Name on Ballot: Rob Baumgart
Party Affiliation: Unaffiliated
Occupation/Employer: Self employed landlord and small business owner
Years lived in Raleigh: 23 years! Came to NC State in August of ‘99
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?
I believe that the current council has done some positive things for the City of Raleigh but understand they have stepped on toes along the way. I support this council’s decision to allow the development of Accessory Dwelling Units and would like to see it promoted by the City. I believe that the city should take it further and allow more dense development to take place, especially along the planned transit corridors. If we want to drive down the price of housing in Raleigh, we need to increase the supply of housing and not tax our citizens into poverty.
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.
My number one priority as the District D council member will be increasing housing density along the planned Western Boulevard and Wilmington/Saunders BRT Corridors. Bring housing options to our workforce that’s actually affordable and not just apartments for those earning top dollar. Workers like our City staff, specifically our firefighters of which the majority live outside the City limits. That’s upsetting to me. We expect them to be our first responders but drive 30 minutes home to Clayton instead of housing them in the community they serve.
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?
As a small business owner and real estate investor I have learned many skills that would be valuable as a council member. Through my experience as a small business owner I have learned about the struggles that small business operators face when running a business and making payroll that I believe will bring a much needed perspective to the council. This experience also has allowed me to create connections with current political, civic, and business leaders within the city that can help me understand the impact of the decisions I will be making. As a real estate investor I have learned from the school of hard knocks about a variety of issues such as zoning, code compliance, the struggles of paying/collecting rent and the real impact of our housing crises, and more. This experience will inform me as I vote on development issues. Lastly, my experience as a youth hockey coach, my favorite hours spent each week. Organizing a collection of 15 kids to a common goal without being able to step on the ice and do it for them myself has taught me some valuable leadership skills that would serve our community well.
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.
I do agree with this vision for Raleigh’s growth. It is basic economics. There is currently a high demand for housing and a low supply. If we want to lower prices, we have to increase the supply. In order to maximize the use of our land and prevent sprawl, denser development should focus on these transit corridors. Furthermore, I would love to see our neighbors consider becoming landlords themselves and pepper our communities with truly affordable Accessory Dwelling Units.
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?
I believe the city should finish development with the funds from the 2020 bond that they already have before considering a new bond. Bonds put a tax burden on the residents and this affects their ability to afford living in Raleigh as well. For now, we should focus on partnering with the private sector to build more affordable housing and encourage our citizens to adopt the Accessory Dwelling Unit concept and help create a solution in their own backyards.
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 believe this is a property rights issue. If a property owner has a piece of land, they have a right to reasonably do what they wish with the land. If they decide to build a mansion, that is their choice. If we want to prevent development of these large houses, we should focus on using tax incentives for people to build dense housing. As a parent, my parenting style has been to offer incentive before consequence. Fast tracking permits with affordable housing components is one way to help steer our development choices without expressly interfering with our individual property rights.
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?
I do support this direction taken by the city. Development like this will increase housing supply and help stabilize or drive down prices while preventing Raleigh from going back to the moniker of Spraleigh. We cannot stop Raleigh from growing in population, but we can make sure that the growth is sustainable. Furthermore, I’ve owned a few duplexes in my years as a landlord and must admit, it’s nice to have at least some revenue coming in when one side decides to move out unexpectedly!
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?
Again, I think this issue comes back to property rights. If an investor owns a piece of property it is their right to do what they want with the land, if it is reasonable. A short-term rental is a contract between the owner and the renter. It is not the role of the government to tell people who can and cannot live in Raleigh or how one can derive income from their asset.
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?
I would be in favor of the City exploring the idea of financing or taking a “second position” on City owned vacant lots that can be used to build single family homes for our longtime residents displaced by the gentrification going on throughout downtown and south 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?
I think the missing part of this conversation is respect. The City is boasting a raise in firefighters starting salaries but hasn’t increased our staff that’s been with the department for years. This results in “leapfrogging” pay structure and is infuriating to our staff. If we’re going to raise the bar to attract new talent, we should also increase the pay to retain our talent and not alienate them.
11. Do you support the city council’s decision to eliminate parking minimums for developers? Why or why not?
Yes, I do support this decision. This is a great step if we want to reduce car dependence and promote public transit. It also gives developers more land to develop and could increase the housing supply which ideally helps fix our supply/demand issue. Also, keep in mind the power of the free market. If too many apartments get built in area of high car dependence without parking spaces the rent rates will suffer and the developers will react accordingly. These developers spend big money to pull off their investments and back that up with research and the experience. If they feel 80 apartments with only 60 parking spaces will work, I’m willing to let them try!
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?
I do not agree with how the council went about abolishing the CACs. This should have been a public discussion and not have been a surprise. However, I do not believe that CACs should come back in the same capacity as they were before. CACs are a 20th century solution to 21st century problems. If they want to organize and go to the council with concerns they should be allowed to. In order to promote community engagement, the city should start using a form of mass communication such as sending emails out to residents so they can stay up to date on development. CACs have low engagement rates, as few citizens actually go to meetings and with the advent of the internet this is a much better way to communicate with residents. Engage.raleigh.gov is a great start and I would be in favor of growing that platform.
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?
I do not support cutting our public safety budgets and as we grow past 500,000 residents we should grow that line item accordingly. While the data I’ve read about ACORNS has not been positive as your question implies I am in favor of focusing our citizen’s mental health. I think the City should partner with our non-profits, private organizations, and other government agencies to help solve that side of the problem before blaming our police. As for our police officers, I would like to see increased training time and continuing education as a manner of better equipping them to do the job we’re all thankful they do whether we want to admit it or not. I’ve had to call the police a few times over the years and am grateful such a public service exists.
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?
I believe that the development of the BRT system will be very beneficial to residents in allowing them to quickly move throughout the city without having to use cars. I also support the current plans for a commuter rail to connect Raleigh, Durham, and communities in Johnston County. But, I feel the city could invest more in infrastructure for pedestrians and bike riders. There are many roads and bridges that it is not safe to walk along because there is not sufficient area for sidewalks. I would also urge the City to explore partnering with Uber for “last mile” transit services. This concept has been tested in a few cities around our country and the idea really excites me. Reduce the time spent waiting in the cold, rain, hot summer day and catch an uber from Carolina Pines neighborhood to a BRT terminal. Yes please.
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?
One of my favorite sayings is “the sun will rise tomorrow” meaning to me, patience. Fayetteville St Mall was a concrete sidewalk when I came to Raleigh 20+ years ago, look at what returning that to an actual corridor did for our downtown. Results did not happen overnight, nor should we judge our recovery so quickly. I think this Social District is a step in the right direction and encouraged that it will help the vibrancy of our great little city.
16. Do you support Raleigh’s $275 million parks bond on the ballot this fall? Why or why not?
I love the public parks in Raleigh, but I do not support the bond. I believe this will put an undue burden on taxpayers especially as interest rates and inflation of everything we buy sky rocket. It will just exacerbate the current housing crisis by increasing property taxes which will affect homeowners and renters alike. With the rising interest rates, I think the estimate given by the city about the cost of the bond are no longer accurate and will actually be more than we were told originally. I would be willing to consider more specific, smaller bonds to improve parks. But, I do not think right now is the time to introduce such a large bond.
17. If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.
Homelessness and addiction. We’ve experienced a few good years and people are seemingly fat and happy but as the economy has started to change the number of panhandlers I see at stop lights has increased, the number of tents I see behind gas stations has increased, the number of good people looking down and out has increased. Covid, inflation, low cost housing getting torn down and not replaced, all of it is adding up a real problem. If elected to City Council I would work to partner with those who have a plan to help with this and promote them any chance I received.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.