Name as it appears on the ballot: Catherine Fray
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: frayforcarrboro.com
Occupation & employer: Solutions Architect, 360 Cloud Solutions LLC. This means I solve logical puzzles to streamline processes in accounting software.
Years lived in Carrboro: I’ve lived on Alabama Ave for 13 years and I’m never leaving.
- In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?
I’m running to help make Carrboro a place where everyone can truly be at home and we care for our neighbors. To me affordable housing is the key issue facing our town, the one on which our ability to make progress on racial equity and climate resilience turns. Our housing policies influence everything that makes Carrboro a good place to live: the hippie/hipster ratio, how much time folks spend in their cars, how far you have to go to get groceries, how many people are homeless, how easy it is for young people to move here or for elders to stay. Carrboro residents consistently agree that having affordable housing is a reflection of our core values.
But during 11 years of service on the Planning Board, I’ve seen that many proposed projects that include affordable housing fail – either they don’t get built or they stop being affordable. This doesn’t happen by chance. Our land use ordinance has a lot of outdated rules which combine to make it harder to build a duplex than a mansion. I want to use my experience to resolve these conflicts so that Carrboro can actually build what residents say they would like us to build.
2. Please identify the three of the most pressing issues Carrboro currently faces and how you believe the town should address them.
High housing costs, inequity, and climate change.
Housing costs: Carrboro is entering the acute phase of a housing shortage that has been growing since the 1990s. We used to be known as an affordable town that provided a home for working people, junior faculty, artists, and activists. But our housing supply hasn’t kept up with demand, squeezed by ordinances intended to keep some people out and make homes more valuable for those lucky enough to own them. Carrboro’s median rent has increased over 50% since 2018, and our average home sale price now exceeds $500,000 most months. This is not sustainable and it is pushing people out every day. To address this issue, Carrboro needs to act on multiple fronts. We need to make it much easier for builders to add smaller, less expensive homes to our town – tiny homes, ADUs, duplexes, townhomes, and apartments. We need to invest in our supportive funds for residents in need – emergency rent and tax assistance, repairs and weatherization – to keep the affordable homes we have.
Inequity: Carrboro has an ugly history of segregation and disinvestment that is still playing out today. Residents of historically Black neighborhoods have been ignored for many years even as they have persistently expressed their needs, and continue to deal with a lack of infrastructure, green spaces, and safe roads. Latino and refugee communities have an increasingly hard time finding housing that is both affordable and safe, and are often unable to access town events and communications conducted in English. Carrboro needs to prioritize outreach to folks who often go unheard, by going to people where they are and carrying out the planned Language Equity pilot sponsored by Council member Eliazar Posada. When we hear from these communities, we need to act on what they ask for and communicate back about projects that are in progress. To build a virtuous cycle of trust, we need to not only listen but also act on what we hear. Over the last year, the Town’s communication approaches have shown great improvement, and we should continue to build on that going forward.
Climate change: The impacts of climate change are here today – higher temperatures, more dangerously hot days, and heavier rainstorms. Although we are making progress on our climate action plans, these effects will continue to worsen over the coming decades. Public safety threats like heat waves and flooding will become more common. To me, resilience means we must continue to reduce our carbon footprint while protecting residents from impacts. Because most carbon emissions in the town come from residents rather than town operations, Carrboro must prioritize helping people reduce the amount of time they spend in cars and reduce the amount of electricity they use at home. This means adding new homes via infill in denser, more walkable neighborhoods and building more homes with shared walls that are more efficient to heat and cool. We also need to help residents make green improvements to their homes – improving insulation, weatherproofing, and taking advantage of Inflation Reduction Act funds to replace inefficient HVAC and appliances. In addition, we need to keep our neighbors safe from extreme weather – providing drinking water and shade in public spaces, and expanding the use of our stormwater utility to proactively address the sources of flooding.
3. What’s the best or most important thing the town council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the town should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
Adopting our award-winning Comprehensive Plan, Carrboro Connects. I was honored to serve as co-chair for the task force that worked alongside consultants to gather input and prepare the plan. The plan brings all of our goals from smaller policy documents (Bike Plan, Climate Action Plan, etc) together. It lays the foundation for long-term changes consistent with our values and gives us the metrics to know if we are succeeding. Carrboro conducted an unprecedented outreach during 2020-2021, in multiple languages, with remote and in-person events, and sent a survey invitation to every single address in town. As a result, the plan incorporates direct feedback from more than 1600 people. If I’m elected, one thing I’m really looking forward to is continuing the implementation of this plan.
4. What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the town council and its duties? What made you seek this position?
I’ve served on the Planning Board for 11 years, including 2 terms as chair, and also co-chaired the Comprehensive Plan task force. In short, I’m a dedicated planning nerd. Alongside our budget, our land use ordinance is the other main policy document the town council uses to shape what happens in Carrboro. People often remark that a budget is a moral document, because what we spend money on reflects our values. I think the same is true for a land use ordinance, because what we allow to be built in Carrboro also reflects our values. For decades, our ordinance has run counter to our goals by making it harder to build affordable homes. This mismatch is the biggest reason that I decided to run for town council.
5. As with most places in the Triangle, Carrboro is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years?
Affordability is a moral issue for me. If Carrboro does not provide enough housing supply for the number of people who want to live here, then in an environment with many cash-rich investors and home buyers, we will be choosing to instead change who lives here. Recent data shows that as housing prices have risen, the median income and age of our residents have also steadily increased, showing that younger and lower-income residents are being pushed out. We have also seen a decrease in percentage of Carrboro residents who are Latino. Carrboro is a good place to live because of its diversity, and I don’t want to see that disappear. To preserve it, we need to address affordability at all income levels.
Our land use ordinance is badly in need of an update. To increase affordable housing, we should remove provisions that exist only to prefer detached single family homes over other kinds of homes. We should also look closely at minimum lot sizes, setbacks, height limits, included uses, and our review processes, all of which can add to the cost of new homes and drive homeowners to sell rather than update their homes to work for them.
While Carrboro can’t enact rent control under state law, we can help increase the supply of rental homes to keep rents from continuing their recent extreme rise. We should expand our partnerships with organizations like CASA, Habitat for Humanity, Community Home Trust, emPOWERment, and other builders with expertise in building homes for people with lower or no income. Carrboro can provide seed money or help acquire land, streamline development reviews, and help support applications for grants and tax.
We must treat the recent rise in homelessness with urgency. No one should have to live unsheltered in Carrboro, and the number of people who are persistently homeless is very small. Not only do we have a responsibility to help folks, we also have the resources to do it. Carrboro should seek at least one community partner to add a “housing first” component to the services available in town.
6. What should the Town of Carrboro do to increase the community’s engagement with local government?
It is critical for the town to achieve more representation on our advisory boards. We must also have sufficient staffing levels and tools for staff to communicate well with residents. The recent outreach efforts by the communications team have been excellent!
The Town should also work to make public comment as accessible as we can with the goal of collecting the widest possible input. Our current input methods sometimes result in the town hearing from a small group of people over and over, and this can give others the impression that the town only listens to the loudest voices.
7. For those who rent or own homes in Carrboro already, how should the town and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes and rising rents, particularly for residents in public housing and those low-income residents who face displacement?
The Town needs to support efforts at the county level to question revaluations which treat older, more affordable homes as “flips in waiting”, valuing them based on a speculative future renovation or teardown. This pattern of unfair overvaluation is a direct contributor to the displacement of disadvantaged communities and elders on fixed incomes.
8. Should Carrboro move forward with plans to develop a greenway running alongside Bolin Creek? Please explain your answer.
Absolutely. The creek bank is highly compacted and eroded after decades of OWASA heavy equipment as well as walkers and bikers, compressing the easement and creating ever expanding mud holes during rainy times. In its current state, the easement cannot serve the role it should in the ecosystem. A narrow paved greenway in the middle of the cleared easement will help us restore the creek. Most importantly, it will keep people on the greenway, allowing the rest of the easement to be replanted with native riparian species. We should add bioswales and other features on the uphill side to slow water down so that less sediment goes into the creek compared to today. In addition to its environmental role, a greenway will also expand access by connecting many new neighborhoods to a safe route to schools and a place for folks with less mobility to enjoy nature.
9. How should the Town of Carrboro encourage more walking, biking, and public transit use?
Access and ease of use are paramount. People will not use these modes of transportation unless they are safe, accessible, and take them where they need to go. We should advocate for more frequent bus service through Chapel Hill Transit. We should continue to add sidewalks, sidepaths and greenways to our capital construction plan and seek grants that could help us build more sooner. Chapel Hill recently set a great example for us with the grant they received for their Everywhere to Everywhere network, which includes a planned connection to Carrboro’s future Bolin Creek Greenway at Estes Drive.
10. What role does Carrboro have in developing the Greene Tract in partnership with Chapel Hill and Orange County? How do you think that land should be developed? What are your priorities for the property?
I think it is most important for Carrboro and the other governments to heed the wishes of the community as expressed in Rogers Road: Mapping our Community’s Future, a 2016 document collecting the input of many residents of Historic Rogers Road, and to continue to work closely with the neighborhood. Some of the priorities identified in 2016 were building a new road through the Tract to connect Purefoy Road with Weaver Dairy Extension, creating greenways and trails on existing paths, reserving around 80% of the tract as permanent open space under conservation easements, and using the remaining area to build relatively dense and well-connected projects that are integrated into the neighborhood and prominently feature affordable housing, services for seniors and children, and small-scale neighborhood commercial.
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