Name as it appears on the ballot: Zainab Baloch
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: zainab4raleigh.com
Occupation & employer: Financial Wellness, Even
Years lived in Raleigh: 28
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?
Raleigh has an opportunity to be a beacon of light for the south, but while our government talks about being progressive, it’s not reflected in our policies and goals. The City Council is doing what they think is best for the city, but the lack of diversity in income, age, race, and experiences makes it impossible to make decisions that put everyone in Raleigh on the right path. The systems in place aren’t built to support and represent all the people in our city, and we’re allowing big money and developer interests to corrupt our representatives, and have a greater influence than the actual needs of our citizens.
Raleigh has the opportunity to be a city that invests in a sustainable future for our youth and working population — one that supports new, people-powered solutions. We can build a transparent government that chooses to do good, despite difficulties.
2) If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.
Mobility. As our city grows, only some are seeing the benefits; our system isn’t equally distributing resources between communities. Many of us are living paycheck to paycheck despite working multiple jobs, and have trouble getting around without a car. We’re spending money on developers and businesses, while our locals are being pushed out.
Security. Right now many of Raleigh’s working class, communities of color, LGBTQ+ and immigrants face food insecurity and loss of housing due to rising costs, and don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. Every person deserves access to life’s basic essentials: food, shelter and safe communities in which they can thrive.
Happiness. The people of Raleigh have been ignored while policies are made. Every person deserves a government that removes barriers from pursuing a high quality of life — providing resources, a clean environment and equitable representation. Our city should support cultural preservation and arts, community wellness, and environmental sustainability by being a leader and address the climate crisis with urgency.
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?
It’s not years of experience sitting behind a desk or playing the political game that makes a leader. It takes empathy with diverse communities, technical know-how, the ability to learn quickly, and the willingness to listen. Above all, the mayor should stand for what is moral, to ensure equitable representation and support for all, and bridge gaps between communities and generations. Experience is important for mayors, but inspiration and leadership is key. A successful mayor will be able to create enthusiasm and support for public goals. A young mayor is as capable as somebody older in filling that role. My life experiences have given me all these skills and qualities.
I’ve lived in Raleigh all my life – attending Wakefield High School, NC State, and UNC-CH and have worked directly with a diverse range of communities all over the city. With national grassroots organizations like the Poor People’s Campaign, I’ve collaborated with both my working class peers and the political sphere.
I was on the board of Wake Up Wake County where we studied, planned, and implemented policies, and am a board member of the Islamic Association of Raleigh. I’m, also, one of the few candidates with the education relevant to this position: My Master in Public Administration taught me the ins and outs of budgeting, policy making, zoning and taxes.
My career is another element that helps me be an advocate for the community. My current job is with Even, a financial wellness app that aims to end the paycheck to paycheck cycle–I understand the workings of tech startups in our city, and the importance of recruiting innovative businesses to Raleigh that will work for social good and treat their employees well. I went to school here, use public transport, and hang out in the city with a wide variety of communities. It takes this firsthand experience to be able to understand how policies can directly affect people, rather than making big decisions from behind a desk.
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?
Bonds are a straightforward way for a city to get funding for affordable housing, especially when the city doesn’t receive as much federal funding, but this bond is not enough to solve the phenomenon of affordable housing. We need to work on all levels, including working with developers. We should hold developers and profiteers responsible for creating affordable housing. They are here, profiting off of our growing workforce and developing city, and they are undermining the communities who have been in Southeast Raleigh for generations. Yes, a bond would hold the community responsible for the betterment of our community — but there are people here profiting off of us, and that wealth needs to be invested back into our community. So yes, I support the bond for creating funding for affordable housing, but we need to make sure that we aren’t just dealing with affordable housing, but rather raising our city out of poverty and gentrification cycles that make affordable housing so important.
We must put aside a percentage of funding to build Section 8 housing alongside affordable housing.
5) Assuming the council places a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot, how much money 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?
Raleigh needs around 32,000 affordable housing units. It would likely take around $1.3 million to catch up to other cities with affordable housing. But, throwing money at the issue is not the answer. We need to be strategic, especially with so many developers coming in and a rapidly growing population. I support rezoning with reduced single family housing, increased mixed use housing, and requiring developers to contribute to funds for sustainable affordable housing for working families.
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?
We’re underbuilding density in many locations where it makes sense like neighborhoods with great transit, mixed commercial uses, and high walkability. We need to think long term and what the demand for housing in our city will be in 2050, not 2020. Thoughtful density leads to strong economies, better health, less pollution, and stronger community ties.
We should enact tax relief in neighborhoods where housing values are soaring to stabilize neighborhoods undergoing rapid investment and transformation. We should work to ease the tax burden on our longtime Raleigh neighbors where recent development has sharply pushed up the value of all homes.
Community land trusts have been well established across the country for a long time now, but what’s unique about Raleigh is we can create a vision to build housing at a substantial scale. By doing so, we’re letting the community know we’re investing in our neighborhoods and trying to preserve that in a way that encourages development and growth but also preserves families who have called Raleigh home for generations.
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?
Neighborhood conservation overlay districts are preventing homes from being built for working families. We’re in a housing crisis. We need our neighbors all across Raleigh to empathize with our deficit of almost 56,000 affordable housing units. This means that our working families and young people are struggling to find housing while some fight over mixed use buildings that could provide housing to hundreds.
NCODs restrict growth at a time when we’re facing an urgent of the housing + climate crisis and do everything possible to address it. We need to reduce the number of NCODs and pull back on cosmetic restrictions, which contribute to segregation and gentrification in other neighborhoods.
8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?
We need to stop letting real estate developers drive UDO changes that allow them to make more profit with little oversight. We need to overturn sections 6.1.4 AND 6.2.2. which allow unregulated developers to build Community Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) with no oversight. Developer, Joe Whitehouse, requested the city get rid of the permit and waiting period for CCRCs. Once again, the city has no spine.
One of the most glaring issues that needs to be addressed, however, is how difficult it is for anyone who doesn’t have a Master in Public Administration (like me) to understand these UDOs (or many of our city policies and ordinances, for that matter). We as a city have a responsibility to educate and include our people in decision making processes–we cannot have a people-powered and equitable government if we can’t get information across in an accessible way. Y’all, it’s 2019–let’s utilize our tools to get a better website and social media presence so people who didn’t study policy can also understand what’s going on.
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. There should definitely be some type of regulation and enforcement of ADU policies. While accessory dwelling units provide an opportunity for affordable housing options, unregulated they can lead to renters being taken advantage of by slumlords.
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? The council should prioritize automobile traffic and parking concerns, alongside affordable housing. John Kane should lead the way in showing how developers can build up equitably. Sustainable development would be incentivizing residents to use public transportation, building on-site shared bike and scooter pods that are open to the public, and committing eco-friendly builds with certifications like Living Building. We encourage John Kane to reimagine this tower as one that will increase mobility and be accessible to everyone.
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 attached to such projects, if any? Growth throughout our city is inevitable, and it would be futile to resist it. But, we need to do it right and make sure developers are helping our communities as much as they themselves are benefitting.
Developers should be required to build nearby affordable housing that is within reach for working families, and contribute to accessible transportation options to combat car culture. We should be reserving funds from these new developments to allow small local businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive rather than getting pushed out, and keeping spaces for preservation of arts and culture.
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?
Raleigh was and is continuing to be a car city – it is nearly impossible to get around the city without a car. The first barrier is the lack of urgency in prioritizing sustainable public transit by our leaders. We need our local government to take the lead and prioritize safe bike lanes, reliable and efficient public transit and the infrastructure to support it, and walkable communities. Raleigh is decades behind on addressing non-car mobility options and with the current climate crisis and rapidly growing population, we don’t have the time to wait anymore.
The city could have handled scooter regulations better rather than levying a fee that pushed them out. Those scooters weren’t just toys–they were helping people get where they needed to go who otherwise didn’t have a reliable and efficient form of transport. Rather than levying a huge fee on the scooter companies, we could have charged a usage fee, which would have given the city a sustainable source of funding. That money could then be put back into protected bike lanes, to make it safer for people to use non-mobility car options.
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?
We have a vibrant city with more and more visitors coming each day. Airbnb makes it easier for tourists of all income levels to explore Raleigh, and can serve as an extra income stream for those who might need it, like students and working families. However, we need to mitigate the risk of investors buying up real estate downtown solely to rent on Airbnb and pushing out folks with rising housing prices.
There is a middle ground to regulate Airbnb rentals that allows our citizens to make needed income, without allowing investors to push out communities. Rather than requiring renting resident to be living on property during every Airbnb rental, we could require them to live on the property for a certain amount of time throughout the year, or limit the number of days they’re allowed to rent. To avoid potential conflict with state laws, we could charge renters the same tax that is levied against other commercial and residential properties. No matter what else we do we need to take steps to explore the implications of the state law and coordinate between state and federal levels.
We should be focused on building enough affordable housing so that all of our citizens have a safe, happy place to live, and also see that people who want to rent out their rooms are able to do so, but with regulations so that that service isn’t detrimental to our residents.
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? The CAC system is one way to foster engagement with local government, but our city can’t stop there. We need to supplement these CACs by coming to people where they are, to let citizens know about the resources available to them, issues on the table, and decisions being made at city council. We can do this by scheduling city council meetings at more easily accessible times for working folks, increasing accessibility to information with easy to understand content on social media platforms, and implementing more supportive and community involved transparent spending.
Citizens will also be more involved if voting was more accessible and compelling. We should implement voter education and awareness programs during election years to reach communities that aren’t often involved in the voting process. Additionally, the barriers to entry to run for office means that more often than not, candidates are not coming directly from the communities they are meant to represent. If we implement a public financing system for local elections, we can break down barriers to entry for working-class candidates and create a more equitable decision making process.
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?
Yes. The relationship between RDU airport and Umstead Park seems to be another example of corporate interests winning over environmental justice yet again. There is absolutely no way anyone should be in favor of a corporation mining stones in our county that has been known to have EXTREME environmental impacts since 1890. Quarrying rocks for 35 years will cause irreparable damage to our environment. It’s important to note John Kane is once again leading this controversial and corrupt deal.
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?
Recently, the city council chambers have been reminiscent of a middle school lunchroom- meetings have been focused on minor details while ignoring the large picture. However, It’s a leader’s responsibility to take accountability, and to drive productivity and collaboration amongst the team. We need someone who can work with both sides to find compromises.
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?
Yes. I’ve been working with PACT to reinforce our essential right to feel secure in our homes and exist under a government we can trust. That trust is called into question when we have a police department suffering from higher than average racial disparities, and has been in the spotlight multiple times for officer-involved shootings with no repercussions. A police oversight board with power would help build that trust.
We must combine oversight with other initiatives, such as reviewing how we can build our policies within a racial and equitable lens, and increase resources to better equip officers to do their job. There’s a shortage of officers to address the issues that come with a rise in poverty, mental health and crime in Raleigh. Officers aren’t paid enough to afford the rising costs of housing within city limits, and so many officers aren’t a part of the communities they’re serving; it’s harder to incentivize people who can fully represent the communities they serve to work on the force with the stigma and poor pay. A lack of officers and resources means police who are stretched thin, not building familiarity with people they should be serving, and not being properly trained. This contributes to the inequitable treatment of people of color by the RPD.
18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
There are a few issues we didn’t touch on in this questionnaire. Here are a few pieces of the vision:
Many of our neighbors aren’t feeling safe in our city. Our black and brown, LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities are facing hate crimes and violence each day. Many people still don’t have access to fresh, healthy food nearby. Our city can fight these issues by:
– Investing in community grocery stores to provide healthy and affordable food in every neighborhood, especially food deserts
– Establishing a Faith ID program for people without ID’s (refugees, the homeless, people leaving prison, undocumented immigrants,etc)
– Creating a police accountability board with power and reprioritize safety over non-violent offenses like marijuana arrests and anti-homeless policies
Every person deserves a government that removes barriers from pursuing a high quality of life — providing resources, a clean environment and equitable representation. I’ll support that while in office by:
– Committing to zero carbon emissions by 2030, phasing out single use plastics, and standing against mining in Umstead Park
– Making city council more accessible with improved online presence, childcare during meetings, and neighborhood educational campaigns
– Preserving and uplifting arts and cultural spaces for black & brown, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ communities
One of the most pressing issues I believe our city faces is lack of engagement and transparency from our government. The system is set up in a way that makes it difficult for our youth and working communities to get involved in the decision making processes. We need to meet people where they are, to communicate and support the people we’re meant to be serving. And we need to get big money out of our local politics, and build a people-powered city.