Name as it appears on the ballot: Javiera Caballero

Age: 45

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: City Council Member, City of Durham

Years lived in Durham: 13 

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

Affordable Housing: The price of housing has skyrocketed in Durham, with median home prices right around $400,00 and prices having increased 30% since the pandemic started. This threatens the displacement of long-time residents, including public sector workers, like our emergency personnel, sanitation staff, educators, and more. Despite promising strides, it’s plain to see we face a crisis. I am working to build a Durham where every resident has an affordable and safe place to call home. 

Our current affordable housing plan, Forever Home Durham, has allocated $95 million to build and protect affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families. Our City Council must design and implement an even larger affordable housing plan to move forward. In my next term, I would like to put another affordable housing bond in front of the voters. This bond would fund new rental units for workers, seniors, and people with disabilities.  Without another bond we will lose the momentum we’ve made over the last several years to help residents on the brink of displacement. 

It would also make critical investments in our public housing. I would like to collaborate with the county commission and the School Board to create innovative housing plans for public workers. Finally, as we work to prevent evictions across the city, I look forward to partnering with a local nonprofit to create a rental assistance fund and expanding our support for eviction diversion with Legal Aid.   

Community Safety: There is a growing consensus that Durham needs a more holistic response to issues related to mental health, substance abuse, and violence. Like many communities, our hard-working police officers and emergency departments are overwhelmed.  During my time on Council, I have led on expanding community safety resources, and I am excited to build on Durham’s success. Right now, HEART is an inspiration and a model for other municipalities. We must continue to expand the HEART program to a 24 hour /7 day a week service citywide. Our current budget, which I voted to approve in June, includes funding for citywide services, but not yet for 24/7 coverage. I also want to expand the types of 911 calls that the HEART team can answer, so that more residents are interacting with HEART during a crisis and getting connected to the specialized types of support that they need. Finally, I plan to pilot a civilian traffic unit, now that House Bill 140 has passed in the General Assembly. This would allow us to have unarmed officers responding to low-level traffic issues such as fender-benders, instead of sending armed police. My vision is that residents receive the care and support that they need in non-violent situations from HEART and other unarmed units, and that we deploy our police officers more strategically to respond to and investigate violent crime, as they were trained to do. 

Economic justice: Wealth inequality has grown significantly in the 13 years that I’ve lived in Durham. On Council I have worked to advance the needs of workers and immigrants, and there is more to be done. In 2019 I fought to include part-time city workers in our living wage pay structure. Everyone working for the city deserves to make a living wage. This June, I voted for a 6-8% wage increase for city workers, and as a champion for workers’ rights I have been endorsed 3x by the AFL-CIO. I am committed to raising wages even more next year and providing all city workers with an immediate bonus. 

The fight for economic justice is personal for me. I am an immigrant who knows what it’s like to find her footing in a new place—and I care deeply about advancing working class and immigrant communities here in Durham. We have made huge strides forward over the past five years by providing language access and interpretation with city services, funding a joint City-County Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and supporting immigrant businesses through our Office of Economic Development. We need to expand all of this work so that the 14% of our neighbors who are immigrants and the 20% of residents who speak a language other than English at home are sharing in our economic growth as a city.

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?

Durham needs a leader that is smart, has a progressive policy vision, strong co-governance skills, and a voice for the Latino/a/e community. What sets me apart is my record of getting things done that match my values. Below are some of the highlights of progressive policies I have championed while on Council:

Affordable Housing:

  • The $95 million affordable housing bond passed with overwhelming support in 2019. It has provided funding for new units for seniors and people with disabilities, and improvements for existing units. 
  • Increased funding for Legal Aid for Eviction Diversion to keep renters in their homes.
  • Use of ARPA funds to support 3 additional affordable housing projects.
  • Use of fund balance to help Housing for New Hope purchase Carver Creek apartments and keep over 45 seniors housed. 

Community Safety: 

  • Led the creation of the Community Safety department after calls for police reform in 2020.
  • Led the pilot of the unarmed crisis response HEART program in 2021 and the citywide expansion of HEART in 2023. HEART is being recognized as a national model and replicated in other municipalities. 
  • Advocated for and funded the free record expungement program DEAR, which has been nationally recognized and served over 35,000 people. 90% of residents using DEAR to expunge their records are low-income people of color. 
  • Advocated for and funded Bull City United, a Durham County violence interrupter program.

Racial Justice and Community Inclusion

  • Reinvested in Hayti by allocating $10 million from ARPA funds to the Historic Fayetteville Street Corridor 
  • Advanced language access at the city level so that all residents can participate in city meetings and service. Purchased streaming equipment with CARES funding so the city can stream meetings with simultaneous interpretation in up to three languages. Funded and hired our first language access coordinator and implemented a language access plan across city government. 
  • Funded and are working to create our first joint city/county Office of Refugee and Immigrant Affairs, the first immigrant/refugee coordinator position has already been hired.
  • Funded an immigrant legal defense fund. This fund is housed in a local non-profit (Justice Matters) and provides members of our immigrant community with free legal services.

Environmental Sustainability and Bike/Pedestrian Safety: 

  • Adopted a Carbon Neutrality and Renewable Energy Action Plan with the goal to reduce energy consumption in city buildings, have 80% of the energy used in city operations be renewable by 2030, and reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. 
  • The City of Durham along with Durham County and Durham Public Schools are now part of Duke Energy’s Green Source Advantage program. The City of Durham (COD) will be able offset approximately 50% of consumption with clean, emission-free solar power from a solar plant in Alamance County. Won funding for a Vision Zero coordinator in the city’s 2023 budget, to implement our Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic deaths.
  • Worked to start and keep Go Durham buses fare-free since 2020 to provide a car-free transit option, while also expanding our bus routes. The COD Transportation Department also has a goal of an all-electric fleet of buses by 2035 and I believe we now have 10 buses in the fleet.
  • Committed an additional $6 million to the City’s Capital Improvement Plan for environmental justice projects in neighborhoods that historically experienced disinvestment. This money will be used to provide park enhancements such LED lighting and improvements on athletic courts and fields parks like Merrick-Moore, Twin Lakes, and East End  
  • Advocated for our 2023-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. We allocated $40 million towards sidewalks, bike infrastructure and other key improvements to help our city be more walkable and bikeable. 

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.

The expansion of the HEART program, our unarmed crisis response for residents. This is an accomplishment that also aligns deeply with my own values on community safety- we all deserve to feel safe and have the right response and supports in our community to have that need met. 

It is also an amazing example of what this city can deliver for residents when City Council, city staff, and community stakeholders are coordinated and working together on a shared goal. We transformed a division in a very short time—just a little more than a year—and expanded the HEART program to be citywide 12 hours a day with a plan to move to 24/7 citywide service. This means that when a city resident is experiencing a mental health crisis or needs support with a neighbor in a non-violent issue, they interact with trained social workers and mediators instead of police. Our model is one of the best examples of a multi-pronged approach to community safety in the country. We have accomplished this with a much smaller city budget than many cities with larger budgets. Because we’ve scaled HEART thoughtfully with resident input, the program has grown sustainably and is now a national model for community safety; other municipalities, elected officials, and residents from cities such as Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Greensboro now look to Durham for a great model. If you’re interested in learning more about the type or number of calls the HEART is taking, check out:  

I do not agree with Council’s decision to implement ShotSpotter and voted against it as a Council Member. This product is offered by a for-profit company that has a questionable track record regarding the accuracy of their data, their privacy practices, and their tactics of taking advantage of grieving community members by over-promising the actual capability of their technology. I am looking forward to seeing the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law third party evaluation of the ShotSpotter pilot, so we can make an evidence-based decision about whether to continue with ShotSpotter or invest in another direction. 

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?

Over many years, the City has implemented a variety of programs and initiatives to help combat the devastating issue of gun violence. We know much of the violence in Durham happens in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment historically. We know that often both the perpetrators and victims of that violence are victims of systemic racism and societal neglect. While I’ve been on Council, I have advocated for three programs that provide holistic support and economic opportunity for residents who have been affected by these systems. The DEAR program provides free record expungement and unlocks economic opportunity for residents who may otherwise be held back from good jobs by a previous criminal record. Research shows that inability to get a good job contributes to recidivism. Bull City United hires community members to intervene in violence before it happens. The Welcome Home program provides wraparound support to residents returning to the community after incarceration. 

While I want to continue these programs, they are not enough, and we need to do more. The city, county, and Durham Public Schools must work more closely together to make sure we are offering more youth programming, access, and connection to different types of supports to prevent violence. This includes mental health support, and ensuring kids know as they reach adulthood, they have access to jobs that pay well and training to be qualified for them. The City of Durham needs to commit more resources to keep our community centers open in the evening, especially on weekends, so our youth have safe places to go and build safe friendships and mentorship with trusted adults. We also need to lean on our business community to participate in our YouthWorks program so we can offer more internship positions during the summer. Well ahead of summer, there needs to be a coordinated community wide effort to ensure our teens have opportunities to participate in community events, summer camps, or work if they are old enough. In the next several weeks the joint city, county, and DPS Community Safety and Wellness Task Force will be releasing its report and recommendations on this front. This group of Durham residents have diligently been working for over a year listening to community members across Durham share about what a safer Durham could look like and I would urge all of us to pay close attention to their recommendations. 

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?

I’m committed to making sure that renters have affordable and safe housing as our city grows. If I’m re-elected, I plan to create a joint city/county rent assistance fund housed in a non-profit. This fund would provide direct financial support to residents who need help with their rent.  Individuals, organizations, and businesses would be able to donate to the fund, along with investments from city and county funds.  Keeping folks in their current housing is often the best and most cost-effective solution to displacement, and all the cascading issues that result afterward. I also plan to dedicate more funds for Legal Aid’s eviction diversion program to support residents in eviction court.

Our city currently does not have a day shelter for unhoused residents. We need a safe place for these Durham residents to go and find food, shelter, and services during the day. If I’m re-elected, I’m committed to creating one. 

As stated above, I want to put a new affordable housing bond in front of voters so that the city can support the creation of more affordable housing units. We also need to create the ability for the owners of some of our naturally occurring affordable housing to be able to borrow money from the city with low interest loans to make repairs. In return, the landlords would enter into an agreement to keep their units affordable. This would enable these landlords to make needed repairs that can be very expensive, instead of selling their units to business entities that force long-time tenants out. It will also improve the habitability of this housing stock for our lower-income residents. The city needs to continue supporting our low-income homeowners with property taxes, through the property tax relief program that we fund with the county. Our home repair program is also a critical support that needs to continue. All these policies will help combat displacement and gentrification of our neighborhoods. 

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.

I’m proud of our comprehensive plan that both the City Council and Board of County Commissioners will be adopting this fall. It sets an excellent vision on how we want to develop Durham in the next several decades, because it prioritizes what community members shared, they wanted during our Engage Durham process. The community engagement done over several years through our Engage Durham process sets us apart from other cities and communities. Racial equity was prioritized, and the city’s equitable engagement blueprint informed the whole initiative. It is yet another example of how the city works and continually improves to include those historically excluded from decision-making.

The upcoming rewrite of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is also going to be a great opportunity to incentivize the kind of sustainable growth we need in Durham. I would like to implement a process that if developers/builders commit to building the kinds of things that are good for our community, like affordable housing, using solar panels or increased tree save, they could have access to an expedited pathway in our development process. I think another opportunity we have is to get permission from the NC Building Code Council to allow certain types of buildings or building practices we are barred from doing currently. An example of this is the building of triplexes and/or quads (4 units). Those types of buildings are in the commercial code instead of the residential code and it impacts the cost of constructing that type of housing. Some other examples of building practices that could lower the cost of building would be the allowance of single stair buildings and mass timber construction. 

I supported Expanding Housing Choices (EHC). EHC allows ADUs by right up to 800 square feet across Durham. It also reduced the width requirement on the pole of a flag lot (a flag lot is exactly what you think of when you use the term- it’s a lot that has a long skinny portion that then is wider at the back for the building- like a pole and flag) and made other additional changes to our UDO. We get quarterly reports about the impact of EHC and the concern that EHC would encourage teardowns has not manifested. I was recently walking in an inner core downtown neighborhood and saw a two flag lot parcel. This allowed the family to have multi-generational housing, it fit into the context of the surrounding neighborhood, and it was exactly the gentle density that EHC was designed to allow. 

SCAD has components that I think are excellent like getting rid of parking minimums and allowing larger ADUs and parts that I’m skeptical about- mainly the part about the length of affordability in the Progressing Affordably Towards Housing (PATH) section. I look forward to the work and outcomes from the task force that was recently put together.  I also think the planning staff’s analysis was excellent. For those interested below is a link to their analysis. I found the document to be fair, thorough, and easy to understand. 

Housing affordability and multi-modal transit go hand-in-hand and in general those goals are something we struggle with across the United States because of the lack of substantive investments in both multi-modal transit and social housing. Portland is doing some interesting work with their land use policies and is often lifted up as a good example of land use reforms that works to increase missing-middle housing. Raleigh has now gotten rid of parking minimums as have many cities across the country. I think studying what other communities have done and where they have been successful will be an important part of our UDO rewrite. 

As a Council Member who sits on the Joint-City County Planning Committee and because of all the zoning cases City Council members decide I have had to learn a lot about planning and building. It is an area that I believe needs to be better aligned and better utilized to impact housing affordability. The rules that dictate how we build and what we build are an extremely important tool in our affordable housing strategy. Working in a constructive collaborative way with our development community is critically important. They cannot be the only stakeholder we listen to and incorporate into our planning and development, but they have important knowledge and insight. 

6) 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?

Lead contamination in our city’s public lands and parks is never acceptable. I was upset to learn about lead-contaminated soil in Northgate, Walltown, Lyon and other neighborhood parks. These are places where my children played growing up, and where thousands of other children play every single year. I am thankful to our City Manager for coordinating our response and our County Health Department for providing information to residents and offering free lead testing. The city will continue working on the strategies to remediate the issue. This experience is a lesson for how we can do more and better in the future. 

7) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs?

We need a reliable affordable regional transit system and a good local transit system. We cannot abandon our GoDurham fixed route system for a regional transit system and we cannot have a transit system that doesn’t connect folks to Raleigh or Chapel Hill without having to drive. Durham County’s recently adopted transit plan did a good job committing resources to our fixed route system, Go Durham. The city is currently in the middle of updating its short-range transit plan, which will help with bus route reliability and frequency. We are also in regional conversations and planning for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and rail to improve regional connectivity which is crucial to connect Durham residents to good paying jobs not only in Durham but across the Triangle. As one of two city council members on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) I supported the 2050 Metropolitan Transit Plan (MTP) which was a departure from many previous plans. The 2050 MTP helps move us away from car-centric planning and the continuous building and expansion of roads. The challenge now is to change the culture and practices of the NC Department of Transportation and to change current state funding practices that steer 94% of state and federal transportation dollars to highway projects. Large transit projects are very expensive. We must have more and better resources from our state government to succeed. We are lucky that the federal government under the Biden administration is investing in rail and BRT projects, and we will have to work hard to be able compete well in those grant programs. The city’s transportation department has become more and more successful at winning federal transportation grant dollars. 

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

The United States is in the midst of a union resurgence. We’ve just seen collective action from our solid waste workers in Durham, and meanwhile, workers for the Big Three automobile companies have declared a strike. Workers in North Carolina are at a disadvantage compared to other states due to regressive state laws that constrain union power. However, workers in the South are finding creative ways to exercise the power of solidarity, and I applaud these efforts. 

Our city government needs to make sure we take care of our workers. We are in the middle of a pay study for all city workers in the organization—close to 3000 workers. Currently our hourly wage is $18.46 an hour and we will increase that with our next budget cycle. Durham County and Durham Public Schools have also significantly raised their worker pay. All three of these organizations are some of the largest employers in Durham County; this puts wage pressure on other businesses and nonprofits to increase their wages too, which is important but ultimately insufficient. North Carolina’s preemption laws hurt Durham and our residents because we cannot pass a living-wage ordinance tied to inflation. Durham has gotten really good at being creative and innovative on how to deliver what residents need and deserve, but at some point, the types of true policy reform we need requires a progressive General Assembly and changes to our current preemption laws.

The city gave the seed money to stand up Built2Last, which I believe has huge potential to benefit entrepreneurs and businesses owned by historically marginalized communities. To learn more about all the services Built2Last offers you can go here.

During Covid we supported 250 businesses, most of them Black-owned and women-owned, with grants and loans. The city also has Durham Business 360 which is a resource for small business owners to connect to a variety of partners for technical assistance. All of these are good examples of what the city has done but the work needs to be expanded and broadened. I am especially interested in how we help residents either transition their small businesses to worker co-ops or start them. I also know we need to do more in supporting our immigrant owned businesses. 

9) 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?

My plan is to continue to do what I’ve been doing since joining the City Council. I have worked to build relationships with stakeholders from all across Durham and learned about the different needs or resources community members want or need. Whether it’s going to observe eviction court proceedings to better understand what residents are experiencing or meeting with biking advocates to learn how I can better advocate for multi-modal transit options. When I make decisions there are many things I consider- have residents been engaged? What are the equity concerns and have they been considered and addressed as best as possible? What are staff recommendations? Is the issue something that one of my colleagues knows more about than I do?  Well before a vote I have gathered whatever additional information I need either by meeting with staff, the organization or group of residents advocating for a specific policy or outcome on a vote. Ultimately though I make my decision based on my values and whether it will be helpful long-term for Durham. 

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

Making sure our first responder teams are fully staffed is a priority for me and raising wages after our market study is complete and during our next budget cycle. We also need to make sure our benefits align well with what our first responders are sharing would be helpful. City staff is already working on updating the types of benefits we offer now and what other benefits we should be offering to compete with other municipalities. 

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

I believe in collaborative consensus-building governance. I believe leadership that incorporates many voices and ideas makes the end result stronger, because more folks feel committed to the vision and ideas being implemented. I believe in our collective power to dream and build a better community. With our values at heart and our interconnectedness top of mind, we must both look to the past to acknowledge the many ways we have come up short and do the important work of transformation.

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.