Name as it appears on the ballot: George Knott
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.George4Raleigh.com
Occupation & employer: Musician, self employed
Years lived in Raleigh: 42
1) Given the direction of Raleigh government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
For the past 20 years we, as a city, have courted tech industry with cash incentives’ and tax abatements to move downtown, you can see it everywhere, the new buildings with the big fancy logos on them. Those companies create jobs but those jobs import their workforce and that workforce wants to live downtown also. This growth displaces the blue-collar Raleigh citizens who have traditionally lived and worked in and near the city core, close to services like bus stations, clinics, and other nonprofits set up to serve the cities most vulnerable. Our citizens find themselves relocated far from their job (if in fact they still have a job, gentrification affects industry also) and far from the public transportation and other services that were easily accessible when they lived near the city core. The gentrification has caused one of the worst affordable housing crisis’s in the south. It’s fueling social instability, it’s turning our downtown into a wealth generator for the rich and only the rich, it’s causing our out of control homeless problem, it’s erasing our blue-collar working class so that Raleigh is becoming a city of the nouveau riche tech bros and developers on the top and the working poor at the bottom. And its being financed by our own tax dollars. I find that repulsive.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for your district. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.
In Reverse order:
3. Homelessness. Raleigh had 4,200 homeless in 2017, 5,500 in 2018. That’s an increase of 1,300 homeless citizens of Raleigh, in a state where the trend everywhere else is a declining rate of homelessness. We are well over 6,000 homeless where we stand today, and the county has 230 beds at the men’s shelter on Wilmington Street and is building 75 woman’s beds at the new facility on New Bern Ave. So we have 305 county beds and 5 other county-funded nonprofits that house 5-15 people each. For 6,000 people. Of course, the answer to homelessness isn’t county beds in a shelter; it’s getting people into safe and stable housing, so . . .
2. The Affordable Housing Crisis. We are gaining 500 units of affordable housing a year but losing 1,000 to teardowns and market-rate conversions. In 2015 we had a 54,000 unit deficit of affordable housing. We are actively losing working-class blue-collar houses and neighborhoods so the chances of the homeless finding stable housing in the city are nil. This is all driven by . . .
1. Our city and county sponsored growth; i.e. a culture of corporate welfare. We pay companies to come to our downtown. They import a workforce and that workforce wants to live downtown and they have the shiny tech money to do it. Affordable housing is bulldozed and high rises go up, blue-collar neighborhoods are razed and market-rate condos go up. Our gentrification problem is burning every bit as hot as our city’s growth because they are two sides of the same coin. OUR CITY IS PAYING FOR OUR WORKING CLASS TO BE DISPLACED. People are priced out of their homes through no fault of their own, they find themselves flung out into the suburbs where public services like access to public transportation have a harder time providing them access to the services they provide. Often the citizens also find their jobs have been displaced by the business our city imports and without the social safety net a city center has traditionally provided and no job, well, go back to problem #3 and start again.
3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the city council and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important?
I have no record of public service, so I have no record to hold against me. I am a citizen of Raleigh who has read the newspaper every morning for the last 30 years and grumbled to myself about the state of our city. We’ve had some real great people on the city council and we’ve had some real disasters, and when they as to run for reelection I am always perplexed by the guile it takes to be such a horrific councilperson and come back election after election and pretend that they haven’t left a wake of destruction and votes of self-interest in their path. Then again I suspect that’s the nature of politics; not only that the rotten ones keep coming back but that the public keeps electing them. What short memories we have. Why would I be an effective member of the council? Well, I haven’t let you down yet.
4) Most people agree that Raleigh faces a housing affordability crisis. Do you believe the council made a wise decision not to place a bond on this year’s ballot? Why or why not?
We absolutely are in an affordable housing crisis and we needed action 10 years ago. We are so far behind the 8 ball that this election cycle almost every single candidate gives lip service to it. It’s not a problem that can be solved with campaign promises though. It’s going to be a long tough slog and will probably chew up many political careers along the way to get it done right. We absolutely need a bond to kick start an affordable housing solution but we should have been spending more of our tax dollars on it all along. I believe the county has allocated somewhere around 15 million dollars a year but I’d like to see that number doubled AND a bond to get a solid start.
5) Assuming the council places a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot, how much money to do you believe the city should ask for? What do you believe it should fund? Outside of a bond, what steps should the city be taking to promote housing affordability in Raleigh?
Durham proposed a $95 million dollar bond and I think that’s a good number. It won’t be enough by itself. I’d like to see the county double the money it spends on housing. As to what to do with the bond money, I have a lot of ideas. I’d like the county to get back into the housing market, not Raleigh relying on the private sector to provide for the neediest. This means reversing some of the damage caused by the HOPEVI program that demolished section 8 housing and replaced it with lower density privatized affordable and market-rate units. For example, Halifax Court had 300 units of section 8 housing and it was torn down and replaced by 60 market-rate cottages and 60 ‘affordable’ housing units and renamed Capital Park. That program fixed some problems but we should have been built 4 more neighborhoods like Capital Park to replace the one Halifax court. I’d also like the county to adopt a plan similar to California’s prop 13 for long term residents. This fixes property tax at the value the house was at when purchased, tied to inflation. Homeowners are protected who may otherwise be priced out of their homes due to gentrification of their neighborhoods around them. I’d like to see land trusts formed, especially around the most vulnerable areas like the neighborhoods surrounding Dix Park, anywhere around an ill-conceived sports complex and around any transit hub. These are ground zero for gentrification
6) Discussions surrounding housing often turn on questions of protecting neighborhoods’ characters or promoting density in the city’s core—i.e., what kinds of new housing the city should add, and where? At the crossroads of this conversation is the rapid gentrification of Southeast Raleigh. What role should the city play in ensuring that the longtime residents of those neighborhoods can continue to afford to live there?
As the city continues to attract business to downtown with cash incentives’ and tax breaks, the boundaries of downtown are expanding south. There is literally nothing to be done to stop the gentrification of southeast Raleigh as long as we are growing. Any candidate who advocates for this type of growth and says they can slow or stop gentrification is talking out of both sides of their mouth. The city doesn’t add any housing, not enough to warrant that conversation. Housing is added by developers and developers, whether they build up or out, always do it where profits can be maximized. This means they always build where they can buy low and sell high, and that means housing is built on the backs of the poor and working class. Now this is where people get the idea that I am an anti-growth candidate. I am not. I am am against using our tax dollars to pay private companies to move to our downtown. If we could slow growth to it’s natural and organic pace we could begin to try to get a handle on gentrification. Until then it is and will always be a losing battle
7) The city currently has twenty neighborhood conservation overlay districts, which can restrict new development. Do you believe this tool is being used effectively? How would you change the city’s approach to NCODs, if at all?
NCOD’s are put in place in to freeze the character of existing neighborhoods. Some of the NCOD’s might be stifling affordable housing but ¾ of the NCOD’s in Raleigh are in affluent areas and they keep tear downs out and stop lots from being split in two; and when they split a lot in those types of neighborhoods they don’t do it to put up affordable housing, they shoehorn in two McMansions. If our goal is affordable housing, I’d look elsewhere first
8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?
The last time the city revamped its UDO it was to lay down a fast track for developers to turn ranch houses into McMansions, and turn downtown into highrise condos for the rich. Any argument for ‘preserving the character of the neighborhood’ went out the window when we allowed that to happen. If I could change one thing it would be to make the UDO cater to all, not just those looking to tear down modest houses and build the horrendous monstrosities that are too big for the lot, too tall for the neighborhood and to ugly for human consumption. I’d like the UDO to have a stronger hand in halting the McMansion frenzy, and make it easier to build Duplexes, triplexes and adding Accessory Dwelling units on existing properties.
9) Earlier this year, the council required homeowners who wish to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property to petition their neighbors through an overlay district process. So far, no neighborhoods have started the application process. Do you believe this is the right approach to ADUs, or do you believe they should be allowed by right? Please explain.
They should be allowed by right. It’s your property, you should be able to build a ADU to code if you desire; even if in NCODs and HODs as long as they aren’t seen from the street 1
10) When considering new downtown development projects—e.g., John Kane’s proposed tower on Peace Street or new developments in the Warehouse District—how much consideration do you believe the council should give to automobile traffic and parking concerns?
Downtown Raleigh proper is 6 blocks by 6 blocks and most of the streets are two lane roads. The bones of our downtown are modest, and we are way overbuilt for what they can support. There is zero we can do about it. The UDO setback guidelines allow high rises to be built right up to the road, there is no place for added lanes. I imagine all those proposed high rises will have their own parking garages built in and of course if you live or work in one those buildings you’re going to have a car. I don’t even know how to answer that question; we are so far beyond being able to reasonably balance our downtown infrastructure. That ship has sailed.
11) Developers are eyeing at least three parcels on the outskirts of the downtown business district for twenty-plus-story buildings. Do you believe this area is an appropriate place to add height and density? What conditions should the city attach to such projects, if any?
ALL new construction of buildings should include affordable housing built in. Bill DeBlasio implemented a plan in New York where all new construction had between 20 and 50 percent set aside for affordable housing. In North Carolina’s political climate 50% would be a hard sell but it would still be profitable. I think 20% affordable housing units for any new construction over 8 units is reasonable and not unprecedented. Getting our NCGA to allow us to exercise that power is another matter; but I think it could be negotiated if we were willing to fight that fight. We should have a City Council who is willing to step up for us.
12) What are your thoughts on the city’s approach to alternative transportation options downtown? Is the city handling issues such as regulating e-scooter companies and building protected bike lanes the right way? Why or why not?
I am not surprised the city council has embraced the blight on downtown that is e-scooters. After all, municipalities across the country are salivating for the privatization of as many services as they can get away with. E-Scooters are, on the surface, a last mile option and if they deliver that is one less service the city has to provide. Here’s the thing. E-Scooters are not last mile options. The people who NEED last mile options are the disabled, the old, people with young children in tow, people trying to get groceries from the bus stop to their door. E-Scooters are of zero use to these people. E-Scooters are toys for affluent people who have smart phones and can walk but choose to look like buffoons and are willing to pose a danger to themselves and others while acting as such. The city NEEDS a last mile option that is accessible to all. E-Scooters are not it. The problem with bike lanes, protected or not, is the issue of the available asphalt in downtown Raleigh. As I said of the infrastructure of Raleigh, the roads downtown are far too modest for what we are asking of them. Most roads are only two lanes with parking on one side. To add bike lanes often removes the street parking and many of the smallest, oldest and most vulnerable businesses downtown depends on street parking. If you want to ride a bike, put on a helmet and ride in the road like an adult. Of course there will be accidents, it’s impossible for there not to be when we have overloaded our roads to above capacity, when we have built the downtown so high. Hey, the city is growing. Some people lose their house to gentrification; others get run over by an imported tech bro pulling their Tesla out of the parking deck of their million dollar condo on the 27th floor of a new Styrofoam high rise. Thems the breaks of growth.
13) Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance banning whole-house rentals and regulating other short-term rentals. Are you concerned about claims that this ordinance might conflict with state law? Do you believe the city’s policy is the best way to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals? Why or why not?
My views on Airbnb rental would allow citizens to rent out part of their homes 365 days a year, or full house rentals for a percentage of the year. What we want to avoid is allowing existing homes to be turned into full time, full house rental properties. We already lose enough affordable housing to redevelopment without allowing existing homes to be turned into full time, short term rental properties. As our city grows and gentrifies, this is one very small thing we can do to help our housing numbers.
14) Do you think Raleigh’s system of Citizens Advisory Councils is the best way of fostering engagement with local government? If not, how do you believe the CAC system should be reformed?
I’m really on the fence about this one. On the one hand they are the best and most stable platform for citizens to engage with their government that I am aware of. On the other hand it’s like everything else in Raleigh, how seriously they take your CAC probably depends a lot on the part of town you live in. But then again that goes for just being a citizen in general. I’ve talked to people who think they are great and I’ve talked to people who have no faith in them. One thing is for sure, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Police Accountability or Moloks, there’s a problem getting through to the people in charge; the CAC’s act like a buffer between individual citizens and the Council and the Council acts like a buffer between the CACs and who actually runs the city. But now I’m getting into some of that Wizard of Oz stuff, ignore the man behind the curtain, keep moving, nothing to see here folks.
15) Four council members have called for the city to join a lawsuit over the RDU Airport Authority’s quarry lease with Wake Stone. Do you support RDU’s quarry lease? Do you believe this case is something the city should involve itself in? Why or why not?
I am proud those council members have taken a stand. I am all for the preservation of green space, and the environmental impacts will be felt far past the hole in the ground that quarry will leave. If the city has legal standing we should advocate against the quarry and if we do not I will use my voice to fight against it. My stance on the preservation of green space extends to the Dix park plan, which I am appalled by. We should leave that a green space, not turn it into a semi Disneyland attraction like the master plan calls for. Model it after Central park, a large green manicured park with walking trials. We will NEVER have another chance to preserve such a magnificent and overwhelming natural park for all citizens to enjoy. The problem with both the RDU quarry and Dix park is those in charge see every piece of land as a potential revenue generator. We can do better than that. Our parks don’t have to make money. Our parks don’t need to have event spaces and hotels and restaurants on them. There is enough of that. We have one chance and once it’s built out it’s gone forever. Once it’s built up or mined, that’s it, finito.
16) When Mayor McFarlane announced her decision not to seek reelection, she cited increasing incivility among council members. Do you agree with her assessment? If so, what would do to lower the temperature in city government and make the council more productive?
We have had hot heads in the council for the last 10 years or so. This is nothing new. Some have been worse than others but there is defiantly an unhealthy culture that has rubbed off and been passed down through the years. I won’t say we need a complete reset but some of the people running have a history of causing trouble and I surely do not want to see them come back next term. The amount of disconnect between the public understanding of the situation and the history of some of the elected officials (which has been well covered in the News and Observer and the Indy) is stunning.
17) Do you believe the city needs a community police oversight board? If so, what should the board look like, and what powers should it have? Do you believe the city can or should challenge the state law that blocks access to certain police personnel records?
I support community police oversight boards. They should have the power of subpoena but not the power for disciplinary action. I do not believe this will solve the issue of police brutality that the people advocating for them hope it will BUT it will add transparency and accountability where the community feels they have neither. Police brutality is rare but certainly not unheard of. Like police departments across the country, RPD has had its share of issues. There are families in Raleigh who have had brothers, fathers, husbands killed and no answers. As mayor the least you can do (and I do mean the very least) is give a grieving family answers as quickly as possible. There are families that have been shattered that will never be made whole again, wounds that will never heal. That’s not OK and I don’t know what the answer is. If I did I wouldn’t be wasting my time running for mayor of Raleigh, I’d be reforming the US police culture. But until we have a system that keeps these things from happening I will continue to use my voice to be an advocate for the people.
18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.