Name as it appears on the ballot: Jonathan Melton
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: jonathanmelton.com
Occupation & employer: Lawyer, Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC
Years lived in Raleigh: 15
1. Given the direction of Raleigh government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, what specific changes will you advocate for if elected?
Yes, like most rapidly growing cities, we have our challenges but also many opportunities. We must continue to plan for our growth. Not planning for growth won’t stop growth from happening, it’ll just cause us not to grow well. For years, our city and region did not build enough housing to keep up with demand or invest in transit. We were behind on these issues, but we’re on the right path now. We’re working to eliminate exclusionary zoning, investing in more affordable housing, and implementing the Wake County Transit Plan. There’s more work to do, but we can’t go backwards to doing things the old way.
2. If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identify your priorities for your district. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.
The most pressing issue the city faces is housing affordability and affordable housing. Technically they are separate but related issues, and we must work to address both. For housing affordability, we must continue to allow more types of housing to be built in more places, increasing supply to help stabilize costs and ease pressure on vulnerable neighborhoods. These types of housing include duplexes, tiny homes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), townhouses, apartments, and cottage courts. But increasing supply will only address part of the issue. We must also work to increase affordable housing, through providing subsidies for those who need it most. Proceeds from the Affordable Housing Bond are becoming available and will help create more affordable housing units, while also providing more funds for owner-occupied rehabilitation assistance to help longtime residents stay in their homes, and first time homebuyer downpayment assistance to help new residents build generational wealth through homeownership. Other pressing issues we face are access to transit and multimodal transportation (bike, pedestrian, scooter, etc.), and reducing car dependency. All three issues I’ve identified are connected. Providing safe, reliable transit is easier to accomplish when we build denser, more mixed use neighborhoods. And reducing car dependency is achieved by increasing access to transit and multimodal transportation, and placing goods and services closer to where people live.
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?
In my full-time job, I’m a North Carolina Board Certified Family Law Specialist and certified mediator. I help individuals navigate difficult personal circumstances with a goal to find compromise solutions. On City Council, I’ve chaired the Economic Development and Innovation Committee during a period of time where our small businesses and most of our local economy has suffered greatly due to COVID. In my role as chair, I’ve helped us navigate and advance numerous initiatives, such as permanent outdoor dining and the social district. Also, in general on City Council, I’ve led on complex issues involving partnerships with other elected bodies and community groups, such as the enactment of our nondiscrimination ordinance, adding an LGBTQ liaison to our police department, requesting oversight authority for our police advisory board (which, unfortunately, did not receive support in the General Assembly), and maintaining fare free transit in the budget this year. I also led on reforms to ease burdens on small businesses, by advocating for accessory commercial units (ACUs) for certain home-based businesses, as well as removing the restrictive requirements for live/work. I also led on bringing back scooters and investing in other non-car infrastructure, which might seem like a small change, but it’s had a big impact.
4. U.S. metros are grappling with a housing shortage, especially a shortage of affordable housing. Raleigh is no different. Many believe that the best way to address this crisis is via dense infill development along public transportation corridors. Do you share this vision for Raleigh’s growth? Please explain.
Yes, the greatest burden on our infrastructure is single family sprawl; it stresses our ability to provide police, fire, and solid waste services, it adds congestion to our roads, and it stresses our water and sewer infrastructure. Directing density downtown and in our urban cores as well as along transit corridors is the most sustainable way to grow.
5. In 2020, Raleigh citizens voted in favor of an $80 million affordable housing bond to assist with acquiring land and building near transit corridors, preserving existing inventory, down payment and homeowner repairs assistance, low-income housing tax credit financing, and more. The city also created a goal of adding 5,700 affordable units over 10 years and is on track to meet that goal. But it’s estimated that Raleigh has a deficit of some 20,000 units currently, and it’s clear much more work is needed. Should the city bring another affordable housing bond before voters? Why or why not? If yes, when, how much should the city ask for, and what should the bond fund?
Yes, but the timing of the bond is important. Funds will continue to roll in from the 2020 Affordable Housing Bond for several years. Those funds will help acquire land along transit corridors, facilitate construction of new affordable housing through public and private partnerships, aid in homeowner rehabilitation assistance, and provide down payment assistance for low to moderate income first time home buyers. We also have funds from the 1 cent sales tax, which provides about $8 million per year. I think another affordable housing bond would be appropriate as early as 2024. I think we need to assess our needs closer to that time to determine how much and how the funds should be used, but I would think many of those same categories of funding from the 2020 Affordable Housing Bond would apply as well.
6. In neighborhoods across the city, ranch homes and other modest, more affordable single-family homes are being torn down and replaced with large (also single-family) McMansions that don’t provide more density. Does the city have any authority to regulate such teardowns? Should it regulate such teardowns and redevelopment?
I do not believe the city has that authority to regulate teardowns, but we do have the ability to regulate what types of housing is allowed to be built, and where. For a long time, only single family homes were allowed in large parts of our city. We’re seeing the results of that choice now, as these smaller, more affordable homes are torn down for the larger, McMansion homes. Now that we’ve legalized more types of housing in more places, I expect we’ll see a change. We have to give these zoning reforms time to take effect and make additional changes as needed.
7. One way Raleigh’s city council has attempted to address the city’s housing shortage is by allowing for more flexible housing options such as duplexes, triplexes, and quadraplexes in all neighborhoods in the city, eliminating certain zoning protections, and allowing apartments for zones along bus routes. Do you support this move to bring missing middle housing to the city and do you think it will be an effective policy for managing the city’s growth?
Yes, no city has solved the housing affordability crisis, but I’m certain we’re not going to solve it doing things the exact same way that got us into this mess. We must end exclusionary zoning laws that have divided our city and increased costs. Allowing more types of housing to be built across the city will increase supply and help take pressure off some neighborhoods already burdened by the pressures of gentrification and displacement.
8. Raleigh’s city council has directed city staff to gather data on absentee investors who are buying up properties in the city. Would you support measures to limit investors from buying up homes as other U.S. cities are considering doing or further regulating whole house short-term rentals that some argue are detracting from the supply of homes available for full-time residents?
I would support measures to limit investors from buying up homes in Raleigh. I’m eager to see what tools we have available to address this issue, but it might also require some assistance from the General Assembly. It’s already difficult to find a home you can afford, and when you’re negotiating for a house against a corporation with endless funds, you’re not engaged in a fair process. Regarding short term rentals, under our new rules permits are required and we’ve requested periodic updates from staff. We are monitoring the effect on the housing supply, but so far it has not appeared to be an issue here, like it is in other cities that are more tourist-frequent destinations. As of now, based on the data, I would not support restrictions on short term rentals. I know many folks depend on that income to help pay their own mortgages or other living expenses.
9. What role should the city play in ensuring that the longtime residents of rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in Southeast Raleigh and other areas of the city can continue to afford to live in those neighborhoods?
A lot of people are moving to Raleigh, and we need to provide access to housing for them, but we also have folks who have housing now who are at risk of losing it, and we must do what we can to keep them in their homes. Otherwise, they become displaced and in need of housing too, and the cycle perpetuates. The city is investing more funds into the owner occupied rehabilitation program, which will help folks pay for the cost of repairs for their homes rather than be forced to sell if they can’t pay for the repair. The county also offers several property tax assistance programs but they are limited in scope. I would support expanding these programs. I know the county is looking at this proposal now, and I think we should work together. Also, allowing more types of housing to be built in more places in the city will help ease some pressure on these rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods too.
10. Public servants including police officers, firefighters, and teachers can’t afford to live in the city where they work. As a result, Raleigh loses good officers and teachers to other municipalities and is grappling with a current shortage of around 60 firefighters and more than 100 police officers. What can Raleigh leaders do to attract and retain the best officers and other public servants?
Increasing pay would be a start, and I know in the last budget the City Manager proposed, and we approved, increasing the public safety salaries to the Wake County average plus 6%. However, I know that how other municipalities pay their first responders is different so it’s not a direct correlation. I think we need to work with the first responders to form a new or revised pay structure that they believe is more fair. I also know that historically when Raleigh raises pay, the next year the smaller municipalities raise their pay, so we’re stuck in a back and forth each year. I think there are other benefits we could provide, in addition to pay, that might help retain employees. For example, a take home car program for the police department.
11. Do you support the city council’s decision to eliminate parking minimums for developers? Why or why not?
Yes, but eliminating parking minimums doesn’t just apply to developers, it applies to everyone, including small business owners who might seek to open a storefront but can’t afford to pay for the additional space needed to provide the previously-required parking. Under the old mandates, business owners would frequently have to buy a building or land adjacent and pave it for parking, which increases cost and is not the type of city we want to build with surface parking lots scattered around. There is a ton of data that shows that minimum parking requirements increase the cost of housing, goods, and services. Eliminating parking minimums doesn’t mean parking won’t be built, it just means there’s not an arbitrary amount prescribed for each development. Most lenders still require parking to finance a project, and developers and business owners will still build parking because most people need or want to use their cars. In Raleigh, we actually eliminated parking minimums and established parking maximums, which means if more parking is built than the allowed maximum, it must be available to the public, in some circumstances constructed in a deck with space for bike and EV parking, and/or storm water and green infrastructure if located in a more suburban setting. This will help mitigate the negative impacts of large surface lots at big box stores, for example.
12. In 2019, Raleigh’s city council voted to eliminate citizen advisory councils (CACs) without public notice or input. Do you feel this was the right decision? Do you support bringing back CACs? What do you think the council is doing right or wrong when it comes to community engagement post-CACs? Could you describe your vision for community engagement in Raleigh?
How we send/receive information has changed substantially from the 1970s when CACs were created, and we have to do things differently. Surveys showed few Raleigh residents knew what a CAC was and fewer ever attended a CAC meeting. Attendees were not necessarily representative of the overall community. That can’t be the sole form of city-sanctioned engagement. We need to decentralize. In person meetings are important and will continue to play a role. Groups called CACs still exist and meet, and the city offers a neighborhood registry program where neighborhood groups can register to get access to staff resources and community centers for meetings. But we must take steps to engage with a more diverse, representative community and provide greater access. During this term, we added two required neighborhood meetings for most rezoning cases to our city code. We included renters in all mailed and posted notices for city issues for the first time (rezonings, street projects, etc.). We eliminated the rule that you had to sign up two weeks in advance to speak at City Council meetings and the rule that prohibited speakers from addressing Council Members directly. We funded a Community Engagement Bus to go into traditionally disengaged communities and meet people where they are. And we created the new Office of Community Engagement to help embed engagement in all city departments. For a long time I think community engagement in Raleigh was a noun, a place you had to go to engage. It should be a verb, an action embedded in all of our processes and continuously worked on for improvement.
13. Following shooting deaths of Raleigh residents by RPD officers, the city council established a civilian-staffed police review board in 2020 that had no official power and fell apart soon after two of its members resigned. The council also established the ACORNS unit to address mental health crises, but data shows the unit rarely assists on calls related to suicides and involuntary mental health commitments, leaving most of those calls to police officers. Do you feel that the council has done enough, in partnership with the police chief, to reform the police force and address officer violence? Would you support cutting the department’s $124.5 million police budget?
The Police Advisory Board did not fall apart; they have a full board with leadership roles and meet regularly. They’ve already reviewed and submitted recommendations on nearly half a dozen policies. As their liaison, I’ve attended their board retreat and plan to meet with them at their regularly-scheduled meeting at the end of this month to review the proposals they’ve already submitted and discuss how I can facilitate a dialogue with the City Manager and Police Chief.
I think the ACORNS unit could benefit from expansion as well as revisions. I know the Police Advisory Board has worked on this issue. I do think the ACORNS unit could be called upon to assist, more proactively, and in more circumstances as the program continues to grow. I do not support cutting the Police Department’s budget. I think we need a well-trained, well-funded Police Department to address issues of public safety while also looking to fund and implement alternative response models for 911 calls and more community input and oversight.
14. Raleigh has made strides on transit in the last several years. Bus fare is free and construction of new Bus Rapid Transit routes is underway, bike lanes are expanding to areas across the city, and commuter rail will eventually connect Raleigh to Durham and Johnston Counties. Is the city doing a good job of managing its current transit systems, encouraging residents to use them, and planning for more future transit and connectivity? Should the city be investing more on bike, pedestrian, and other transit infrastructure?
Yes, after decades of underinvestment, we’re on the right path. Voters approved the Wake County Transit Plan in 2016, and now we need to make sure it’s implemented, and implemented correctly. I advocated for, and support, fare free transit. But a fare free bus that runs every 1 hour isn’t helping anyone. We must continue to invest in transit, increasing frequency of our existing routes, as called for in the Wake County Transit Plan, while implementing new transit services, like Bus Rapid Transit, and hopefully commuter rail in the near future. Yes, we should be investing more in bike, pedestrian and other non-car infrastructure. We have a bike plan, we just need to get it implemented and funded. Bike/ped funding is still a very small portion of our city’s transportation budget. I think we can be a bit more nimble in this area. Bike/ped projects are perfect for tactical urbanism, where we can set up the project on a temporary basis, let folks use it while we gather feedback and make tweaks before it’s installed permanently. I also think as we continue to work to eliminate exclusionary zoning, and build a more dense, mixed use city, transit and bike/ped improvements will be even more important and better utilized.
15. Downtown Raleigh has struggled to rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic with foot traffic still down and many storefronts and offices sitting vacant. The council has implemented a new social district to try to bring people downtown again. What more could or should the city council do to revitalize the urban core?
No one could’ve predicted or expected the COVID pandemic. And I don’t pretend to have all of the answers on how to fastrack economic recovery. I think it’s going to take time as we emerge into a new normal, and many policy changes have already been enacted to assist in economic recovery downtown. If the business community, or any of our business alliances have additional or new ideas, we must continue to be receptive to them. That’s the approach we’ve taken over the past few years. Any issue or idea that has been brought to us to help with COVID recovery by staff or the business community, we’ve implemented it. From temporary curbside pick up zones and outdoor dining that eventually became permanent, to the Social District, to the employee parking program (free or reduced parking for service workers). Our downtown businesses and residents are vital to the success of our city.
16. Do you support Raleigh’s $275 million parks bond on the ballot this fall? Why or why not?
Yes, as we continue to grow, access to greenspace is exceedingly important, and that requires continued investment. A bond is probably the lowest cost tool we have for paying for these improvements, due to the city’s strong financial rating.
17. If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
I ran in 2019 as a first time candidate because I felt it was time for new leaders to step forward, and I felt personally affected by issues facing the city; it wasn’t too long ago that I was a young professional starting my career and looking for housing I could afford or ways to get around the city without a car. Soon after I was elected, the entire world changed. It’s been a very difficult term, and despite dealing with unprecedented, global and systemic challenges, I am proud of the work I’ve accomplished during my first term, delivering on campaign promises. Raleigh has its challenges, but also limitless potential. I govern from a place of “yes”- seeking what we can do rather than saying what we cannot. I am eager to continue my work to build a fairer, more equitable and progressive Raleigh.
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