Name as it appears on the ballot: Carl Rist

Age: 60

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: independent consultant; self-employed

Years lived in Durham: 34 years

1) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe Durham faces and how you believe the city should address them.

Durham is an amazing place to live, but there are a number of pressing issues that affect livability in Durham. Here is my assessment of the top three issues facing Durham: First, as I meet voters across Durham, it is abundantly clear that access to safe and affordable housing is one of the two most important issues in Durham. To create and sustain an adequate supply of affordable housing, the City of Durham must do a number of things:

● Develop additional permanent supportive housing for Durham’s most vulnerable–our neighbors experiencing homelessness. This will require more public investment and the partnership of Durham County, as exemplified by the recent purchase of the Carver Creek Apartments via a combination of city and county funds.

● Provide support for the Durham Housing Authority and local housing non-profits to use the City’s housing bond funds to build more affordable rental units. Almost half of Durham renter households are considered “cost-burdened,” so affordable rental housing is a major need in Durham.

● Provide downpayment assistance for more first-time, low-income homebuyers. The largest source of wealth for most Americans is a home, so enabling more Durham residents to become homeowners is a way to build generational wealth. Making a house payment is also a way to control housing costs in a market experiencing rapid price increases. Durham’s recently re-launched downpayment assistance program will provide qualified homeowners up to $80,000 in the form of a 0% interest second mortgage, but that means serving less than the 400 homeowners expected to be served as part of the city’s investment in Forever Home. More funds for downpayment assistance will be needed to allow more low-income households to become homeowners.

● Encourage private development of affordable housing using the city’s planning and zoning authority and by common-sense changes to the existing code.

Second, with homicides on the rise in recent years and concerns in the community about violent crime, Durham must address issues of community safety. True community safety will only be achieved when everyone has a good paying job, affordable health care, a great school for their children to attend, and an affordable home where they can lay their head every night. Ultimately, these should be the goals of every elected official. In the meantime, we need guns off our streets, and we absolutely must lobby our legislators to pass common sense gun legislation. In our current state of a Republican supermajority, this seems unlikely to happen.

I fully support increasing funding for the HEART program, of which I have been a strong supporter. HEART allows citizens in crisis to get the help they need, while allowing the Police Department to focus on stopping the gun violence that especially plagues communities of color. I applaud the city council’s recent decision to expand HEART city-wide for 12 hours/day, and if HEART continues to be a significant success in improving public safety, I would also support the expansion of HEART city-wide on a 24-hour/day basis.

Third, Durham needs greater shared economic prosperity. Despite a thriving economy and low unemployment, 1 in 7 residents in Durham is poor and 40% live below 200% of poverty. To combat this, there are a number of things the city could do to increase economic opportunity, including:

● Work with partners such as Durham Tech and Made in Durham to connect more young people, especially those from disinvested communities, to jobs in the dynamic growth sectors in the local economy, such as life sciences,

● Encourage more living wage jobs by promoting social marketing efforts, like the Durham Living Wage Project, and strengthening the city’s incentive policy,

● Support more residents to succeed as entrepreneurs by following the model of innovative cities, such as Baltimore, Kansas City, and Long Beach, that have developed robust entrepreneurial “ecosystems” to support entrepreneurs,

● Partner with local civic organizations in Durham, including churches, to help build household wealth by erasing medical debt. Cities like Chicago are already doing this. Additional support from the City of Durham (in the form of matches or other incentives) could leverage additional community investment and retire medical debt for even more families in Durham.

● Endow nest-egg savings accounts for DPS students starting in kindergarten. Local nonprofits, such as Book Harvest and Student U, already provide such college savings accounts for their participants. The City of Durham should work with DPS to scale this type of asset-building strategy to more kids in Durham.

2) 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?

From my perspective, City Council members should have experience with the key issues that face Durham, a track record of making change happen and a clear ideological framework for governing and making decisions. I believe that I have all three.

First, I have been a resident of Durham for more than 30 years and, for most of that time, have been active in Durham’s political life as a volunteer and board member in numerous local civic organizations, including the People’s Alliance, Self-Help Credit Union, NC Child, and the Durham Living Wage Project. As such, I bring years of experience in working on many of the critical issues that face Durham and extensive relationships built over many years in Durham. In addition, I worked for almost thirty years at Washington, DC-based Prosperity Now (formerly the Corporation for Enterprise Development). The focus of my work was on designing and implementing programmatic innovations and advocating for public policies to promote wealth-building, economic opportunity, and financial inclusion for low-income adults and children across the United States. All of the issues I have worked on professionally – poverty, jobs, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the lack of affordable housing – are issues that face Durham. If elected to the city council, I would bring this important expertise in building economic opportunity and alleviating poverty. Moreover, having worked on these issues nationwide (and, to a lesser extent, globally), I would also bring an understanding of best practices, new ideas, what works and what’s possible from a national perspective.

Second, I have demonstrated an ability to accomplish real change through collaboration, organizing, networking, and hard work. Just a few examples of my accomplishments in Durham include launching and leading the Economic Justice team at the People’s Alliance, helping to launch the Durham Living Wage Project (as part of the PA Economic Justice team), successfully advocating with the Durham City Council to include all part-time, seasonal workers in the City’s living wage policy, and advocating for a model property tax assistance program for long-time, low-income homeowners in Durham.

Third, inspired by the social justice teaching at my church and molded in over 30 years as a People’s Alliance volunteer and leader, I bring a clear progressive lens to my political work, including core values of – justice, fairness, equity, inclusion, transparency, accountability.

The large number of political organizations, elected officials (both current and former), and community leaders that have endorsed my campaign speaks to the confidence that the community has in me to be an effective leader on the city council.

3) What’s the best or most important thing the city council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the city should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.

Expanding HEART city-wide for 12 hours per day was absolutely the right move. As mental healthcare needs rise and our police department is already overburdened, moving some emergency calls to an alternate (or co-responding) team allows for people in crisis to get the help they need while allowing the police department to focus on true police work. HEART cannot prevent crimes. Yet, when coupled with other programs like the guaranteed income pilot with returning citizens, as well as deep investments in affordable housing, we are demonstrating how to begin to build a community of care for our most vulnerable residents.

4) The city has seen an uptick in shootings since last year, including recent tragic homicides that claimed the lives of children. Gun violence is obviously a multifaceted problem with no simple solution at the local level. But, in your view, what can or should the city be doing to stem the tide of violence that it isn’t doing now?

At present, there are too many guns on our streets and violent crime is destroying families and communities. Unfortunately, with a conservative legislature that has limited the ability of local governments to control guns, the challenge of ensuring community safety in Durham is no easy task.

To achieve community safety, Durham needs an effective system to respond to crimes and/or crises, including uniformed officers when dangerous and/or violent activity is happening and trained counselors and social workers when citizens are in crisis. But ultimately, true community safety means transcending simply responding to crime and building effective strategies for violence reduction. This can be achieved when everyone has a good paying job with benefits, affordable health care, a great school for their children to attend, and an affordable home to live in.

There are a number of additional things the city could do to stem the tide of violence and improve community safety:

● Boost pay for police officers. With the cost of living rising in Durham, many frontline workers find it hard to live affordably in Durham. The upcoming compensation study of city employees provides a perfect opportunity to ensure that salaries for Durham police officers are in line with the market in the Triangle. This will reward police for their hard work and is also one of the best ways to address the vacancies that have affected the police department in Durham and many municipalities across the state.

● Expand the HEART program. HEART has been an effective strategy for ensuring that citizens in crisis get the help they need while allowing the police force to focus on genuine law enforcement. The recent city budget expanded HEART city-wide for 12 hours/day. If HEART continues to be a significant success in improving public safety, the city should consider further expansion city-wide on a 24-hour/day basis.

● Create an Office of Survivor Care. Research shows that victims of violence are more likely to commit violent acts themselves. The city should carefully consider a proposal from the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force to establish an Office of Survivor Care within the Community Safety Department. Such an Office would serve as an entry point and a single point of contact for families of homicide victims and gunshot survivors. Primary services would include compassionate death notification, an immediate response to crisis, peer support groups, and referrals to trauma therapy.

● Expand Durham’s basic income program, known as Excel, to serve more citizens returning from prison. Residents returning from prison are among our community’s most vulnerable residents, with a recidivism rate of 38% statewide. On an annual basis, as many as 700 formerly incarcerated citizens return to Durham from prison. It would cost the City of Durham approximately $5 million (less than 1% of the city’s budget) to provide each of these residents with a basic income of $600 for 12 months to support their transition into the community and connections to jobs, housing, and health care.

● Pass a “Fair Chance” housing ordinance. Research shows that unhoused individuals are up to 11 times more likely to be arrested than those who are housed. A number of communities, such as Minneapolis, Detroit, Oakland and Seattle, have passed “fair chance” housing ordinances that create rules that limit the use of criminal records by landlords when they are screening prospective tenants. Durham should consider adoption of a Fair Chance housing ordinance so that landlords cannot immediately disqualify housing to residents returning from prison.

5) What can or should the city be doing to support people who are not in control of their own housing (including renters, the unhoused, and those whose homes are owned by banks) as costs of living skyrocket?

There are many approaches to this challenge that have been utilized by other cities, such as inclusionary zoning and rent control, or that are more common in other communities, such as cooperative housing. Unfortunately, in our current political climate in North Carolina – both in the legislature as well as the court system – it would be foolish to think Durham is in a position to push against the conservative majority on these issues. Instead, we need to focus on the tools we do have which, while limited, are still powerful enough to get real results.

The first thing we can do (and have been doing) is to provide public subsidies to support those households that have the most difficulty affording housing. Households whose income is below 30% of the area median income ($30,350 for a four-person household in Durham) typically fall in this category. Durham’s current Forever Home initiative sets aggressive goals for permanent supportive housing, including moving 1,700 unhoused individuals and families into permanent housing. In addition, up to $60 million from the recent housing bond is being used to replace 447 units of aging public housing with a net increase of over 1,500 units of affordable units in downtown Durham. In the coming years, Durham may need another affordable housing bond to provide additional subsidy to those least able to control or afford housing.

Second, another important tool that the city has to help control housing costs is to leverage city-owned land to help create permanent, affordable housing. The Willard Street Apartments, with 82 units of affordable rental housing, is an example of this strategy. The redevelopment of the former police station on Chapel Hill Street is another prime opportunity to implement this strategy. Local housing advocates, such as the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, are already calling for a redevelopment of this property to include 25-30% affordable units.

Finally, one of the best ways to control housing costs is by supporting households to become homeowners with a predictable mortgage. The recently passed housing bond contains funds for 20-year, 0% interest second mortgages to promote affordable homeownership. The city just announced the launch of this program, though in expanding the maximum second mortgage to $80,000, the city will likely not be able to serve the 400 households anticipated as part of Forever Home. The city should consider expanding its investment in efforts to promote affordable homeownership for first-time homebuyers, both as a way to help make housing costs more predictable and as a way to help more households build generational wealth.

6) Describe your vision for sustainable growth and development in Durham, including your view of how Expanding Housing Choices has impacted Durham’s communities and built environment since the policy’s passage in 2019; your thoughts on SCAD and the extent to which developers should be involved in shaping the city’s zoning codes; and an example of a municipality you believe has made smart decisions related to growth and development that could be similarly implemented in Durham.

Durham is an incredibly attractive place to live and was recently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the 3rd best place to live in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in Durham County grew 2.4% between April 2020 and July 2022, or almost 300 people per month. With this rapid growth, it is critical that the city use its planning and zoning authority to stimulate, guide and regulate growth in a way that can benefit all residents of our community.

One important way to grow in a more sustainable way is to prioritize increased density in the urban core rather than sprawl. The passage of Expanding Housing Choices in 2019 was one positive step in this direction. Importantly, EHC effectively ended single-family zoning in Durham. Single-family zoning is a racialized zoning tool that has been used for decades to effectively exclude African-American families from traditionally white neighborhoods. As a result of this important change, Durham has seen a growth in the development of duplexes, ADUs and attached homes, particularly in in-town neighborhoods, and a marginal increase in the supply of and variety of housing units.

The City of Minneapolis is a promising model for Durham to consider. With its 2040 plan, Minneapolis became the first city in the nation to eliminate single-family zoning, while also instituting a number of other zoning reforms, including eliminating parking minimums, upzoning transit corridors and allowing triplexes to be built on most blocks. Detailed econometric studies have yet to be done on the impact of Minneapolis’ 20240 plan, but there are promising early returns. For one, Minneapolis has been one of the leading cities in the Midwest in housing construction per capita over the last five years. Moreover, data from the Minneapolis Fed indicates that the growth in rents has been slower than income growth and that the share of cost-burdened renter households has declined.

With respect to SCAD, we need more tools, rather than fewer, in addressing the housing shortage and affordability crisis in Durham. Reforming Durham’s zoning codes, as the city did with EHC and has now been proposed with SCAD, is certainly one of many tools for addressing the need for more housing. Yet, as a set of text amendments initiated by a private developer, SCAD is not the right way to do public policy in Durham. I think the city would do well to adopt some of the common-sense parts of SCAD, including eliminating parking minimums, while continuing to study some of the more controversial elements, such as the housing affordability provisions in SCAD.

7) In August, the city released a report showing lead-contaminated soil in several parks in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Durham. What can or should the city be doing to address existing environmental injustices and prevent further environmental racism as Durham expands?

The issue of lead paint in the soil in multiple city parks where incinerators were formerly located is just the latest in a tragic series of environmental harms done to Black and other low-income neighborhoods. To address this type of harm, the City of Durham must:

1. Be extremely timely and transparent in communications with affected neighborhoods. News accounts indicate that DPR officials were notified last November about the findings from a Duke Univ. Nicholas School study about lead in the soil of certain city parks, yet neighbors were not informed until the following April, when residents located a copy of the paper online.

2. Acknowledge the harms done. Durham is not the only community in North Carolina that must clean up such so-called pre-regulatory landfills (PRLs) with the help of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). But that should not in any way normalize the situation. Residents in affected communities deserve a complete apology from top city staff and elected officials.

3. Find creative solutions to remediate the problem. For example, in a Greensboro park that faced a similar problem with lead from a former incinerator, local residents worked with city and state officials to develop a solution that will result in a better park for residents, once remediation is complete. At Bingham Park in Greensboro, residents were able to negotiate a solution that involved full waste removal and restoration of the site, rather than containing the toxic soil with a cover that could never accommodate any future trees or man-made structures.

8) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs? I supported City Council’s decision to continue fare-free buses.

If elected, I would support ongoing fare-free buses to encourage more transit use, while also expanding routes and improving reliable service.

In addition, I would also:

● prioritize investment and focus on bus rapid transit (BRT) over commuter rail, as federal support has shifted towards BRT and away from commuter rail, and

● resist efforts from the state DOT to widen freeways in key corridors, such as 15-501, U.S. 70 and 147 between I-40 and I-885, focusing instead on making these corridors higher priority for BRT.

I am an avid biker for both recreation and commuting, and a proud member of Bike Durham. If elected, I would prioritize continued investments in sidewalks, bike lanes, streets and transit, but also deliver on accountability. In annual surveys, local residents give the city low grades on key transportation investments. One way to be accountable to the public and assess Durham’s performance in making needed transportation investments would be to join the North Carolina Benchmarking 2.0 Project at the UNC School of Government. This data project compares service data and performance trends across a wide range of city services. Durham is one of the few large cities in NC that does not already participate.

9) What can or should the city be doing to uplift low-wage workers? To uplift small businesses?

When Durham became the first city in North Carolina to pass a living wage ordinance in 1998, we led by example in ensuring our workers received fair wages. In 2016, as a leader in the Durham Living Wage Project, I fought alongside city workers to ramp up the city’s living wage escalator and get the city on the path to $15 per hour (in alignment with the growing Fight for $15 campaign) by 2019. These were huge wins, but unfortunately, those wins were short-lived.

During covid, the city’s pay scale was frozen and Durham city workers’ wages remained stagnant while other municipalities and private employers continued to increase pay. To make matters worse, a period of rapid inflation increased living expenses, and while inflation has since slowed, our workers are still trying to do more with less, and they’re feeling the squeeze of raises that ultimately have proven insufficient. As we look forward to the ‘24-’25 budget and beyond, Durham needs to prioritize its workers again. This can also encourage more private sector businesses to pay living wages by creating competition in the marketplace.

I am proud of my work in advocating alongside city workers for living wages, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done with the Durham Living Wage Project to incentivize private sector employers to pay their workers living wages. Ultimately, raising pay for city workers will require more revenue and may require raising taxes. But Durham is lucky to have a model program — property tax assistance for long-time, low-income homeowners — which I helped advocate for, that reduce the burden of property tax increases on lower-income households.

According to the Small Business Equity Toolkit, Black entrepreneurs in Durham are more than seven times less likely to start businesses than white entrepreneurs (and Latinos are more than five times less likely). To accelerate entrepreneurial starts and small business growth, especially among people of color and non-traditional entrepreneurs, Durham should follow the model of innovative cities, such as Baltimore, Kansas City, and Long Beach, that have built out robust entrepreneurial “ecosystems” to support entrepreneurs and build a stronger local economy. Durham already has an existing network of public-sector and nonprofit entrepreneurial support organizations. What’s needed is greater investment in access to capital and in a high-capacity “backbone” organization to coordinate efforts and work with partners to set outcome metrics and report on progress.

10) How do you currently, or how do you plan to, engage with constituents across all of Durham’s demographics? Building on that response, how do you currently, or how do you plan to, weigh differing insights from constituents, fellow council members, city staff, and advisory committees when coming to a decision on a vote?

During my time working in Durham’s political sphere, I have built an extensive web of relationships. Many are aware that I have worked with the People’s Alliance for over 30 years. During that time, I was able to found the Durham Living Wage Project along with people from varying backgrounds. I also worked with members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People to advocate for property tax assistance for long-time, low-income homeowners (as noted above).

Similar to these examples of collaboration, I believe every person deserves a seat at the table. I have learned to remain solution-oriented despite philosophical differences, and this strategy is already impacting real people in very significant ways. I intend to meet with representatives from major stakeholder groups regularly to ensure that I am getting feedback, and I believe in the power of listening, truly listening, to perspectives different than my own.

11) How should Durham’s city council address first responder vacancies?

As a long-time living wage activist and a candidate that takes great pride in my endorsement by the AFL-CIO, I am particularly interested in how City Council responds to the recent labor dispute with UE 150 as well as the concerns expressed by all city workers. The message shared by so many of those workers — high cost of living in Durham, wages eroded by inflation — is borne out by the data. Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, the costs of food and rent in Durham have increased by more than 20%. At the same time, the wages of sanitation workers and other city workers have failed to keep pace.

The best way to address first responder vacancies in Durham is by ensuring that pay for first responders is competitive. Durham’s elected leaders and city manager should act with urgency in two ways:

1) Come to an agreement with union leadership as soon as possible on a one-time bonus for city workers. Doing this in the short-term will provide some relief for wage freezes during the pandemic and raises that have not kept up with inflation.

2) Complete the planned market analysis of city workers’ pay and develop a multi-year plan for funding pay increases.

12) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here.

Thank you for these extremely relevant questions.

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