordable housing crisis because it keeps people in their homes, which is a much cheaper option than many of our other strategies.
GUNN: Yes, as stated above, addressing Durham’s current fragmented economic development strategy will increase revenue for the city, which can be used to reduce evictions. It is also worth stating, that refocusing our efforts on creating jobs, and job training will also reduce evictions through greater access to opportunity for all people to provide for themselves and their families.
JOHNSON: Yes. It is incredibly cost-effective to keep people in their homes by providing lawyers to help them fight unfair evictions. I support the current proposal to fund eviction diversion at $500,000 a year for the remaining years of the affordable housing plan.
MEIER: Yes. Right now, Durham Housing Authority leads the state in evictions. That’s a problem. If Raleigh, Charlotte, and others can come up with alternatives, so can Durham. We need to make sure that any affordable housing solutions (be it the bond, or other options) help focus on this issue. We need to stop leading the state in evictions, whether that is increased funding, or just changing the eviction criteria.
REECE: Yes, and I voted for it in the current budget. One of the most important things you can do to prevent a low-income tenant from getting evicted when they’re received an eviction filing is to hire them a lawyer, and this is what the city is doing through our eviction diversion funding. I look forward to seeing city support for this critical work reach $500,000 a year in our next budget.
WAGSTAFF: Yes. The city and county should provide more incentives for landlords and discourage evictions for Durham’s overlooked and under-served residents like seniors, underemployed, youth, low wage workers who are increasingly being priced out of Durham.
- Would you support a tax increase to help Durham fight climate change by reducing the city’s carbon footprint?
SCHEWEL: I strongly support expanding our work to fight climate change as indicated by the city’s new Sustainability Roadmap and our goals to become a carbon-neutral city. But I am not ready to commit to a tax increase for this. We have an expanding tax base, and we would want to look at funding any sustainability work first out of existing revenues. We should always look at existing revenues first before considering any tax increase.
WILLIAMS: No. Redlining, as reported to the City Council, reduced tree cover in black, poorer parts of the city. Trees play a vital role in the balancing of CO2 and oxygen levels. Deforestation causes more CO2 to be released into the atmosphere. A study by UNC-Chapel Hill shows that the same redlined areas are being gentrified. Is the tree cover intended to benefit the new home owners while neglecting the poorer citizens?
CABALLERO: Yes. If a tax increase is necessary to combat climate change I would support it. Climate change is one of the most serious issues we face as a city, country and world. Our General Services department is leading the work to create the city’s plan in order to meet our renewable energy and carbon neutrality goals.
GUNN: Durham residents are already paying increased taxes, some of those taxes are for the transit bond passed for light-rail. I do not support additional increases for this purpose, and believe that we need to focus on delivering a practical transit solution (bus rapid transit) with the revenue the city/county are already generating; which will decrease our carbon footprint through public transit and increase access to jobs, schools, and the services our residents need.
JOHNSON: Yes. I am hopeful that we will be able to implement climate initiatives with current staff and funding, or invest some of the revenue we will gain through growth into initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint. That said, climate change is an existential threat to all life on the planet and if additional revenue is needed to move us in the right direction, I would support a tax increase for it.
MEIER: I’m unclear exactly where this question is coming from. Climate change is a real problem in the United States, and the world, and we should all do what we can to help reduce our carbon footprint, but we shouldn’t just assume every solution requires a tax increase. I want to know what our footprint is, and what steps we can take to reduce it, and then decide if additional revenues are needed.
REECE: Yes, if that’s what’s necessary to meet the existential crisis of global climate change. Staff in our general services department is currently drafting a plan to implement the resolution unanimously passed by the city council earlier this year which set ambitious renewable energy goals for the city of Durham. We should do what is necessary to fund that plan on a timetable that will put the city on the path to meet our aggressive goals.
WAGSTAFF: No, I would not support a tax increase. However, I would support incentives to businesses, developers, and initiatives that reduce carbon footprint and move the city towards 100 percent renewable energy transportation model and other energy efficiency programs that can create sustainable jobs and housing.
- Is the city adequately considering and fostering equity in its decision making?
SCHEWEL: I can say with the strongest confidence that racial equity and economic justice are at the top of the city council’s agenda when considering any expenditure or program. Our Racial Equity Task Force, our Equitable Engagement Blueprint for capital projects, our focus on equitable hiring and contracting — all of these are indications of our deep commitment to equity in our work.
WILLIAMS: No. Many of the poorer citizens in Durham did not have access to electronic devices to vote for the participatory budget. The groups in Durham that were the most deserving received little attention from the $2.4 million dollars. As Mayor I would meet with the more deprived areas of the city to get their viewpoints, rather than hosting a meeting that most are not aware of.
CABALLERO: No, though we have made progress and I am excited about the direction we are heading, especially with the creation of our Equity and Inclusion Department. We are at the beginning of our efforts to create deep institutional changes that are necessary to serve all Durham residents, especially our residents who have often been left out of our decision-making processes.
GUNN: The city has made great strides in the cause of racial and gender equity, but more work is necessary. I do believe we lack another form of equity on City Council today; that is a diversity of perspective and thought. Our council is largely dominated by a “voting bloc” that only seeks to represent people that they agree with on every issue. Equity of representation is vital, but equity also means a place where all voices are valued in our democracy.
JOHNSON: No. The city has increased our focus on equity, but we’re at the very beginning of a very long process toward actually being an equitable institution. I believe that investments in our Office of Equity and Inclusion and implementing the recommendations of our Race Equity Task Force will help make significant progress toward our goals regarding equity.
REECE: No, but we’re making real progress toward centering racial equity in our decisions. The newly revamped Office of Equity and Inclusion will be driving that work within city government itself, and the recommendations of our Racial Equity Task Force will provide us with concrete steps the city can take to make Durham a more equitable community. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far but we have a long road ahead.
WAGSTAFF: No. Equity is not just terminology used to convince progressives it is a term about wealth. If the Ccity wanted to increase equity for black people there would be planned investments like middle-skill jobs, entrepreneurship, access to transportation, preservation of existing affordable housing stock, and homeownership with outreach that will ensure opportunities for Black people in and from Durham.
- Would you support additional revenue measures to help the city build more parks and provide recreational opportunities?
SCHEWEL: We need to continue to improve our system of parks and trails. We have an enormous recreational program in Durham serving thousands and thousands of people through our Parks and Recreation Department, and I support funding that wholeheartedly. I would support additional revenue measures only after first exhausting existing sources of revenue through our growing tax base. We should never raise taxes for any purpose without first looking at existing sources of revenue.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Access to recreational facilities in higher-crime areas in Durham needs to be addressed. Red Maple residents have approached me about building a recreational facility for the young people in the community.
CABALLERO: Yes, ensuring we have great parks and trails is essential for our community’s well being. I would support increasing our dedicated half Penny for Parks and Trails to a full penny. I would only support increased funding if there had been careful consideration of the financial impact on Durham residents and if staff’s recommendations had followed a process of equitable engagement.
GUNN: Yes. Parks, trails and greenspaces are a vital part of a comprehensive economic development strategy. These “placemaking” initiatives leverage increased revenue from businesses growth, instead of individual tax payers, to provide amenities to the community. I believe additional parks and recreational opportunities are also an essential health and public safety measure, and I would prioritize this as a part of my strategy.
JOHNSON: Yes. At some point in the next few years, I think it would be reasonable to dedicate another half penny to the Parks and Recreation Department for deferred maintenance on our parks facilities. Adequate social and recreational opportunities are critical for a healthy and involved community and help children and youth develop into engaged and productive citizens. These quality of life efforts can help us all live safer and healthier lives.
MEIER: Again, the question presupposes we need more revenues (increased taxes) to accomplish our goals. I’m not there yet. A large part of my platform is “community safety,” which includes more parks, recreational opportunities, and community investment, but I need to dig in and see where our budget is before I say we need to raise taxes as opposed to finding other alternatives for funding.
REECE: Yes, because parks and recreational activities are critically important to the quality of life of our residents. I’m especially eager to see full funding for our long-term aquatics plan. Our city staff has also done great work with the half penny for deferred park maintenance that’s part of our current property tax rate. If the administration feels the need to increase that due to the maintenance needs of our parks, I would support it.
WAGSTAFF: Yes. The City needs to continue its development of more green and recreational space for Durham’s communities of color overlooked and under-served residents like seniors, underemployed, youth and low wage workers.
- Would you support the repeal of the half-cent sales tax for transportation since the Durham-Orange light-rail project was halted?
SCHEWEL: No. This sales tax supports our local bus system which has 20,000 boardings per day and is crucial to the wellbeing of our community. Also, we need a regional public transit system if we are to avoid gridlock and keep the quality of life in Durham and the Triangle that we all cherish. We must create a regional transit system including bus rapid-transit and commuter rail for the good of our children and grandchildren.
WILLIAMS: Yes. I stated from the beginning that the light-rail was a boondoggle. Light rail is not profitable anywhere in this in this country nor would it be profitable in Durham. We have spent approximately $160 million and have nothing to show for the investment. Buses are more flexible and cost less.
CABALLERO: No, we are in the beginning phase of our next regional transit plan and we will need a dedicated funding source to implement that plan. We need a robust, well-funded mass transit system that will reduce our environmental impact and allow other options for connectivity beyond cars.
GUNN: In spite of the failed light-rail project, Durham still needs a practical solution for public transit. I would not support repealing the transit tax unless city leaders fail to deliver a solution. This solution is Bus Rapid Transit, a solution that can be built quickly, and at a much lower cost than light-rail. Raleigh and Chapel-Hill are already moving forward with BRT plans, and I will advocate for the same in Durham.
JOHNSON: No. The transit tax is for the development of a regional transit system, and the light rail was the proposed vehicle for that system. Even without light rail, we still need regional transit. I support dedicating this tax to creating a regional bus system and expanding our local bus system.
MEIER: No. I think we still have major transportation issues in Durham. Too many neighborhoods are not connected to the bus routes or other transportation solutions. I think we should use this revenue to make sure that we build a public transportation system in Durham that is both expansive and usable.
REECE: No, because the sales tax was approved to support Durham County’s transit needs and not just to fund light rail. The light rail project is no more, but the revenue from the half-cent sales tax will continue to support our local and regional transit systems. I am eager to see these tax revenues used to expand our local bus service and to create better connections between Durham’s transit system and those of our neighbors.
WAGSTAFF: Yes. The City needs to support all efforts that reduce the overtaxing of Durham’s residents especially seniors, underemployed, the disabled and low wage workers. All future taxes need to be applied equitably, and vetted thoroughly to identify any potential harm to any population. Durham residents need to see the benefits of their taxes (investments) quickly.