Name as it appears on the ballot: Minu Lee
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: LeeforRaleigh.com
Occupation & employer: Substitute Teacher, WCPSS
Years lived in Raleigh: 14
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?
While I support and acknowledge a lot of the progress that the current City Council has made, I must also note the challenges that Raleigh is currently facing. We have a growing housing crisis on our doorsteps. Raleigh is growing whether we like it or not. More and more people across the nation are looking towards Raleigh as the City of Opportunities – I know my family did when we moved to this City over 14 years ago. As such, we must do what we can to accommodate growth. That is why I fully support the responsible development of walkable neighborhoods along our major transit corridors and wherever appropriate. It’s time to embrace, incorporate, and work to improve aspects of New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Complete Streets, and Green Design as our City continues to face a growing population, a deteriorating climate, a worsening housing shortage, and rising rent. We need to work towards quality architecture and design, mixed-use developments, green transportation, sustainability, and affordability. It’s time to move away from the focus on single-use zones and start promoting the planning and designing of this City in a way that is adaptable and based on outcomes. It’s time to mitigate urban sprawl, promote equality and equity, and create a distinctive, attractive City of Raleigh with a strong sense of place.
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.
Housing: I firmly believe that having a stable place to call home is a right, and the Raleigh City Council must take action to address this need for housing that is worsening. As 60+ people move to Raleigh on a daily basis, the city’s council must be working to reduce exclusionary zoning practices. The City of Raleigh must work towards more community land trust developments of dense, affordable, low-income housing. This will increase the housing stock/options by minimizing exclusionary zoning practices. The Council must also ensure that new housing developments incorporate affordable housing for city residents >50% AMI.
Public Transit: As a college student who frequently utilizes public buses, I understand the value and necessity of decreasing traffic congestion by expanding access to public transit. The increasing traffic in Raleigh is a detriment to our environment and community safety. By expanding public transit infrastructure, Raleigh can focus on combating emissions and traffic congestion. Increasing walkability and connectivity will be vital in protecting our environment. I am the candidate that will make public transit more accessible, safe, and efficient for all citizens of Raleigh.
Small Businesses: My family came to this country with nothing. Now, we own a small cleaning business that has serviced buildings in Raleigh for years. Promoting a small business economy, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a major priority of my campaign. Small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and the City must provide a system of grants for entrepreneurs and existing businesses. This would make it easier for entrepreneurs to open up, and maintain, their businesses in our City. Opening a small business should not be a difficult process, so we must ensure that we assist potential small business owners with the proper resources to get a head start in this economy.
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?
Having a unique and diverse background is crucial in being an effective council member. I am a first generation Korean-American immigrant and college student at NCSU. I currently serve as a Guardian ad Litem for the 10th District Court of North Carolina, advocating for the needs and desires of abused and neglected children during the court process. I also serve as a Volunteer Newsreader for the North Carolina Reading Service, reading the news to blind and print-impaired individuals across the state. I am currently employed as a Substitute Teacher for the Wake County Public Schools System. Being a substitute teacher, Guardian ad Litem, and Volunteer Newsreader has taught me about underserved communities and individuals who are often marginalized.
In addition to this experience, I was elected by City of Raleigh employees to serve a 4-year term as a Commissioner on the Raleigh Civil Service Commission. Hearing appeals from City employees, who have exhausted all other administrative options, has provided me with a unique perspective on the city’s workforce, policies, and employees. I am also the 3rd Vice-Chair of the NC Democratic Party’s State AAPI Caucus, ensuring that AAPIs across the State are recognized as the fastest growing population in the State.
In the past, I have served as the 2nd VP of the WCDP’s Asian-American and Pacific Islanders’ Caucus, providing Democratic AAPIs with a voice that is often neglected in most civic processes. I was also the Organizing Vice-President of NCSU’s College Democrats, tasked with re-organizing NCSU’s chapter of College Democrats to provide young democrats with an outlet for discourse.
For most of my life, I have been immersed in the small business economy in Raleigh. Like I said earlier, my parents own a small cleaning business, which frequently services various buildings throughout Raleigh. Being a first-generation Korean American immigrant, substitute teacher, Commissioner, and NCDP-AAPI 3rd Vice-Chair has given me the necessary experience to lead District B, and Raleigh, in the right direction.
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.
Historically, predominantly minority neighborhoods have been at greater risk of displacement. We must take this into account when evaluating new development proposals, such as dense development along transportation corridors. The risk of minority displacement is still prevalent to this day. When traveling through Capital Boulevard and parts of Eastern/Southeastern Raleigh, it is noticeable that there is an increased need for affordable housing. New luxury single-family house developments in the area can often be to blame for the displacement of low-income minority groups. It can increase property values in the surrounding areas, resulting in skyrocketing rent. Ultimately, such individuals are unable to keep up with the rising rent and property taxes, and are forced to leave.
There is a lack of adequate, low-income housing in the City. The City of Raleigh must work towards more community land trust developments of dense, affordable, low-income housing, increasing the housing stock/options by minimizing exclusionary zoning practices, and ensuring that new housing developments incorporate affordable housing for city residents >50% AMI. I believe that dense development along transportation corridors will decrease the displacement of minority communities while also increasing the housing stock in Raleigh.
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?
Our city needs more housing, that is clear. I believe that Raleigh should bring forth another affordable housing bond in order to address the decreasing housing stock. This should be brought forth as soon as possible and it should directly fund Community Land Trusts and tax exemptions for individuals who have lived in Raleigh for an extended period of time. This way, Raleigh can focus on developing more affordable housing, while also ensuring that the families and homeowners who have lived in Raleigh for most of their lives are able to continue living in this growing city. The next affordable housing bond should exceed the funding of the Parks Bond.
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 think that affordable single-family homes should be torn down and replaced by single family “McMansions”. Oftentimes, this kind of development is less efficient and dense than the houses that were built before it. Additionally, these “McMansions” almost always lead to the displacement of minority communities. I believe that the City of Raleigh should work to limit the size of buildings with a single unit in them to discourage future teardowns replaced with “McMansions”.
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. Bringing missing middle housing to Raleigh has opened up countless affordable housing options for citizens. Allowing for the development of apartments along bus routes will push Raleigh towards reliance on public transit. Subsequently, this will protect the environment, decrease traffic, and make transportation more accessible to underserved communities. Bringing missing middle housing to this city is the most effective and equitable way to manage the unprecedented growth that Raleigh is experiencing.
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?
Yes, I support limiting investors from buying up property and homes in Raleigh. I am interested in looking into the logistics of implementing a residency requirement for individuals hoping to buy a property or home within Raleigh. This would ensure that the individuals purchasing homes are actually using them, rather than raising rent prices and contributing to the housing crisis.
In regards to short-term rentals, we can not completely eliminate this practice. Rentals are a great housing option for many individuals. However, short-term rentals become problematic when they begin to contribute to the housing crisis by raising rent costs exponentially. I fully support limiting absentee investors from buying homes in Raleigh. I also support finding ways to limit and mitigate short-term rentals’ contribution to the current housing crisis.
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?
Like I wrote earlier, I fully support tax exemptions for individuals who have lived in Raleigh for an extended period of time. Raleigh’s culture is derived from its original communities/neighborhoods. Citizens who have lived in this city for their entire life should not be worried about being pushed out by housing costs or rising taxes. As a City Council, we must be proactive and preemptive in ensuring our citizens can continue to live in Raleigh.
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?
We need first responders that live in the same communities that they serve. Emergency workers in Raleigh continue to be outsourced to neighboring municipalities because Raleigh does not offer competitive salaries or benefits. By working to increase pay for our emergency workers, we would work to decrease the employee shortage we currently face and promote public safety as a whole.
11. Do you support the city council’s decision to eliminate parking minimums for developers? Why or why not?
Eliminating parking minimums will result in less empty parking lots, underutilized space, and environmental impacts from traffic. Additionally, eliminating parking minimums will force the city to become more reliant on public transportation and pedestrian-centric development. Without parking minimums, the city will have no choice but to make our walkways safer, our buses cleaner, and our transit infrastructure more efficient. The elimination of parking minimums will also make the city more walkable, which will open the doorway to more dense development and foster an atmosphere of ‘place’ within Raleigh.
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?
The City of Raleigh is changing and so, too, should our approach to community engagement. I agree with the concept of CACs – getting the citizens involved in the decision-making process. In fact, in earlier years, CACs were an effective method of community engagement. However, CACs predominantly benefitted those who attended the meetings over time. They often worked for those with the time, money, and inclination to attend such meetings. Typically, CACs neglected low-income households, which are often made up of minorities who do not have the money or time to attend. However, I believe that the City Council’s decision to eliminate CACs, with no alternative plan in place, was a mistake.
We can do better. It is time to implement new, proactive strategies in order to increase citizen engagement within Raleigh. It is important to work towards educating the new generation of voters about the importance of civic engagement in local politics, and the importance of city government. I also believe that it would be effective to have canvassing efforts organized by the City to door-knock in communities that will experience rezoning. This will help to educate residents about the rezoning case within their vicinity.
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?
There is still work to be done to improve public safety and reduce police violence across the city of Raleigh. The first step in the RPD’s use of force continuum is their presence. This should not be the case. I believe that we need to increase and expand training for new police recruits to encompass mental health crisis response and de-escalation. It is necessary to reallocate funds in an effective manner that does not promote the militarization of our police, but rather, its reform and progression to reduce crime and enable effective community policing. Funds should be directed towards increasing pay and benefits for officers to ensure that they live in Raleigh and are representative of our population.
In reference to the ACORNS team, I believe that it is crucial to increase funding so that it is able to expand. This would ensure that members of the ACORNS team would be able to respond to the appropriate calls that they were designed to handle.
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?
Absolutely. We must make public investments in public transit, expand our bike lanes, expand our greenways, and improve pedestrian safety in order to reduce car dependency in the city of Raleigh. I am proud to say that I am one of the first candidates running for Raleigh city council who announced support for buses to be fare-free indefinitely. I believe that we can do more to promote ridership on our buses, to promote bikeability and walkability. For example, we should not be examining the level of ridership when determining which routes should be serviced more. Instead, we should be working to improve the efficiency of buses, reducing headways, in order to promote ridership on ALL routes. This would, in turn, allow more people to view buses as a viable, efficient mode of transportation.
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?
I would love to examine the plausibility of shutting down Fayetteville Street to vehicles indefinitely. As a result, this would create a Place instead of a Space. There is a key difference between a Space and a Place. While a Space is any location that serves no special purpose to a community, a Place serves as a location in which people remember and cherish. We can make Fayetteville Street a Place by only permitting pedestrian traffic with local vendors lining the street. We can move towards this concept of a plaza that is seen in other parts of the world. Other municipalities have done so, and have seen overwhelming support and positive reactions to it. Not only would this promote our economy and tourism, but it would also promote walkability throughout Downtown Raleigh.
16. Do you support Raleigh’s $275 million parks bond on the ballot this fall? Why or why not?
Initially, I was disappointed in the Parks Bond because I had hoped that more funds would be dedicated to creating more affordable housing. However, I recognize that prices will only increase if we are not proactive in our development plans. The children in Raleigh need a safe place to play and its citizens need a place to walk, exercise, and walk. Every community needs parks. Oftentimes, underserved communities lack any sufficient green spaces. If we do not create parks and green spaces in these neighborhoods now, prices will continue to rise and prevent further development of green spaces. My feelings towards the Parks Bond can be best summarized this way; better now than never.
17. If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
I believe I am the most qualified for this position. I am a City Employee-Elected Commissioner for the Raleigh Civil Service Commission, listening to appeals from City employees who feel that they were wrongly treated by the City of Raleigh. I am also a Guardian ad Litem, Substitute Teacher, and the 3rd Vice-Chair of the NC Democratic Party’s State Asian-American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Caucus. I care about District B, I’ve grown up in District B and I hope to be your representative for District B.
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