OCDW's Municipal Candidate Forum Brings Affordable Housing to Forefront

Thursday, September 22, 2011, members of the Orange County Democratic Women (OCDW) gathered together, along with the UNC Young Democrats, concern citizens, members of the press and Democratic candidates for both the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Chapel Hill Town Council to have a conversation about their communities. The OCDW forum at the OWASA Meeting Room in Carrboro, co-sponsored by the UNC Young Democrats, gave both the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities the opportunity to press their respective candidates on the issues they feel matter most during this election cycle including affordable housing and the recnet budget cut-backs.

However, candidates differed in discussing their tangible platform points relating to the topics. Moreover, over the course of the evening, candidates highlighted their various personal strengths and unique perspectives on a wide range social justice issues, ranging from environmental degregation to living-wages for all UNC employees.

The opening question, asked to Candidates from both Chapel Hill and Carrboro, focused on candidate's past experiences and unique skills. After briefly introducing themsleves, candidates quickly alligned themselves with specific issues facing Orange County to which they are particularly adept in addressing.

For an example, candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council Jim Ward, who's day job is at the North Carolina Botanical garden, noted his experience in environmental justice thorugh his involvement in the development of plans for UNC's Carolina North. Ward said UNC was, for the first time ever, able to set aside substantial natural lands in the development of a new site because of Council pressure.

Moreover, in her opening response, Chapel Hill Town Council candidate Donna Bell spoke to homelessness in Chapel Hill thorugh the lense of a social worker.

"I think we are going to have to speak to the homeless and OWASA to fully understand our affordable housing problems," Bell said.

The second question asked to Chapel Hill candidates from the audience directly addressed Chapel Hill's 2009 resolution declaring it a "human rights" city and how each candidate will advocate for affordable housing. 

Town Council candidate Lee Storrow was the first to highlight the multi-dimensional nature of the housing problems. 

"Housing is only one component of what makes a community affordable," Storrow said. "UNC is not doing its part to ensure that students finding housing in the ring communities to campus does not put a strain on community members finding affordable housing."

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that while Chapel Hill has made progress in the area of affordable housing thorugh the adoption of an affordable housing strategy, which he called a "first step," the budget struggles, including a decrease in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies, are barriers to moving forwad. Kleinschmidt also noted the potential for the town's comprehensive plan to serve as a vehicle to work with the University to discuss future student housing needs.  

In addressing the issue of affordable housing in Chapel Hill, Town Council candidate Jason Baker pointed to the N.C. General Assembly and the lack of control local leaders have over the rental housing market policy as an area of concern in ensuring a solid consumer base can afford to live in Orange County.

Candidate for Town Council Jon DeHart, who ran for office in 2009, pointed to partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and EmPOWERment, Inc. to assist in proiding affordable housing in the local communtiy while candidate Laney Dale said he has a bit of a "different view on affordable housing."

Dale, who said he has worked hard to live in Chapel Hill with his family, noted that the Town Council should work to find a way to fix costs at a certain point for residents on a fixed income.

"We need to keep people who have worked hard to be in Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill," Dale said.

But, looming over all issues discussed at the forum was the issue of the budget and cuts in both federal and state funds coming into the Town. Most candidates chose to focus on the impact such cuts will and can play on the tansportation infrastructure in Orange County. While DeHart said he supports the development of "retail" to help raise revenue, Dale said he would not be opposed to small increases in the price of services currently subsidised or free, like transit.

"Needy families could use the bus for free," Dale said. "But, people like my family who ride the bus can afford to pay for those services."

Others, including candidates Bell and Baker pointed to the proposed quarter sales tax increase to raise needed funds. 

Candidates will surely further flesh out thier platform over the course of the next few weeks. But, regardless of where candidates speak, the current budgetary crisis and lack of adequate housing or wages for those living in our community will likely be a topic of interest. How candidates frame and choose to approach the issues of housing, transportation, and the budget will be a topics I continue to focus on.  



Thanks for this overview of the candidates' takes on social and economic justice issues. It's a great complement to Molly and Erin's play-by-play.  I look forward to seeing what you have to say as you get to explore more issues and see the candiates in a variety of contexts. 


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