We Can Address the Housing Crisis

Photo by Gary Knight

Over the past month I have attended two Community Conversations regarding evictions in general and at properties on Garner Rd and Poole Rd specifically. These meetings have been well attended by County and City of Raleigh elected officials and staff as well as elected officials from surrounding communities. For example, at last night’s meeting we learned about a trailer park in Wake Forest where residents – many who own their “mobile” homes – are facing eviction because the owner of the land wants to redevelop the property.

The problems that many are facing are intractable under current state law. Five years ago and even a year ago, people were living in relative security. Now many are facing eviction with nowhere to go – particularly in Wake County.

Moving to another county is problematic. Many people do have jobs locally. However, those jobs don’t pay well enough to pay a mortgage or substantially higher rents in Raleigh or Wake. And leaving a job to relocate to rural North Carolina is difficult if not impossible.

Some will argue that we need to build more faster. However, construction is already happening at an unprecedented pace. In Raleigh alone, we have rezoned enough property in the last five years to allow 65,000 new units. However, only a fraction are in the pipeline to be built despite all the construction activity. Moreover, what is in the pipeline is not affordable.

What will happen to people? The Raleigh Housing Authority says there are thousands on their waiting list for affordable housing. Some non-profits that provide emergency housing have waitlists in the hundreds.

At our last Council meeting we changed zoning to allow construction of so-called missing middle housing. I voted against the change because I am concerned that it will worsen the current situation by encouraging more evictions to make way for more market rate property that those being evicted will not be able to afford. The change in zoning for missing middle provided no safeguards to protect existing affordable housing or to encourage new affordable housing. As Ken Bowers from the City’s Planning Department acknowledged, the intent of the zoning change was to allow more types of housing in desirable neighborhoods and does not address our affordable housing crisis.

Changes to state law are needed. One change would be to require the inclusion of affordable housing with the construction of large rental properties. We need to have a discussion about this. Every project that will bring 50 or more units should be required to provide at least 5 units that are affordable (in other words, 10%). This seems like a prudent and reasonable approach.

There are other changes that could also happen. For example, find alternatives like insurance to offset or replace deposits on apartments. Insist that tenants can use vouchers for rent payments. Ensure that background checks are reasonable in the kinds of information that can be obtained and for how far back in time they can be conducted. We should try to remove barriers to housing.

We should have a conversation about these and other ideas and look to State leaders for changes. Without changes at the State level we maintain a status quo that will lead to more evictions and hardship for many in obtaining a place to live in Raleigh and in Wake County.

TC-5-20 and the Elimination of Single Family Zoning

TC-5-20 is a Trojan horse that promises affordability but offers zero protections for existing affordability or guarantees of future affordability. Instead of affordability, TC-5-20 will, instead, guarantee the sprawl of high priced density that will lead to more stress on infrastructure, traffic congestion, gentrification, evictions, and loss of existing affordability.

I have discussed TC-5-20 with numerous people including Bob Mulder here tonight, a long-time Raleigh realtor and past Chairman of the Raleigh Planning Commission. Bob lives in the Brentwood neighborhood and is very familiar with the housing market in Brentwood and similar neighborhoods where there is naturally occurring affordable housing but are at risk of gentrification and dislocation. I agree with Bob and others that TC-5-20 will lead to market rate, significantly higher priced housing in older neighborhoods such as Brentwood where property is currently less expensive and affordable.

In April the Fayetteville Observer reported on the state legislature’s similar attempt to eliminate single family zoning noting that doing so will lead to greater density but not to affordable housing. The Observer quoted Scott Mooneyham of the North Carolina League of Municipalities representing 500 North Carolina municipalities saying “We think it’s basically an attempt to undermine local control and local decision-making in the guise of an affordable housing bill.”

Mooneyham pointed out that the bills in the legislature are backed by the North Carolina Home Builders Association that represents developers who in the last campaign cycle made significant donations to multiple sponsors of the proposed state legislation.

From the same article, a retired nurse, Norma Baynes, sees the proposed legislation as an existential threat to her community of Shiloh, a historically Black neighborhood of single-family homes in south Asheville. Knowing development had contributed to the displacement or destruction of Black communities in the past, Baynes, who serves as president of the Shiloh Community Association, resists any steps that might alter one of Asheville’s oldest communities.

Indeed, TC-5-20 will similarly encourage more tear downs in neighborhoods that are home to people of color leading to more and not less evictions and displacements. Seniors on fixed incomes and those without the financial resources simply will not be able to afford to live there as property values rapidly inflate.

Highlighting that legislation like TC-5-20 specifically targets older, low income neighborhoods and people of color, the state bill that is sponsored by the HBA exempts neighborhoods with home owners associations. Thus, while developers would get to gentrify older neighborhoods where people of color live, newer, wealthy neighborhoods would effectively be untouched. TC-5-20 discriminates in exactly the same manner as the proposed state legislation.

But, you don’t need an HOA to achieve discrimination. Wealthy neighborhoods without HOA protections will be untouched. The idea that developers will replace a duplex inside the beltline with an affordable duplex simply does not consider that the cost of the property, the cost of removing it, the cost of building new, and the desirability of the area that will result in a product that is well out of reach of those in need of affordable housing.

What will really happen is that developers will buy property in existing affordable, low cost neighborhoods and will replace that housing with market rate units and ultimately will force out thousands of Raleigh’s citizens. If you think this will not happen, then ask the residents who are facing eviction as we speak on Garner and Poole roads to make way for denser, market rate housing. Eviction and displacement of poor people is real and it is happening today in Raleigh.

Make no mistake. TC-5-20 provides zero protections for affordable housing and, especially, zero protections for the people currently living in affordable housing. Instead, TC-5-20 is a boon for the Home Builders Association and the developers they represent. For them TC-5-20 is money in the bank. But for many of Raleigh’s citizens it is misguided legislation that will encourage and lead to accelerated gentrification, evictions, and dislocations.

Rather than pro-gentrification legislation such as TC-5-20, let’s have real change by insisting on affordable units and limiting what is required of tenants in terms of minimum income requirements, deposit requirements, background checks, and vouchers. Let’s not be afraid of poor people but recognize them as citizens who play vital roles and enrich our city.

City Council Seeks to Delay Election by More than a Year

Today the Raleigh City Attorney explained an important issue with holding the next municipal election in October. As required, every ten years when the census is conducted, the City redraws district boundaries to ensure that each district has as close as possible the same number of citizens. Normally the redrawing happens early in the year in time for the election. However, this year the census data won’t be released until late September making it impossible to redraw the district boundaries for an October election.

As a consequence, the City Attorney announced her intention to ask the legislature to delay the municipal election until November of 2022 – more than a year later.

After giving the options considerable thought, I decided that the best option should be to have the election coincide with the State primary which will most likely be held in March or possibly no later than May depending on when boundaries are redrawn for State and Federal elections. Here are my reasons:

I support asking the legislature to move the 2021 municipal election to coincide with the 2022 primary. When we were elected in 2019 the public assumed that they were electing us for a two year term. I think it is important to honor that contract as much as possible.

When election options were explained to us by the City Attorney, it seemed that the only options available to us were March or November of 2022. However, after reflecting on our options and considering our obligation to honor our two year terms, I am of the opinion that minimizing the delay in the 2021 election should be a priority. And it turns out, there is another option by asking the legislature to move the 2021 election to coincide with the 2022 primary. If the primary is moved because boundaries cannot be redrawn by March, then the city election would move as well.

In my view moving municipal elections to November of even years is also a goal worthy of further consideration possibly beginning with a 2024 election. However, to be clear, I do not, upon further reflection of our options, support moving the 2021 municipal election to November of 2022. Doing so would increase our terms by more than a year which is far beyond our social contract with the citizens of Raleigh.

Moreover, moving the election to November of 2022 fundamentally changes our elections from a runoff to a plurality – a change that I believe warrants further discussion.

Permanent Expansion of Outdoor Seating

To assist local downtown businesses during the COVID-19 crisis a plan was developed to allow the temporary expansion of outdoor seating into the public right-of-way. City Council approved the Outdoor Seating Temporary License program in June 2020. This program allowed businesses to extend dining along sidewalks, into on-street parking spaces, public plazas as well as into streets. The Outdoor Seating Temporary License program will last until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted by the State plus an additional 30-day grace period, at no cost to the applicant.

During the March 2nd City Council meeting, Mayor Baldwin asked staff to look into making the expansion of outdoor seating into the public right-of-way permanent.

Factors being considered by staff include the following:

– Are there places where permanent expansions would not be allowed due to safety concerns, undue burden on the surrounding area, or other reasons?

– Would the process exist for only certain types of businesses (i.e. bar/restaurant vs retail)

– How should the wishes of neighboring businesses and property owners be considered?

– How should the overall dimensions of the permanent expansion area be restricted?

– How would a permanent expansion impact special event road closures and event infrastructure?

– Will the designated spaces be used as public spaces, for private use only, or a hybrid model?

– What will be the cost to business owners and the City?

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance is leading a study with an independent consultant to better understand what downtown stakeholders want and need. That study includes examining permanent expanded outdoor seating and the results are expected in early June.

Equality for All

Pride Flags - TriPride

It is being widely reported that Asheville City Council is the eighth to pass an ordinance banning discrimination based on gender identity or expression, race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age or disability. The ordinance passed unanimously and will take effect July 1.

I find that the overwhelming majority of Raleigh residents would like to see Raleigh City Council do the same. Let us on Council join together and ask the City Attorney to immediately draft a city ordinance that offers similar or same protections that are now offered in eight other municipalities in North Carolina.

Let’s get an ordinance written and adopted so we, too, can have equality for all by this year’s July 4th.

City Manager’s Update on Homelessness

Because of its visibility, the homeless encampment on Capital Blvd at I-540 has raised awareness of the growing number of homeless individuals with the city and county. Within City government there is the legislative branch (the Mayor and Council) and the executive branch (the City Manager and all the staff that report to the Manager). The City Manager has provided the following report on homelessness at Capital and I-540 to Council in the City Manager’s Report that was released this week. The report is divided into various sections. The following addresses the encampment at Capital and I-540.

Update on Homeless Encampments at Capital Boulevard and I-540


Local nonprofit Triangle Family Services (TFS), which provides street outreach services, has been actively involved in working with the homeless camp located on NCDOT-owned land near I-540 and Capital Boulevard.

Currently around 7-8 people are living in the camp, and two have been connected to services. TFS was able to secure a dumpster, which was filled with trash and has since been removed at the request of NCDOT.

While an improvement, there is still more cleanup that needs to occur. TFS has coordinated another cleanup effort that will take place this Saturday, April 24. Volunteers from Journey Church will be assisting camp members in the cleanup effort as well as providing supplies.

One of the challenges in working with members of homeless camps is gaining their trust. Homeless individuals must agree to an assessment to be connected to services, and many individuals living in camps are wary of providing the needed information. While street outreach teams have the ability to do assessments in real time, gaining individuals’ trust can take time. Outreach efforts are ongoing.

H&N (the City’s Housing and Neighborhoods department) staff consulted with Solid Waste Services, Transportation, PRCR (The City’s Parks, Recreation, Cultural Resources department), RPD (Raleigh Police Department), and TFS (Triangle Family Services) on the situation. The consensus was that street outreach providers continue to send in outreach teams to individual camps with sanitation supplies, PPE, and other supplies as needed. Various unintended consequences and challenges were identified in providing port-a-potties.

Outreach teams also build connections with camp members and make referrals to appropriate service providers. City staff will continue to consult with TFS on the situation.

Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board

The Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board serves as the official citizen advisory board to the City Council on issues related to parks, greenway, and recreation policy matters. The board advises on matters related to the funding of the parks and recreation capital program, parks and recreation program policies, facility planning, and the acquisition of lands related to the parks and recreation program. The board serves as a liaison between the City and the citizens of the community and also works to promote parks and recreation programs.

The Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board consist of fifteen members, appointed by City Council to overlapping two-year terms.

Meetings

The Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board meetings are held on the third Thursday of every month. Currently, the meetings are held virtually using Zoom.

Committees

Three standing committees function to carry out the responsibilities of the Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board:

Parks Committee

Meets the first Thursday of each month at 6pm in the Raleigh Municipal Building at 222 W. Hargett Street.

The committee is responsible for the study of issues related to park facilities, features, developments, and modifications. The committee prepares recommendations and proposals for the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board based on in-depth review and study of park-related issues and concerns.

Greenway and Urban Trees Committee

Meets the second Monday of each month at 4pm at the Raleigh Municipal Building at 222 W. Hargett Street.

The committee deliberates, advises and makes recommendations to the Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board on issues regarding the City of Raleigh greenway system and the City’s urban forestry programs.

Fred Fletcher Outstanding Volunteer Awards Committee

The committee plans the annual awards event that recognizes and honors volunteers who have made exceptional contributions to Department of Parks and Recreation programs or facilities. Nominations for these awards may be made by the public; nomination forms become available in January through the Parks and Recreation Department. The awards ceremony is held at Fred Fletcher Park each spring. The committee is comprised of current and former Advisory Board members and interested citizens.

For more information: visit the Raleigh website at https://raleighnc.gov/parks-recreation-and-greenway-advisory-board

Wakefield Small Area Plan

Hello everyone,

The Wakefield Small Area Plan – when it is finalized – will become part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan and will guide future development along Falls of Neuse Road (not Old Falls of Neuse) from the river to Capital Blvd. The motivation behind developing the plan was to prevent Falls of Neuse from becoming another Capital Blvd built out as strip malls. I believe that the community very much wants to keep the vegetation that lines the road as well as the wide, landscaped medians. To ensure that development proceeds as the COMMUNITY wishes it to proceed, an effort is now underway to develop the Wakefield Small Area Plan.

So, what exactly will go into the Plan? Ultimately that will depend on the community. But generally there will be guidance about population density, building heights, parking, landscaping, tree preservation and conservation, transit, etc.

So, who will participate in creating the plan? This is an excellent question. There will be upcoming public meetings. In addition, the City Planning staff is meeting with a list of “stakeholders”.

I have to confess that I do not agree with the process for determining who is and isn’t a stakeholder. The process was done behind closed doors and the initial stakeholder meetings are not public. I would have preferred a public meeting to introduce the Small Area Plan to the entire community, allow ALL meetings to be public, and ensure that participation is extended to everyone. I will continue to monitor the process to ensure that the community’s interests are met.

With that caveat, the following is an update from the City Manager’s office about where we are today with the Small Area Plan.

Here, then, is the update for the Wakefield Small Area Plan:

Council Member Cox –

In follow up to our earlier text messages and telephone conversation of yesterday, please note the following with regard to activities underway with the referenced project.

Funding for the area study was appropriated with the FY21 budget.

A consultant selection process was conducted; Stantec (www.stantec.com) was chosen to conduct the study. The consultant team also includes Catalyst Design (https://catalyst-dg.com/).

Staff and the consultants have extended invitations to several stakeholder interviews in advance of the public meetings. The purpose of the interviews is to familiarize the consultants with existing conditions in order to help them understand the study area, the organizations that are located in the study area, and to receive information regarding issues that they should be aware of.

The interviews occurring this week were not intended to be public; rather these are intended as initial fact-finding and due diligence being performed by the consultants with the goal of obtaining information, and not to solicit policy input.

The interviews will be comprised of city staff, public safety, churches, transportation groups, and other organizations related to the topics of the study. It is important to note that the discussions can lead to the identification of other stakeholders and organizations that should be contacted in the course of the area study. The interviews, which began yesterday, are scheduled as follows:

Wakefield Stakeholder Interviews

April 12, 9 AM – Ritchie Bazzell, Principal, Wakefield High School

April 13, 2 PM – Michael Ballen, Raleigh Police
Lemuel Hubbard, Raleigh Fire
Ivon Johnson, Raleigh Fire

April 13, 3 PM – Mary Sell, Oaks and Spokes
Michelle Bell, Forest Pines Elementary
Brad Hester, Creative Schools

April 14, 1 PM – Hannah McManus, Wakefield UMC
Shane Brown, Kerr Family YMCA
John McInerny, Village of Wakefield
Yolanda Sanders, Wakefield Plantation
Bill Marley, Wakefield Plantation

April 15, 10 AM – Ben Brown, Raleigh Stormwater
Emma Liles, Raleigh Parks
John French, Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail
Smith Raynor, NC Parks

Per your specific request, the interviews that have not already taken place will be recorded by staff and links posted to the project website.

As previously reported to City Council, public engagement meetings are not scheduled to commence until next month; the first public meeting will be an “Ask a Planner” session which is scheduled for May 3. Online participation and public outreach begin later this month.

Louis M. Buonpane
Chief of Staff
City of Raleigh
City Manager’s Office
(p) 919-996-4275 (direct)

When “We The People” No Longer Matters

Today at Raleigh City Council, Mayor Baldwin made a motion to approve a rezoning at Buffaloe and North New Hope roads. I voted against this motion but the motion passed with a vote of 5 to 3.

Those voting against the motion included Corey Branch, Stomie Forte, and myself.

Those voting in favor of the motion were Mary-Ann Baldwin, Nicole Stewart, Jonathan Melton, Patrick Buffkin, and David Knight.

Here is my full statement that I gave during the meeting:


The residents of Buffaloe and North New Hope have worked in good faith with City Council and staff to create a small area plan and zoning that is a win-win. Key policies related to heights and neighborhood transitions have been well defined and established through language in the small area plan and through zoning established just five years ago.

We are now being asked to change all of that with the claim it isn’t enough. The developer is asking for greater height and is asking that we reduce the neighborhood transitions. The residents who worked so hard and in collaboration with Council and the City oppose this request and ask that we support development within the parameters that they worked with the city to establish.

More than 500 have signed an online petition and a group of representatives have diligently attended every meeting. They have clearly stated that they support development within the policies of the small area plan and the neighborhood transitions established by current zoning.

In addition, upon review of this case the Planning Commission voted 5 to 3 to recommend denial of the rezoning with the majority agreeing that the city’s prior commitments are in the public interest.

There is the argument that we are in a housing crisis and that Council must approve any and every opportunity for more housing. The theory is that housing prices are high because of a lack of supply. However, that theory is overly simplistic and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Many factors affect prices and shifts in the demand curve for housing. Two prominent factors include high household incomes and speculative property investing. But there are many others. 

It is also NOT true that Council hasn’t approved enough housing. In the five years since the small area plan and zoning were established for this location, Council has approved nearly 200 zoning changes throughout the city to allow the construction of 62,000 housing units which is enough to house 142,000 people. This is more than 300% greater than Raleigh’s current growth rate.

Our citizens in the Buffaloe/New Hope area worked in cooperation and good faith to create a small area plan and zoning just five years ago that was unanimously approved by Council that was hailed as a win-win. The parameters under that plan and zoning allow the development of housing as well as commercial development to serve the area. People are not saying no to growth. Housing growth can happen with three story buildings as prescribed by the small area plan and the neighborhood transitions prescribed by the current zoning. But, changing these parameters after residents worked in cooperation with Council and the City to establish them is not in the public interest. People trusted their government and are asking us now to honor that trust.

Therefore, I do not support the motion to approve Z-45 and will vote no.

Staying Home for the City Council Retreat

On March 12th and 13th the Raleigh City Council will hold its annual retreat. This will be a face-to-face, in person event at the Convention Center and will be a public meeting.

I have agreed to join this meeting virtually. I will not be participating in person. There are several reasons why I have made this decision.

Coronavirus Variants
Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are in circulation. The variants tend to spread more easily and quickly and may increase the risk of death and complications. Variants have been detected in the US and currently some variants have been reported in 42 states including North Carolina. It is expected that these variants will become the dominant virus unless precautions are taken to slow the spread.

Vaccinations
Phase 3 allowing elected officials to be vaccinated began March 3rd meaning that Council members can receive the first shot (but not the second shot) sometime prior to the retreat on March 12th. It is recognized that it takes two weeks for immunity to begin and three weeks to obtain the second shot. Full immunity does not happen immediately. Others at the retreat such as staff members and the public might not have the opportunity to qualify for vaccination yet and will be at risk.

Avoid Social Gathering
Without question, the most effective way to avoid exposure is to avoid social gatherings. On January 6th the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a Secretarial Directive that states the following:

Avoid gatherings with individuals you do not live with. Multiple households should not co-mingle. If you cannot avoid gathering, keep the gathering strictly outdoors and as small as possible. Wear a mask at all times and avoid activities such as eating that require removal of your mask.

https://files.nc.gov/covid/documents/NCDHHS-Secretarial-Directive-January-6-2021.pdf

As of February 24th, the guidance from the Governor’s office is if you cannot avoid gathering indoors, limit the number to 25 people. Meeting and conference spaces are limited to 30% occupancy and a maximum of 250.

In his February 24th statement, Governor Cooper said, “People are losing their loved ones each day. Many of us are weary, but we cannot let the weariness win.”

Clearly, gathering virtually will be preferable to meeting in-person. Meeting in-person should not be taken lightly and be reserved for exceptional circumstances.

The 3 W’s
To prevent or slow the spread of the virus it is recommended to wear a mask, wash hands frequently, and wait at least 6 feet apart. These precautions help a lot but are not perfect and are not a substitute for avoiding social gatherings whenever possible.

Virtual as an Alternative
Virtual meetings have proven to be an effective alternative to in-person meetings. While virtual meetings are not the same as in-person meetings, they are recognized as an effective way to conduct business while preventing the spread of Coronavirus.

Setting an Example
As an elected official it is important to set a good example. I think that we should continue to encourage avoiding in-person social gatherings. We are not out of the woods yet. Phase 3 just began. Phase 4 won’t begin until the end of March. The general population will not be vaccinated until phase 5. Until then we should do all we can to support each other to safe and healthy.