Name as it appears on the ballot: Wendy Jacobs
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.wendyjacobsfordurham.com
Occupation & employer: County Commissioner, Durham County Government
Years lived in North Carolina: 38
1) In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County?
The most important issues facing Durham today are connected to historic racial and economic disparities that stand in the way of Shared Prosperity and Health and Well Being for All. We are at a pivotal point in Durham’s history where there is economic development, downtown revitalization, population growth, and increased job opportunities. But, many in our community are not benefiting from these opportunities or are being harmed by their disparate impacts.
These racial and economic disparities are reflected in our current 24% child poverty rate where 37% of black children, 36% of Latinx children and 8% of our white children are living in poverty. This is inexcusable in a community like ours with the resources we have. We also see these impacts of racial and economic disparities in school achievement, criminal justice, community violence, health outcomes, and rates of homelessness, evictions, and displacement.
The decisions and strategic investments we make in systems change to create equitable access to high quality education, good paying jobs, safe and affordable housing, healthcare and a sustainable environment over the next several years will determine the future direction of Durham County for decades to come. As a county commissioner, I will continue the important work I am doing to effect this needed change.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
My three priorities will be to continue the important work I am now leading as chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners to create Shared Prosperity, Health and Well Being for All.
- A Strong Early Childhood System and Universal Access to High Quality PreK. I have supported more than $10 million in funding for our transformational Durham PreK and many other programs that support babies, young children and their families. Research shows critical brain development, nurturing and foundations of literacy take place in early childhood. All our children can start kindergarten ready to learn on an equitable pathway to success in school and positive life outcomes.
- A Strong Education to Jobs Pipeline/Cradle to Career System. We have the highest paying jobs in North Carolina here in Durham County and 200,000 jobs, more than our residents can fill. Our students, youth and adults must be prepared for and connected to the great jobs of all skill and education levels we have in Durham County. Our estimated 6,000 disconnected youth, 13% of adults living in poverty and 700 yearly returning justice involved residents all deserve to have jobs where they can support themselves and their families. I will keep investing in strong K-12 schools, Durham Tech, the County’s College Promise Scholarship for every high school graduate, internships, apprenticeships, good paying jobs at all skill levels and companies who will be strong workforce development partners with our schools, Durham Tech and local universities.
- A Framework for a Thriving Future Durham. I am working hard for an effective transit system that will provide equitable access to good paying jobs, safe and affordable housing, education and healthcare. This is how we fight poverty, traffic, congestion, sprawl, and climate change. This is how we build the backbone for a land use plan that helps us manage our growth and build livable, bike-able, walkable, work, live and play neighborhoods for everyone that also protect our farmland, green spaces, water and air.
2) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Board of Commissioners? Please be specific.
I have a proven track record of getting things done. I bring people together to collectively address problems and create solutions that benefit the people of Durham. As a neighborhood leader, I brought many diverse stakeholders together to create the only four government regional park in our area- Hollow Rock Nature Park- and led the multi- jurisdictional park planning process.
In my first term of office, I brought the city, county, business community, sports community and other stakeholders together to overcome challenges of past failed efforts and create Durham’s first Sports Commission that is supporting our local sports community and generating economic development to support our tax base.
As Chair of the Board of County Commissioners since 2016, I am leading transformational Durham County efforts. I am addressing the affordable housing crisis by building more than 300 units of affordable housing on two downtown parking lots through an innovative private public partnership. I am fighting child poverty with more than $10 million of investment in the groundbreaking Durham PreK program that will provide universal access to high quality pre-k for all four-year olds. I am supporting economic development and good paying jobs for all education and skill levels with 2,500 new jobs, many in advanced manufacturing, and more than $1.5 billion of investment in our tax base to support our schools and county services. I am leading the effort to meet the needs of our seniors with the creation of Durham’s first ever Aging Plan and Durham’s designation as an Age Friendly Community by AARP and the World Health Organization. These are just a few examples of how I take action to address the pressing needs we face.
I serve in leadership roles at the local, regional, state and national level in areas such as human services, criminal justice, environmental policy, land use, transportation, workforce and economic development, and education where I advocate for the best interests of the Durham community. I work hard, do my homework, pay attention to detail yet keep the big picture in mind as I make well informed decisions.
I am active and engaged with all parts of our community to listen, learn, be accessible, accountable and support important efforts taking part throughout our community. In my leadership role as Chair of the Board of County Commissioners, I have fostered collaborative and positive relationships with the Mayor, City Council and Board of Education that has led to cross system efforts such as our Eviction Diversion and Homeless Street Outreach Programs and the first ever integrated Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that will provide county funding for nearly $500,000 million of critical repair, maintenance, renovation and new construction school needs over the next nine years.
I take strong public stands with policies, resolutions, letters and proclamations at the local, state and federal level on urgent issues such as refugees, SNAP benefits, school funding, ICE, renewable energy and the use of plastic water bottles. I am helping to lead innovative efforts such as the NC Solar Schools Initiative that will provide renewable energy to our schools, free up funding for our classrooms and reduce carbon emissions. I have an extensive record of strong, effective leadership as a county commissioner.
3) One of Durham County government’s primary responsibilities is school funding. A 2018 report from ProPublica found a wide gap between black and white DPS students in terms of discipline, achievement, and opportunity; it also rated DPS high in segregation. Is there anything the county can or should be doing to combat these issues?
The County’s role is to support and provide adequate funding for our schools. Currently more than one third of our general fund budget, $146 million, is allocated for education even though we have 27 additional county departments to fund, because investing in our children, our future, is the most important thing we can do and because we know that access to education is important for economic and social change.
I support the DPS Strategic Plan goals and the work and progress that is taking place to implement restorative justice practices and address racial disparities in school discipline and academic achievement for our Latinx and black students. We see positive gains with DPS school enrollment increasing, only one identified low performing school, Lakewood Elementary, targeted for state takeover, moving from an F to C performing school in one year and nearly half of DPS schools, 48%, exceeding growth expectations. There is a high correlation between school achievement and poverty. The investments I am supporting in early childhood and our education to jobs pipeline are also critical for addressing root causes of the disparities we see in our schools.
Under my leadership as Chair, our board is working in partnership with the Board of Education to invest in excellent teachers and living wages for all school staff. Last year we funded $3 million for increased teacher and staff salaries. I am a strong supporter of county funding for the Community Schools initiative. This is a school-based approach to empower students, families and teachers, identify and attain needed resources and improve student learning outcomes. I am a strong supporter of the Central Kitchen study underway to create a systems approach to food insecurity in Durham and make sure our children have the nutrition they need to learn in school. Durham Public Schools has lost millions of dollars in state funding since 2008.
Durham County has stepped up to try to fill this hole with local funding under my leadership. As a county commissioner and chair of our board, I will continue to advocate for our schools to have they funding they need. That is why our board has committed to meeting the $468 million worth of critical needs recently identified by DPS for repairs, maintenance, renovation and new construction with a revised CIP and sound financial plan to achieve this goal. We also have to address the issues of income inequality that impacts the racial achievement gap systemically. That is why I also voted to fully fund $15 per hour wages for all DPS employees, including our 900 bus drivers, janitors, and nutrition staff. While this was not approved by our board (funding to get to $14 per hour was approved), I will continue to advocate for this important way to address institutional, historic racial and economic inequities in our community. I will continue to advocate for adequate funding for outstanding, safe and healthy schools for all our children.
4) In your view, what effects have charter schools had on education in Durham?
The original purpose of charter schools was to support innovation and help improve public schools. The intent was not for them to compete with and drain resources away from our public schools. The lifting of the cap on charter schools has led to a situation where there are now about 13 charter schools in Durham which is unsustainable with our limited school age population and DPS’s ongoing responsibility to maintain and operate 53 schools. Currently more than $28 million of County funding to DPS goes directly to charters. And unlike County funding for DPS, there is no local accountability for the use of these local tax dollars.
Do you believe they have increased segregation, as critics contend?
Yes. The existence of so many charter schools in Durham has exacerbated racial and economic segregation in Durham schools as many of the charters are either majority low income students of color or higher income, white student populations. They have also led to many high needs students such as special learners or second language learners concentrated in DPS as some charters do not have the same requirements to meet the needs of all students.
Or have they offered opportunities to those who would otherwise be trapped in poor-performing schools, as supporters say?
When you look at the data for school performance for charter schools you see that there are some charter schools where low income students of color are performing at higher rates of achievement than DPS but in many Durham charter schools the data shows low income students of color achieving at the same or lower rates of achievement than Durham Public Schools.
The best way for us to improve our school achievement outcomes is for everyone to send their children to Durham Public Schools, for the entire community to support our schools and for our schools to have the adequate funding and resources they need to meet the needs of our teachers and students. All our schools need to offer teachers the opportunity for flexibility and innovation that charters offer. Charters should be funded directly through the state if they are going to be authorized and monitored by the state, only high performing charters should be allowed to continue and there should be opportunities for strong collaboration between charters and DPS to return to the original intent of charter schools.
5) What is your vision for growth and development throughout Durham?
I am very excited that we are updating our transit and land use plans at a time in Durham when we have the opportunity to create a blueprint and framework for equitable and sustainable growth. I envision an integrated land use and transit plan that will help us benefit from the opportunities and challenges we currently face. We know that 150,000 more people are going to move to Durham County over the next thirty years. RTP is projected to add 40,000 more jobs and double the current workforce there. New businesses are coming, and existing ones are expanding in Treyburn Industrial Park, RTP and downtown Durham. County partnerships with companies like Corning, Eli Lilly, Merck, Policy Genius, Q2, and Avexis, will create more than 2,500 new good paying jobs for people of all skill levels.
At the same time, we have an affordable housing crisis and the lack of housing supply for our increasing population is negatively impacting the availability of our naturally occurring housing for those who need it most. To address poverty, food insecurity, health disparities, gun violence, lack of access to parks and safe bike and pedestrian pathways and zip codes that determine life expectancy, we must address social determinants of health and create safe, healthy, livable and vibrant neighborhoods for all.
With Durham’s limited land mass and much of the Northern part of our county protecting our drinking water and farmland, we need to make better use of developable land for places for people to live, work and play while managing traffic, congestion and sprawl. To meet the County’s Renewable Energy, Sustainability, Resilience and Greenhouse Gas plans and goals, we must reduce our carbon footprint and carbon emissions even as we meet the increasing energy and transportation needs of our growing population and businesses.
My vision for a growth and development plan for Durham will be centered around a robust transit network with fixed spines of possible commuter rail and dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit connected to a network of protected bike and pedestrian pathways, bus service and park and ride lots. This strong multi-modal local and regional transit network will allow us to create an equitable and sustainable framework to better manage our population and job growth and address our deep rooted problems of poverty and racial and economic inequities and take urgent action to address climate change.
Our transit system must connect people to the good paying jobs we have in RTP, Downtown Durham, Treyburn, Duke, (with 44,000 jobs, our biggest employer) UNC and other job centers. Our transit system must connect people to our educational institutions like DPS, Durham Tech, Duke, NCCU, UNC and NC State so they can get the education, skills and training they need for our good paying jobs. Our transit system must connect people of all ages to healthcare at Lincoln Community Health Center, the V.A., Duke and UNC hospitals.
Our integrated transit and land use plan must protect the historic social fabric of existing neighborhoods and prioritize strategies to keep low income and fixed income homeowners in their homes. A transit-oriented land use plan will support more compact, high density mixed use development designed to be walkable, bike-able work, live play environments that include affordable housing, green spaces and create great places for all people to live.
How can the county balance growth while also ensuring gentrification doesn’t push long term residents out?
A transit oriented land use plan that helps create high density nodes of walkable, bike-able live-able work, live, play neighborhoods, will help us provide increased housing inventory we need and more great places to live that take the pressure off of existing historic neighborhoods, predominantly neighborhoods of color close to our downtown, where we now see market forces displacing long time homeowners and renters.
Our new land use plan in process can implement protections to help preserve and protect the fabric of existing naturally occurring affordable housing. We can assess what other legal tools are available to us, ordinances like our Expanding Housing Choice that supports opportunities for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), duplexes and more infill development, our Affordable Housing Density Bonus and Development Agreements that prioritize building more affordable housing.
While we currently have limited statutory powers related to taxation and land use because we are a Dillon’s rule state which limits the authority of local governments to implement important tools like Inclusionary Zoning, we need to use every strategy we do have available to keep low income, long term homeowners in their homes.
These measures include:
1) a low income, long time homeowner tax assistance grant program. (Our board has approved and is implementing a tax deferral program but ultimately the taxes deferred will be paid. A deferral program does not address the issue of racial inequities in achieving wealth through home ownership.)
2) a homeowner repair program. We have a high rate of homeownership among seniors who are on fixed incomes. especially women of color. One way to support low income homeowners and seniors being able to maintain their homes, age in place and afford increased taxes is to assist with home repairs,
3) Expand our public investments in the Durham Community Land Trust. The land trust model is effective at creating home ownership and generating wealth for homeowners but at the same time preserving affordability and limiting market forces. This has been documented in neighborhoods like the West End where gentrification is taking place.
4) Continue County investments in affordable housing. We are building more than 300 units of affordable housing in Downtown Durham and we must continue to look for ways to leverage public assets to address this urgent need.
6) City voters passed a $95 million bond to fund affordable housing efforts last year. What more should county government be doing to further housing affordability?
Under my leadership as chair, Durham County Government is already taking action to promote affordable housing, usually a city function. I will continue to look for opportunities and creative approaches to address the affordable housing crisis in our community:
- I will continue to look for opportunities to leverage public assets for community benefits and to incentivize private investment to address community needs. Our 300 and 500 East Main Street public private partnership project will create more than 300 units of affordable housing at 30% AMI, 60% AMI and 80% AMI and below in downtown Durham. I will continue to look for opportunities where we are leveraging public assets, like the land value of downtown surface parking lots and construction of county parking decks, to incentivize construction of affordable housing.
- I will continue to work on other innovative approaches to promote affordable housing with all stakeholders such as an effort underway to partner with the City, DPS, and CASA to create housing for our teachers using surplus school property.
- I will support initiatives like Expanding Housing Choice, the Affordable Housing Density bonus and other changes to our ordinances and processes that remove barriers to creating more housing options for people in Durham.
- I will support the adoption of new county policies like our Affordable Housing Surplus Policy that directs county surplus lots to the city or non-profits for affordable housing.
- I will support expansion of our funding for the Housing Repair Collaborative that helps people, especially seniors and those with low or fixed incomes, to maintain and stay in their homes.
- In partnership with the city, we can implement a local tax relief program that addresses rising market values in downtown neighborhoods that are displacing long time homeowners, especially vulnerable low or fixed incomes residents.
- We can continue to support and expand our joint City and County Eviction Diversion Program to help stop displacement of tenants and the increase in rents that often follows evictions.
- I support new programs like Coming Home which will provide permanent supportive housing for returning residents.
Additionally what steps can the county take to assist those living in substandard public housing?
With the McDougald Terrace crisis we saw how Durham County government can assist those living in substandard public housing. Durham County staff took an active role supporting the residents of McDougald Terrace and assisted the Durham Housing Authority in its response to the crisis. On the day of the evacuation, scores of DSS social workers volunteered to assist residents. Our Emergency Management and EMS staff partnered with the inspections and risk assessment team effort that began on Christmas Day.
During the following months afterwards, Durham County Emergency Management, Public Health, Department of Social Services, Behavioral Health, Community Paramedics and Library staff provided support and services to the hundreds of residents displaced in hotels throughout Durham. We will continue to do all we can to bring the resources and support of Durham County human services to help in any way we can through this ongoing crisis. In the long term, Durham County must do all we can to make sure McDougald Terrace residents and all our residents living in public housing have all of the resources and support services they need and are connected to the education and job opportunities we have in our community.
During this time of the COVID 19 pandemic, the County is prioritizing ensuring all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable residents-those living in public housing- have the food, medicine, health care, digital access and educational support they need. Since March, Durham County has spent more than $800,000 on food relief programs serving our seniors in public housing as well as our children and families.
Our DSS department is making sure public housing residents are getting the full SNAP and other benefits afforded to them during this unprecedented time. The City of Durham is providing high speed internet access to public housing communities which is essential for all levels of virtual schooling, working from home, searching for employment, access to healthcare and social supports.
The County has funded more than $400,000 for free Hope Learning Centers slots to support digital learning. Our Board has requested that students living in public housing are prioritized for these 385 seats. These are examples of the types of investments the County must continue to make to address racial and economic disparities and inequities that have been made more transparent and magnified during the COVID crisis.
7) With the light-rail plan having collapsed, what do you envision as the future of mass transit in Durham?
I serve in a local and regional leadership role with transit planning efforts as Chair of the Durham Chapel Hill Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHCMPO) and member of the GoTriangle Board of Trustees. We must have an effective, convenient, affordable transit system to support our growing economy, manage our population growth, fight poverty, create shared prosperity and health and well- being for all and protect our natural resources as we fight climate change.
We have a regional economy. About 60,000 Durham residents leave our county each day for work and another 120,000 people come from other counties each day to work in Durham. We must have traffic free options for people to get to work, school, worship, the doctor or entertainment throughout the Triangle. As part of our adopted Durham County Transit Plan, we are currently assessing the viability of Commuter Rail between Durham and Wake counties as a congestion free alternative to I-40.
We are also looking at possible Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) options to address traffic along 15-501, 54, 147 and the creation of a Regional BRT System with Durham connected to BRT routes underway in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. At the same time, we must improve our local bus service, transit amenities like bus stops and safe, protected bike and pedestrian connections to all our transit stops.
What initiatives would you like to support?
I am supportive of all these efforts and look forward to getting direct input from transit dependent residents in Durham as part of EngageDurham as the process to revise and update our Durham County Transit Plan is currently underway. I also would like to plan for implementation of a future fare free transit system. This will ensure equitable access and increase use of transit. I am also involved with the Triangle Bikeways Plan under study right now that will connect Wake, Durham and Orange Counties. We have to improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure that connects to our transit system and also offers an equitably accessible option for residents.
What do you believe to be a viable next step?
The next steps are already in motion. The EngageDurham process led by our Planning Department is getting input as to what people’s transit needs are and what type of transit system people would like to see in the future. This information will help inform our revised Durham County Transit Plan. At the same time transportation staff from GoTriangle, the City, County, MPO, NCDOT, and Triangle J Council of Governments are working together to plan for possible local, state and federal funding options. It is important that elected officials, community, business and education stakeholders and residents from all parts of the Durham community, especially those who are dependent on transit every day to get to where they need to go, are a part of this process of envisioning our transit future.
8) Last year, Durham saw a spike in homicides over 2018. What can the county do to address violent crime in the community?
I am very concerned about violent crime in our community. Last year we had 36 homicides, an increase from 31 in 2018. I am also concerned about the 145 people that were injured in shootings and the more than 600 shooting incidents that involved cars, homes, etc.
One death is too many and each shooting incident is a traumatic experience for family members, friends, neighbors and our entire community. Everyone should be able to feel safe in their home and neighborhood. We know from the work the County is doing around Early Childhood that being exposed to family and community violence can lead to trauma and ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) that can have lifelong impacts on school achievement, health outcomes and job attainment. Durham County is estimated to have nearly 30% of our residents as suffering from ACES.
As Chair of our Social Services Board, Co- Chair of Durham Joins Together to Save Lives, our county wide task force to address substance and medication misuse, and member of the Violent Crime Roundtable, Criminal Justice Advisory Committee and Gang Reduction Steering Committee, I am committed to addressing the complexity of issues involving community and family violence.
I support the many county efforts taking place to address the root causes of gun violence. I support the County’s more than $500,000 investment in Bull City United Violence Interruption Program which treats gun violence as a public health crisis and seeks to interrupt the cycle of violence, resolve conflicts peacefully and connect people to needed resources, jobs and education. I support Project Build, our gang prevention program that provides wrap around support and interventions to help youth at risk or in current gang membership. I strongly support programs like Bull City Youth Build that provide our often most disconnected youth the ability to earn a high school degree, construction certification and employable skills.
I strongly support all of the programs the county is investing in from prenatal care to birth and beyond with programs like Welcome Baby, Family Connects, Reach Out and Read, Triple P Parenting and Wash and Learn that help provide the supports our mothers, babies, young children and families need to address trauma, ACES and promote Resilience. Recently our Board voted to approve by laws to participate in the joint City, County, Board of Education supported Community Safety and Wellness Task Force.
I have been a strong supporter of this proposal from the beginning and believe this will be a vital step in uplifting the voices of those who are most directly impacted by the violence in our community and community rooted organizations who are providing effective non law enforcement approaches to mental health, substance use, domestic violence and other crisis responses and needs.
Are there preventative steps the county can or should take with regard to mental health?
Many of the programs I just mentioned focus on making sure people are connected to the mental health services they need and are solely supported by local tax dollars. The County also participates in the national Stepping Up Initiative to keep people with mental health issues out of our jail and better address mental health needs for those in detention.
That is why we directly fund a Mental Health Court, a walk- in behavioral health clinic and 24 hours crisis center, to divert people from our criminal justice system. Within the Detention Center we fund screening for mental health issues, mental health services, a male mental health pod and transitional support for people leaving the jail. Our Re-Entry Council, FIT and Coming Home programs operated through CJRC also provide mental health support to returning residents.
The biggest challenge we face is the lack of Medicaid Expansion and state funding cuts for mental health impacting our local provider Alliance Behavioral Health. We have 30,000 people in Durham that have no access to healthcare, including mental healthcare. This is unacceptable. Because of state funding cuts, the city and county are now jointly funding a new Homeless Street Outreach program to take care of our homeless residents who have the greatest needs, many who suffer from mental illness.
I am hopeful and excited about the work of the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force and the work they will do to assess community needs, current resources, existing gaps, analyze data, and consider other best practices. I look forward to the task force’s recommendations about the further investments we need to make and other programs we can implement here in Durham to meet the mental health needs of people in our community.
Are there any innovative programs in place elsewhere in the country that you would like to see implemented here?
Durham County is leading the way in so many areas related to mental health. Our first responders are trained in CIT (Crisis Intervention Training). We have implemented a Community Paramedicine program to help those who need additional support and connections to resources. I have strongly advocated that the city and county collaborate to support expansion of our existing Family Justice Center, a national best practice to reduce domestic violence with one stop, wrap around support services and this is currently moving forward with the County donating the use of a building in Downtown Durham for this purpose!
We must have Medicaid expansion to make sure everyone can get both the mental health and substance use treatments, often co-existing diagnoses, they need. Through our Durham Joins Together effort we are piloting several innovative practices- community based Health Education Ambassadors, MAT (Medically Assisted Treatment) in the jail for addiction and a Peer Support treatment model for those who come in contact with our first responders. But these are grant funded. When we look at the population in our homeless shelter, Urban Ministries, we also see that many of the clients are suffering from mental health and substance use needs.
The solution is permanent supportive housing. While the county provides some of this through our partnership with Alliance it is not enough. Again, we need more state and federal funding for mental health and substance use treatment, including permanent supportive housing. We also need some type of coordinated crisis response unit and program that can operate in coordination with and also independently of law enforcement. There are successful modelsof this in other places and I look forward to the Community Safety and Wellness Task Forces’ recommendations regarding this issue.
9) Economic inequality rose significantly in Durham County over the past decade (though it declined somewhat from 2017–18). How can county commissioners address this problem and ensure that the county’s prosperity is more equitable going forward?
The overall poverty rate and unemployment rate in Durham has declined since the 2008 recession. But when you disaggregate for race, we see that poverty, lower wages and unemployment is higher amongst black and Latinx Durham residents. This is why I will continue to support systemic investments in our Early Childhood System and Education to Jobs Pipeline.
We must make upstream investments in our children and families and break the cycle of poverty. All our children should have everything they need to be healthy, live in a safe home and a strong foundation of literacy so they can start school ready to learn. All our children, youth and adults should have access to a high-quality education and be prepared for and connected to a good paying job or career where they can support and sustain themselves and their family.
We must have an effective Transportation System that gives people equitable access to education, good jobs, affordable housing, and healthcare. I support the County’s MWBE program and 25% participation rate goals for capital projects and purchasing. We must keep working at ensuring all our residents are equitably benefiting from county business. I pushed for the revision of the Durham County’s Economic Incentive Policy that is promoting shared prosperity by focusing on companies who offer good paying jobs for those with high school, associates degrees or certifications, are second chance employers and have diversity hiring and purchasing programs.
We funded the hiring of a Racial Equity Officer who will help us implement racial equity policies in our programs and services. This will help us further understand what changes we can implement systemically to increase economic equity in Durham County and address historic, institutional racial disparities.
County Government must ensure that everyone in our community can support themselves with sustainable wage jobs so that everyone can thrive. Here are some of the things we are doing now and more that we can do:
1. We must promote a Living Wage for all in Durham. We adopted a Living Wage Policy many years ago. We pay Durham County staff no less than $15 per hour plus excellent benefits. The General Assembly has taken away our ability to explicitly require this with procurement and subcontracts. I hope we will be able to implement this again in the near future. But we can still hold up our policy as an expectation and model for our business partners. We can continue to include this as part of our Economic Development Incentives Policy and contracts. We can expect and advocate that our major private and institutional employers such as Duke University, who employs more than 40,000 people, adopt a Living Wage Policy and minimum wage of $15 per hour.
2. We must continue to invest in the salaries of our county employees, many who are Durham residents. Many of our lowest salaried staff are those who directly serve our community as social workers, public health workers, librarians, paramedics, detention officers and Sheriff deputies. The past two years we have invested more than $5 million improving county staff salaries.
3. We must continue to invest in the wages of our teachers and Durham Public Schools (DPS) staff. Increased county funding over the past several years, including $3 million in the FY 19-20 county budget, allowed DPS to work toward the goal of $15 per hour minimum wage, bring custodians in house as staff, and provide salary increases to all teachers and employees. In the adopted FY 20-21 budget, our Board did provide an additional $1.9 million to get 900 DPS certified staff up to $14 per hour but this fell short of the goal of a Living Wage for these employees I had advocated for. I will continue to fight for this.
4. We must take systems change approaches like we are doing with our Durham PreK Program where we are spending $5 million not just for free or subsidized fees for all parents but also to raise up the salaries of our low paid early childhood educators up to the DPS salary scale.
5. Through our Economic Development Policy, we must continue to prioritize the creation of jobs in Durham that pay sustainable wages, good benefits and are available to people to a wide range of education levels and backgrounds. We have created more than 2,000 new jobs in the past year that are all above minimum county wages for each job category. Many are Advanced Manufacturing jobs with starting salaries of $50-60,000 per year accessible to people with high school or Durham Tech certification or criminal backgrounds.
6. We must continue to improve the implementation of our MWBE plan participation goals and ways to ensure equitable opportunities for Durham workers and businesses to benefit from County capital projects and purchasing needs.
7. We must continue to invest in programs like our Re-entry Council, the County’s Transitional Jobs Program, and Made In Durham. These programs help address barriers and provides equitable access to job training and work experience connected to sustainable wage jobs in Durham County. A county supported local and regional transit system that provides equitable access to sustainable wage jobs is also essential for us to address this issue.
10) Are there any issues not included in this questionnaire that you would like to address?
Over the past seven months our community has been grappling with crises and urgent issues facing us here in Durham, across our region, state and country: Our response to the COVID 19 health crisis and how we keep people safe, support our local businesses and workers, and make sure everyone has the food, healthcare, housing, digital access and whatever they need to support themselves and their families.
Our response to ongoing horrific and glaring racial injustice, the urgency of Black Lives Matter and need for real change to address the historic racial and economic inequities rooted in the creation of our nation- a country founded and based on the enslavement of Black people and the ongoing system of White Supremacy that is imbedded in our institutions. We also now face a looming Eviction Crisis of catastrophic proportions and the need for an Economic Recovery.
We are in an economic recession that has disproportionately impacted our lowest wage workers, predominately workers of color, where today more than 30% of Durham’s hospitality and tourism workers remain unemployed. As Chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, I have been working in partnership with other elected officials, government staff, community leaders and stakeholders every day on these challenges.
I will continue to lead on these issues, work tirelessly in partnership with others for solutions and prioritize our local resources for the most vulnerable and marginalized, focus on systemic changes and advocate for the state and federal funding we so desperately need for short term and long term investments we must make now in the people of our community.
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