Teaching and practicing democracy
Durham CAN holding city leaders accountable (Opinion)
The Herald Sun March 02, 2018 01:13 PM
Durham CAN holding city leaders accountable (Opinion)
Mayor Steve Schewel recently laid out his agenda for shared prosperity, describing Durham as a “progressive beacon for the South and the nation.” Electing a progressive City Council will hopefully prove to be an important benchmark for Durham but make no mistake – our job as Durham residents is far from finished.
In Durham CAN we understand our city will need more than a City Council that’s resolved to tackle such growing problems as poverty, inequality, gentrification, and lack of well-paying jobs. We also need involved citizens who hold our elected officials accountable. We know that democracy will only function if Durhamites continue to show up consistently and persistently to impact the decisions that affect their lives.
Last year, CAN engaged over 2,500 Durham residents in conversations about their vision for the city. Only a few days prior to the election, 612 CAN leaders who previously participated in those citywide conversations met with Mayor Schewel and the three other City Council candidates to present a series of well-researched proposals.
That evening, each of the recently elected officials made specific promises to the people of Durham. The commitments included the creation of jobs for disconnected youth, apprenticeships for those that have been involved in the justice system, putting together an affordable-housing trust fund, addressing the current eviction crisis, and the investment of $2 million over two years to maintain permanently affordable homes in Northeast Central Durham.
All those promises were fresh in our minds when we recently launched an ambitious listening session campaign, which seeks to connect with at least 1,500 Durham residents who need work or have been affected by the criminal-justice system. Hundreds have already participated in those sessions throughout Durham. The result of that broad-based listening effort will be a more involved citizenry with a clear agenda for a better Durham for all.
In the next four weeks, the mayor and three other council members will meet with CAN leaders to publicly report on their progress in fulfilling their promises. With so much growth and so many awards won by our beloved city, it is sometimes easy to lose track that in Durham over 4,000 residents ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor employed and about 700 people return to Durham each year from state prisons needing employment. Durham has the highest eviction filing rate among North Carolina’s 10 largest counties, with one eviction case filed per 29 residents in the last fiscal year; and 33 percent or roughly 39,000 households in Durham County are paying more than they can afford in housing costs.
Durham CAN encourages Mayor Schewel and the City Council to meet their commitments to our city. We will continue to work with the people of Durham to hold our elected officials accountable and to make Durham a place where everyone can thrive.
Submitted by Ivan Parra on behalf of the Durham CAN Strategy Team.
The Herald Sun-Durham CAN questions mayor about jobs and housing
The Herald Sun
Durham, March 1, 2018 By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan email@example.com
Evictions, affordable housing and jobs – what’s the mayor doing about it?
That’s what Durham CAN, which stands for Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, wanted to know at its meeting Wednesday night with Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.
Part of the Durham political process for candidates is going before the Durham CAN Assembly to say “yes” or “no” to the nonpartisan group’s agenda during their campaigns and after they get elected.
CAN leaders called on the mayor Wednesday to report what progress the city has made on what he agreed to support during his campaign. Schewel met with CAN leaders at El Buen Pastor Episcopal Church in East Durham.
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel
“There are two things people like: more services and lower taxes,” Schewel said. “You can’t have them both.”
One of the mayor’s jobs, he continued, is to see what other people are doing, applaud it and say “that’s amazing.” And he also said he didn’t want to “overpromise” anything. Still, Schewel told CAN how he was progressing on each of the group’s key issues.
CAN wants the city’s youth summer jobs program to add 116 more jobs to about 200 jobs this past year. Schewel said the budget is already set for summer 2018, but he supports adding at least 116 teen jobs for 2019, and hopes to double the program. To do that, Schewel said they need to involve private employers. CAN asked to be at the table when Schewel meets with those employers. Schewel said not at the first meeting, but that he would involve CAN at subsequent meetings.
Another CAN priority is jobs for formerly incarcerated people returning to the community. Schewel touted the city’s Innovation Team, known as the i-team, which is funding by a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant and works on re-entry issues.
Ibrahim Kamara said he is a convicted felon.
“I know the frustrations of being a convicted felon because you face many rejections,” he said. The jobs he has been able to get pay $8 an hour, which is not enough to support his wife and children.
“No one wants to hire us. We have to explain our story over and over,” Kamara said.
Housing and gentrification
Ashley Smith talked about the shame of going to eviction court for her middle-class, two-income household. They cannot afford their $1,580 a month rent, she said, and she doesn’t want to tell her children they need to move.
“Of all the issues that I work on, I work on this every day of my life,” Schewel told her.
“We can’t stop the forces of gentrification, we can’t stop them. Twenty people move here every day,” he said. “It’s driving the cost of housing up, and we know that. We can’t stop this and we can’t totally fix it, but we can make a difference.”
Schewel talked about the Durham Housing Authority’s plans for renovations and building new public housing. He also mentioned planned workforce housing for teachers as well as using low-income housing tax credits for affordable housing and Durham’s eviction diversion program. Durham County has the highest eviction rate of North Carolina’s 10 largest counties. Attorneys in the diversion program negotiated with landlords by matching tenants with charitable assistance to resolve the eviction or negotiate a move-out date, among other steps.
“To be honest most of what we’re targeting is low end [income],” Schewel said of the city’s two pennies on the tax rate dedicated for housing. “If you live in a $200,000 house, we tax you $40 a year for a house for someone else.”
CAN will meet later this month with other City Council members. Those elected in November who agreed to CAN’s priorities are DeDreana Freeman, Mark-Anthony Middleton and Vernetta Alston. Middleton was a CAN leader before running for office.
There are no upcoming events at this time.