Name as it appears on the ballot: Javiera Caballero
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.javieracaballeroparadurham.com
Occupation & employer: Durham City Council Member- City of Durham, former education consultant at Alma Advisory Group
Years lived in Durham: 9
1) Given the direction of Durham government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
I believe we are on the right course We have made impressive strides in creating a city where all residents matter and where there is deep institutional effort to govern with an equity lens to move toward shared prosperity. All city employees now make a living wage, we implemented the most successful Participatory Budgeting process in the country, and our Welcome Home and DEAR programs are considered models and are being implemented in other cities. We must continue this trend of responsive progressive governance. Successful implementation of our five-year housing strategy, the development of a more holistic community safety model, and ensuring our economic development benefits those left out of Durham’s most recent prosperity must be our priorities. All of this work must be achieved with equity as our guiding value. We also cannot diminish the importance of our next regional transit plan and comprehensive plan and they must adequately address climate change.
You can find more detailed policy proposals on my website. These policy proposals are part of the Bull City Together Platform, which was co-written with my colleagues Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece https://www.javieracaballeroparadurham.com/
2) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe the city faces and how you believe the city should address them.
Affordable housing requires a bold policy solution, and we will make strides toward that solution with the housing bond on the ballot this fall. If we pass the bond in November, I pledge to implement our five-year housing plan with fidelity. We will not only have fundamentally changed the arc of Durham, we will also give cities that are struggling just like Durham a roadmap to do the same. In NC, state government limits how we can build and promote affordable housing; we do not have the same options that many cities in other states do. Without a large public investment, we will not be able to maintain and create the amount of affordable housing we need.
The City’s Five-Year Affordable Housing Plan outlines the basic parameters of how the bond will fund a variety of different strategies to meet our goals. Our goals include helping DHA redevelop its properties, continuing to disburse funds to local affordable housing partners, helping current home-owners weatherize their homes, and also includes funds to help first-time home buyers. I think all of these strategies are needed to meet the different kinds of issues people are facing in our affordable housing crisis.
Economic development is another vital issue we need to address, especially by fostering a local economy that reduces barriers and increases business ownership in our local communities of color, and by increasing wages for workers. Implementing our Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s plan — “Built2Last: A Roadmap for Inclusive and Equitable Development in Durham” — will be a very important way for the city to achieve this. In this past budget cycle, we dedicated funding to help launch the Bull City Foundation, a non-profit debt equity fund that will expand and grow local business with a focus on our most marginalized communities.
Another important area where the city is bolstering its commitments to our local economy is through the Office of Equity and Inclusion, which will take a closer look at our contracting practices. The Housing Bond will be yet another means of producing local jobs because of DHA’s commitment to creating a jobs program for their residents and other Durhamites. The housing bond will create jobs if it passes, providing many people with the opportunity to launch into construction and other trades.
Finally, we must roll sustainability into all of our work. As we think about transportation and land development, we must incorporate principles of sustainability to create cohesive land-use policy that takes into account our finite natural resources and climate change.
As we develop affordable housing units, did we incorporate green building design practices? As we think about economic development, are we creating a business environment that is amenable to green energy jobs? Are we working with our local education partners in developing training for jobs in solar and wind tech? These are good paying jobs that cannot be outsourced and often involve 2-year degrees or certifications.
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?
Since joining council in January of 2018 I hit the ground running. I believe in collaborative leadership and I believe in leadership where we listen to resident feedback and shift how we prioritize our work in response to that feedback. Because it was a priority of the Latinx and immigrant community, I made one of my personal priorities as a council member to continuously advocate and fight a better U visa policy. I took on this work as a council member and now the policy department includes, U visa data in our quarterly crime report updates. Not only that, but soon there will be no time limit for U visa approval for qualifying victims of crime.
I championed the city’ first language access plan, which was introduced in May of 2019. Our language access plan will ensure that residents whose first language is not English receive the same quality service as all Durham residents. It also operationalizes and streamlines how we communicate with these residents.
And when the General Assembly introduced a bill that would force sheriffs across North Carolina to honor ICE detainers, I mobilized other elected leaders across the state to oppose HB 370. Together, we sent a clear message that we stood by our immigrant communities and that we supported our sheriffs’ autonomy.
4) In your view, what’s the best or most important thing the city council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the city should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
Putting the housing bond on the ballot in November 2019 in conjunction with passing Expanding Housing Choice earlier this month. Together, these two policies will work in tandem to improve affordable housing in Durham. We cannot change our affordable housing crisis without an aggressive commitment from the city in funding, scale and adjustments to our land-use policies. Our public interventions require that we allow for a built environment where we can increase housing supply. We must also change our zoning practices to allow for more variety in our housing stock and more creativity in what we allow builders and designers to build. Both of these components are essential if we want to make any real dent in housing affordability in Durham. Balancing the needs of different communities is a challenge there was not clear public agreement on EHC but ultimately I leaned into my values of sustainability and increasing density as a means to increasing density downtown.
5) This year, the city has since an uptick in gun homicides compared to 2018, recently including the tragic death of a nine-year-old boy. Gun violence is obviously a multifaceted problem with no simple solutions. But, in your view, what can or should the city be doing to stem the tide of violence that it isn’t doing now?
Gun violence tragically plays out here in Durham and in communities across our country every day. The day a child is killed is even harder to bear. The solution that would be of greatest benefit to Durham is if our state or federal government would pass comprehensive gun control legislation. Since that seems unlikely at this time, there is work that we are doing at the local level. I support our police department as it continues to prioritize lowering our incidence of violent crime as its most urgent work. The community safety task force that we are creating is another important part of how must deal with violence in our city. I believe the recommendations put forward by this task force will be key to really creating a safer Durham. We cannot be successful in that work without the county on board and without committing funding to programs such as violence interrupter programs and a crisis first-responder’s program. My hope is that we will have even more solutions and that we will broaden our view and scope of what community safety means.
6) In recent elections, residents have supported leaders who have embraced criminal justice reforms, including reducing or eliminating cash bail and court fines and fees. Advocacy groups have argued—in our view, rightly—for more systemic solutions to violent crime than incarceration. But some of these solutions, which aim to reshape disadvantages communities, will take time to bear fruit, whereas gun violence is causing harm right now. What do you say to residents who want more immediate answers to crime problems in their neighborhoods? In what ways can the city help them?
Our police department is increasing patrols in the areas where we are seeing increased gun violence and is responding to residents’ fears and concerns. And while this will help in the short-term we must move towards longer-term solutions that are grounded in rehabilitation and not only in punishment.
7) Earlier this year, the council declined the police chief’s request for additional officers. Do you believe this was a wise decision? Why or why not?
Yes, one of the hardest parts of the job is balancing all the needs present in our community. Several departments made budget requests, and, with limited resources, we choose between those. We also needed to fulfill our commitment to our part-time employees to pay them living wages, a measure city council approved in 2016 for full-time employees. We could not raise our part-time employees’ wages and fulfill the police chief’s request without raising the property tax rate higher, increasing property taxes even more. I felt in the context of increased county property taxes and the housing bond coming before voters we were asking too much of Durham residents.
8) This year, the Durham-Orange Light Rail project collapsed over a route dispute with Duke University and other complications. Tell us how you envision what Durham’s approach to public transportation and mass transit should look like going forward. Where should the city focus its resources?
We need a good mass transit system and we needed it at least a decade ago. Currently our planning department is leading the effort for the next iteration of our transit plan; they are working closely with Go Triangle and that will give us a strong end product. We have clear evidence that the planning department takes equitable engagement seriously and I am confident that they will do the necessary work to ensure robust stakeholder input is included in the process. The commuter rail between Durham and Raleigh is an important component for our next transit plan. Determining the best transit option between Durham and Chapel Hill is critical and at this point the most viable option seems to be BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) that still needs to be determined. Increased busing in Durham proper will also need to be addressed as will thinking through multi-modal transit ideas such as improved and increased options for walking and biking.
9) Much of the city’s affordable housing strategy has been planned in conjunction with light rail, and as recently as last year, Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott called light rail “critical” to his agency’s goals for low-income housing. In what ways does light rail’s demise affect the city’s strategy? How should the city alter its approach, if at all?
Our next regional transit plan is being developed now. The demise of light rail has made our worker harder but we will create a new plan that will meet the needs of our low-income housing residents. I look forward to hearing that plan, and residents’ and stakeholder groups’ reaction to the plan. I will carefully consider that information as we move forward.
10) In November, Durham will ask residents to vote on a $95 million bond to support affordable housing, a key part of a larger strategy to build or preserve more than twenty-five hundred affordable units and move at least seventeen hundred homeless households into housing, as well as create new homeownership opportunities and help those facing eviction. We’d like to ask a few questions about the bond:
- Do you support the bond, including the property tax hike that will be required to implement it?
- If you support the bond, what would be your argument to homeowners who have seen their property taxes rise over the last several years for why they should support the bond? How will it benefit them? Why is this bond so vital?
- The bond will benefit homeowners, especially those in our urban tier neighborhoods because there is $18 million dedicated to neighborhood stabilization. Without that measure, many properties in those neighborhoods could and will be sold at higher prices, continuing the upward trend of the cost of housing in Durham. Most Durham residents will see that in increase in their property taxes the next time there is a tax revaluation, which now occurs every four years.
- About $60 million of the bond would go to the DHA to redevelop its downtown properties, a project that is already in motion. Tell us how you’d like to see the city spend the rest? In what ways can the city promote affordable housing most effectively?
- The city’s five-year housing plan addresses what the bond will fund and can be found online https://durhamnc.gov/445/Community-Development
- The different strategies in the housing plan- from eviction diversion to affordable homeownership opportunities for first-time home buyers-demonstrates that many solutions are needed to promote affordable housing effectively
11) Given the influx of people and money Durham has seen in recent years, gentrification has become a major concern, in East Durham but also in other neighborhoods close to downtown. In what ways can or should the city intervene?
Passing the housing bond and implementing our five-year housing plan is the best chance we have at stemming some of the gentrification. One of our most important goals is neighborhood stabilization in the most swiftly gentrifying neighborhoods. We must also move the work and economic development forward along with affordable housing to ensure Durhamites can remain in Durham.
12) Durham’s downtown is ringed by low-density neighborhoods, which has contributed to rising home values in the urban core. Earlier this year, the city proposed a plan called Expanded Housing Choices, which would allow for more—and more kinds—of housing near downtown. It met with pushback and has been delayed for months. (EHC is scheduled to come back before the council on September 3.) Disputes that seem to turn on the question of density vs. neighborhood protection seem to be emerging all over the country, including in Raleigh. What are your thoughts on the city’s approach to EHC? Is it adequately considering the desires of neighborhoods? Is it being aggressive enough in adding density in the urban core? Is it handling the situation just right?
I voted in favor of EHC on September 3. I believe it was the right vote because EHC provides incremental zoning changes ahead of our much more robust and longer comprehensive plan update. The goal of EHC is not to be a major overhaul of our UDO- the goal is to provide allow some variety to increase supply in our zoned single-family housing districts while still being sensitive to neighborhood character.
I appreciated the dialogue that our staff, community partners, and the planning commission had over the course of several months around EHC. Our comprehensive plan update will help us determine if we need to be more aggressive in adding density and it will also be an opportunity for all types of stakeholders to weigh in, including our neighborhood associations.
13) As of 2017, nearly half of Durham residents living in poverty were black. The city’s overall economy has improved markedly over the last two decades. What are your ideas for making its renaissance more equitable?
The city is already working to ensure there is more shared prosperity. We rebranded our Department of Equal Opportunity /Equity Assurance into the Equity & Inclusion Department, which includes City of Durham’s first Racial Equity & Inclusion Manager. This Department will continue the work of helping us meet our contracting goals with minority owned businesses, and it will also help us examine more deeply our internal practices as an organization and how to create and implement policies with race equity as a core value. The Equity & Inclusion Department will also work with the Office of Economic & Workforce Development, OEWD, to identify and recruit businesses and also provide the technical assistance for them to compete for city contracts. OEWD is also the department tasked with launching and leading the city’s Built2Last development plan. Finally, the Housing Bond will be yet another means of producing local jobs through the commitment of DHA to build out a jobs program for their residents and other Durham residents. A lot of jobs could be produced if the housing bond passes and many people will have the opportunity to launch into construction and other trades — a job sector that we consistently hear needs more workers.
14) Because of state law, municipalities have a number of restrictions placed on them by the legislature: they can’t, for instance, be a sanctuary city, impose a citywide minimum wage, enact an antidiscrimination ordinance that includes LGBTQ residents, or enforce inclusionary zoning. Under what circumstances should elected officials push back against the legislature?
Preemption by the state restricting our ability to implement policy solutions that benefit Durham and make our city safer is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a city council member. I have worked hard to build relationships with other local elected leaders in NC and think organizations such as Local Progress can help cities work together and coordinate elected leaders to challenge some of these restrictions. Many municipalities across NC are waiting for HB142 to sunset. Working together would ensure many ordinances being passed simultaneously, which would not only strengthen protections for our LGBTQ community it would also diminish the chances of the General Assembly punishing local jurisdictions- basically strength in numbers.
15) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.