Name as it appears on the ballot: Camille Berry
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Consultant – self-employed, Camille Berry Consulting
Years lived in Chapel Hill: Nine
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?
I have lived in and around Chapel Hill for 16 years. I’ve raised my three children here. I have experienced housing insecurity for several years as a single parent before becoming an advocate for affordable housing by working with Community Home Trust for nearly seven years. I’ve centered my career and volunteer efforts in this community—helping it to thrive and become the best version of itself. I’m ready to serve my community on the Chapel Hill Town Council with a new perspective. My top three priorities are:
• Increase Affordable Housing
• Bolster Economic Development
• Honor Green Space
I understand the challenges we are facing are not unique–towns and cities across the country are facing similar growing pains. It is by listening that we can learn from others—what is working, what isn’t working—and then work together as a community to come up with creative solutions that strike the right balance between preserving traditions and incorporating mindful change. Above all else, I believe in our ability to work together and find solutions to ensure Chapel Hill continues to thrive.
2) Given the direction of Chapel Hill government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
There is not a clear vision that the Chapel Hill government has embraced and presented to the community, nor is there a comprehensive plan to achieve the ideals of this community: to be a welcoming and inclusive community. The Chapel Hill Town Council and Mayor need to be bold and articulate a vision and develop a plan that incorporates the input of the community and the town staff. Without that investment of involving the community and the town staff in the process, there will continue to be confusion and distrust. There are town-wide desires, including increasing affordable housing, a vibrant business community to reduce the tax burden on residents, and access to green space; however, we cannot make significant strides without a comprehensive plan and a completed Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO). After talking with residents, developers, and town staff, I have heard one sentiment shared repeatedly that many would like to know just what the expectations are of the Chapel Hill government. If elected, I would advocate for creating high-level visioning and goal setting with the community and town staff, as well as the completion of the LUMO in the first two years. By doing so, we would streamline the planning and permitting process and make way for creativity within the defined guidelines.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
The three most pressing issues that Chapel Hill is facing are: Affordable Housing, Economic Development, and Green Space. These are three interconnected issues that need to be addressed in concert.
Chapel Hill has long faced a shortage of housing options for lower incomes. With the huge growth that this region is facing, that shortage has become more pronounced and the residential real estate prices reflect that. We need to get creative and provide a variety of options. Having experienced housing insecurity myself and having worked for a Chapel Hill agency that provides affordable housing to extremely low- to moderate-income families and individuals, I have the empathy and expertise to move this conversation forward.
Economic development is critical to fostering a strong and vibrant community including helping to pay for the additional subsidized housing that is needed. Chapel Hill will best benefit from a diverse range of businesses—types of business and types of business owners. We need small and large, entrepreneurial and established, individually-owned and national chains. We need more BIPOC and women-owned businesses. Having a variety of business types strengthens our economic ecosystem by creating jobs and generating tax revenue, making our local economy healthy and resilient.
Chapel Hill benefits from an abundance of green space. As Chapel Hill continues to grow, we need to consider the benefits and costs of preservation and development. There will always be trade-offs. Climate change, stormwater management, and wildlife habitat are real concerns as we navigate Chapel Hill’s growth. We need to be thoughtful as we move forward together, prioritizing transparency and consistency, as we define a process that is both fair and inclusive.
4) What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town council and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you consider significant.
My professional, lived, and volunteer experience would lend to my being an effective member of the council, who can advocate for the above issues. From my time as an executive director of a nonprofit that oversaw the development of a private-public project, to being a single mother facing housing insecurity, to being a development and communications professional who secured resources while amplifying the need and progress made in affordable housing, to serving on nonprofit boards and as a mentor to a student in the public school student, I have been a curious and invested citizen in this community. I embraced the motto, Service above Self, before joining Rotary, which is what attracted me to the oldest service club in the United States. My work and service have benefited from my ability to convene and collaborate with others from a host of backgrounds and build consensus around a shared vision.
NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro Action Fund voted unanimously to endorse my campaign for election to the Chapel Hill Town Council for the following reasons:
• Have a wealth of diverse professional experience in housing, health care, economic development, and other areas.
• Long-time advocate for affordable housing with lived experience of housing insecurity.
• Have worked across many communities, from Transplanting Traditions to Carolina Friends to the Rotary Club
5) Last year, town voters approved a $10 million affordable housing bond, and so far $5.2 million has created nearly 300 affordable units. But affordable housing remains a concern. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes? Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
Chapel Hill voters approved the $10 million affordable housing bond in 2018 thanks to the advocacy efforts of town partners, including Community Home Trust — the organization with which I was working at the time. Last year, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved $5.25 million in funding to support the development of 278 new affordable homes in Chapel Hill along with some of that development occurring on town owned land.
Affordable housing is a nationwide challenge that no one has solved. The Town of Chapel Hill has and continues to work at it via its inclusionary zoning ordinance, affordable housing bond, spending about five percent of its budget annually on affordable housing, and the use of Town land to work with affordable housing providers. While the Town’s dashboard shows Chapel Hill has clear goals and are generating and preserving affordable housing, I believe the Town could be more aggressive in its approach and achieve more by:
• Developing an effective and proactive strategy to help our mobile home park residents
• Issuing a second generous bond
• Using some portion of the American Legion property for affordable housing
• Focusing more on providing housing for folks at/below 60% AMI, as well as an additional focus on those at 30% AMI
• Moving more quickly on Trinity Court
• Overall, doing a better job of improving and maintaining the Town-owned affordable housing neighborhoods
6) How should the town and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes, especially in neighborhoods such as Northside? How should local governments address rising rents, particularly for residents of public housing? What role does the town have in ensuring its residents who live in mobile home parks remain housed in light of development pressures? Homelessness has increased by 40 percent in Orange County in 2021. How should the town and county address this issue?
The town and county need to communicate more effectively so that the county better understands the neighborhoods it is assessing. The county should partner with the town to ensure that county officials are aware of the disparities that exist, especially in Northside where you have investor-owned multi-family housing occupied by students and single family homes that house low-income families. Just as there are rents subsidized in public housing,
The town and county should be seeking ways to protect the vulnerable residents in mobile home parks by reimagining how the land could be used for housing. Community Home Trust and Habitat for Humanity of Orange County hosted the CEO of Habitat Charlottesville several years ago. The CEO shared how they purchased a mobile home park and replaced the mobile homes with more enduring home construction: single family homes, townhomes, and apartments. Residents were housed during the transition and were able to move into the newer, more densely constructed homes alongside market rate homeowners. The mixed homes made more efficient use of the land and provided housing security that is at risk for mobile home owners these days.
The town and county need to work together to develop a comprehensive housing plan and encourage their staff and communities to seek new opportunities to house its community members.
7) The town recently approved the Aura and University Place projects and more large development projects will continue to come before the council. What do you want to see from large development projects such as these and should the town develop comprehensive long term goals for projects? What role do developers have to connect with the Chapel Hill community and surrounding environment? What, if any, concerns do you have about traffic, scale, preservation of green space, and potential effects on the environment?
As we move toward denser development, we must ensure that it includes green spaces for Town residents, as well as investments in public transportation along with bike/pedestrian infrastructure, and placed along major traffic corridors. We also must make sure that as we invest in infrastructure (ex. stormwater management) that we also balance the use of purely engineering oriented solutions with green solutions so that we don’t solve one problem only to create another.
8) The town recently partnered with UNC on Downtown Together, to revitalize downtown and create a hub of innovation. What would you like to see come out of that partnership and what specific changes would you like to see downtown?
I would like to see a vision identified for downtown Chapel Hill that makes it a more walkable community that has a rich variety of businesses that can attract and serve the community. Those businesses should be more diverse in their offerings as well as who owns them; we need to recruit more women- and BIPOC-owned businesses. While the Chamber is a great resource for businesses, the partnership could foster opportunities for growth and resiliency planning. Separate bike paths (made safe by a barrier and not merely paint) and dedicated bus lanes will make moving through downtown safer and faster.
9) The town recently adopted a resolution to follow recommendations from the Re-Imagining Public Safety Task Force, with the mission of increasing public safety, eliminating inequalities, and enabling all in the community to thrive. In actionable terms, how do you see these recommendations being implemented to improve policing? How should the town address panhandling?
I appreciate the work of the task force and its 28 recommendations. I think the rollout will take time, but it could be expedited more efficiently if the town were to invest more than $100,000 for the inaugural phase that assesses and begins to implement processes. The town must address the issues that leads to panhandling. The safety net has been lost for these individuals, and we need to be able to help them to acquire their basic needs. The task force did a tremendous job of looking at how to support the community and the police.
10) How should the Greene Tract be developed? Does town government have a responsibility to protect public forests, parks, and other green spaces near low income communities as it currently protects public land near wealthy ones?
In 2020, Chapel Hill agreed to the development of the Greene Tract to encompass a multi-use development along with the preservation of green space. This is following up on a promise made in 1972 to provide the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) with town services and amenities in exchange for agreeing to the placement of the landfill. After decades of failing to make good on that promise AND exposure to toxic waste in the soil and water sources, the local municipalities are finally following through with the installation of water and sewage services and the development of the Greene Tract. It is unfortunate that some wish to have the town renege on its promise in favor of space for recreation — specifically, space to ride their mountain bikes. Not far from this site is much more green space found within the protected rural buffer. The rural buffer was created in the late 1980s to keep the development from sprawling into our rural areas as it did in Durham. With that designation, it was understood that development would be denser and go vertical within the boundaries. It is possible to protect and preserve green spaces while making room for development — especially development that was promised to a disenfranchised group within our community. We should not fall into the trap of a false dichotomy as we think about developing more affordable housing in spaces like the Greene Tract. It is not, nor should it be portrayed as affordable housing versus the environment. Especially given the environmental injustices we have seen perpetrated in our community (e.g., Rogers Rd. and landfill), it should always be affordable housing AND environmental protections/justice.
11) The town recently adopted a Climate Action Plan. Do you think the plan goes far enough in addressing issues related to climate change? What are some short and long term actionable items you see coming out of the plan?
Chapel Hill’s plan is focused on reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero. Promoting the use of electric vehicles with more charging stations throughout town and non-personal use vehicles with greater and safer options for public transportation, bikes and pedestrian pathways.
Additional efforts would include: installation of solar panels on buildings, awarding grants and no-interest loans to make low-income homes more energy efficient, and denser property development.
12) How do you feel Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic? If you don’t think the pandemic was handled well, what should have been done differently? Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board officials worked together to set local mandates that are stricter than the state’s and with community partners to increase access to testing and vaccination sites. This level of collaboration has resulted in Orange County having the best vaccination rates in the state and being among the lowest case rates. I’m grateful to how these leaders have collaborated.
13) In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
Chapel Hill can and must be more proactive in engaging members of these marginalized groups. Go to them in their neighborhoods and sincerely invite their input and participation. Continue to enlist the help of interpreters to communicate effectively with those whose first language is not English. It is not enough for us to say that our door is open. As town leaders, we must walk through that door and extend our hands and arms in greeting and then invite these members of our community back across the threshold with us hand-in-hand.
14) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can the town recruit and retain more bus drivers? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?
At this time, the challenge is with hiring more drivers. However, we must invest in compensation, safeguards, and professional development to regain and keep our force of bus drivers. More frequent and later hours are needed for our lower-income residents so that they can rely upon the public transit for their commuter needs to work, school, and shopping centers. Bike lanes should be separated from regular vehicle lanes throughout the town for ease through town and safety of passengers.
15) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
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