Name as it appears on the ballot: Khalilah Karim
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: https://khalilahfordurham.com
Occupation & employer: NC League of Conservation Voters, Regional Field Director
Years lived in Durham: 9 years
1) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe Durham faces and how you believe the city should address them.
Durham is currently dealing with three pressing issues: community, environment, and economy. In our current mental health crisis, there is no doubt we all need to build our community. Access to greenspaces, quality youth programming, and even fresh, high quality food varies widely across our city. Crisis response programs such as the HEART program are vital to ensuring people are getting the help they need rather than becoming victims of overpolicing. Still, investments in preventive programs are critically important to helping people find and build their own communities and keeping us all safe.
With all of us feeling the current effects of climate change, the need for aggressive action on environmental sustainability has never been more important. From green infrastructure in building (such as solar panels) to ensuring access to alternate means of transportation (such as bike lanes and covered bus stops), Durham needs to invest in our future. Providing fare-free buses is a great first step, but it’s simply not enough. We need more inter-city transportation options, and we can use funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to create them
While much of the economy in Durham is “booming”, the middle class is disappearing. As large tech companies come to town, our neighborhoods, especially historically Black neighborhoods, are reeling from the effects of rapid gentrification. People who have called Durham home for generations are being displaced, and Black homeownership is declining. The reality is that Black and brown Durhamites are being pushed further to the margins of our economy and are unable to build wealth for their families due to systemic inequality and policies that don’t center their experiences and needs. Strategic investments in affordable housing, down payment assistance for
first time homebuyers, and low-income property tax assistance can allow Black and brown families to build wealth and set their children up for success.
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?
My resume includes years of service industry experience, including restaurant, retail, and childcare experience. As a council member, I would leverage the customer service skills developed earlier in my career in conversations with city staff and residents. I also have years of experience as a labor and environmental organizer. As I started my career in the labor movement, I knew that I wanted to make an impact within my community and in the lives of individuals. Working with labor unions gave me the ability to connect with people from different walks of life — each person with their different struggles, but fighting together to ensure fair pay and safe working conditions. By connecting individuals based on their shared values and experiences, we
could move management and corporations to create better and more equitable workplace conditions for the entire collective. I would take my experiences from this organizing work to help bring our Durham community together to focus on the goals that we all share.
In all of those roles it takes communication and deep listening skills to be successful. I have learned in every role that I have held that in order to be a successful leader, one needs to be able to see past themselves to the needs of the people and be able to push for what communities need. My work demonstrates that I have the skill set to ensure that our community has what our residents need to survive and thrive.
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.
I believe that the best thing the City Council did this year was expand funding for the HEART program. The additional 27 staff that have been added to the Community Safety Department is enough to allow the program to operate citywide. HEART has been an incredible success in just over a year of operations and is already serving as a model for cities around the country. As a City Council Member, I will continue to support the expansion of HEART with more funding in future budgets so that the program can operate 24 hours a day and respond to all eligible calls. This program is an incredible resource for Durham.
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?
The root causes of gun violence in Durham are the same as they are throughout the US- unfettered access to guns due to a lack of effective gun control legislation, along with a lack of access to the economic, educational, and social opportunities that people need to thrive. In the end, policing and law enforcement struggle to effectively handle the issue of violent crime because they don’t deal with the underlying causes. While unarmed crisis response units such as the HEART program are a vital resource, Durham also needs investments in true crime prevention. This means we need bold investments in wrap-around services, employment, juvenile assistance, and skill development to allow every member of the Durham community to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives.
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?
Black home ownership is currently on the decline, and there is a marked disparity between white and Black home ownership. Durham needs policies that provide additional avenues for Black home ownership. I believe in encouraging developers to contribute more to the community than they take. We must require development that embraces the neighborhood it is entering and makes room for pre-existing cultures. We must ensure that the neighborhood’s Black homeowners gain equity as a result of the rising property values instead of being pushed out. Durham needs investments to keep long-time Durham residents who may have fixed incomes or are underpaid.
We’ve reached a crisis point that is challenging to address because of rapid growth and its resulting social and environmental challenges. The environment must be prioritized, but people also need a warm place to sleep at night. Due to a Republican supermajority at the state level limiting our options and available tools, it is critically important that Durham use every tool at our disposal to prioritize environmental sustainability while also fostering development that meets the needs of our community. First, this includes working behind the scenes to guarantee that the ideas put out to city council are the best that our developers can come up with in terms of cost and sustainability. A second priority would be to increase density within the urban core while investing in public green spaces. Thirdly, it’s crucial to take harm reduction into account when zoning petitions are made. Proposals should be considered with present zoning taken into account as well as the development’s potential effects on the neighborhood.
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.
One of the greatest challenges of Durham’s growth is balancing our desire for environmental sustainability and community cohesion with the increased need for housing and infrastructure to support new residents. There are dramatically different views in the community on how to best find this balance. In a group of people who all care deeply about affordability, it’s likely that some believe that complete deregulation of the housing market is the solution and others believe that a massive increase in regulation is. I believe the best path must be something that balances our different goals as much as possible and also recognizes the constraints imposed on the city
by both the state government, which bans most forms of market-based regulation, and the structure of our economy, which largely gives property owners and prospective owners the right to buy and sell as they wish at whatever price they choose. The new comprehensive plan and UDO rewrite give us an opportunity to shape Durham’s future growth, and I am hopeful that we will be able to strike the right balance in those new policies to provide enough housing for new residents while also ensuring that we don’t place severe burdens on existing residents.
Both Expanding Housing Choices and SCAD speak to questions of infill density v. sprawl. Both policies are intended to allow more density in the urban tier, which is a factor against sprawl in the suburban tier. The last report on EHC is almost a year old, but showed an additional 400 homes being built under EHC regulations since late 2019, or about 135 each year. In a city of 100,000 households, this change feels pretty small. SCAD is also designed to allow increased infill density, but was written by developers instead of city staff. This is concerning to me because I worry that people who make their living off of the city’s development rules have an incentive to change those rules for their own financial benefit. I would rely more on the planning department’s analysis of the proposals and the experience of residents in impacted communities when deciding which parts of the proposal to support and which parts to oppose. I certainly agree with affordability advocates that we need more than 5 years restrictions on affordable housing to prevent those homes being flipped quickly to market rate.
A couple of cities whose zoning reforms I have researched are Minneapolis and Portland. Both cities have passed densification reforms that have allowed more dense housing like townhouses, duplexes and triplexes to be built, and these types of housing are less expensive than single-family homes. In both of these cities, however, like in Durham, prices for all types of housing have continued to increase. I don’t think densification on its own can create affordability, but on the other hand, not having enough housing makes affordability even more challenging.
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?
First and foremost, I think Durham needs to implement greater accountability so that when problems inevitably arise, we can mitigate the harm immediately instead of sweeping it under the rug. Additionally, it is critically important that the lead in the soil in these parks be addressed immediately now that we are aware. More broadly speaking, our city government must develop a culture of accountability and restoration, and this is an area where our City Council can lead by example. I believe our elected leaders must acknowledge when they make mistakes, rectify any harm done, and commit to doing better in the future.
7) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs?
I will support annual funding to complete city-wide networks of sidewalks, safe street crossings, and protected bike lanes and to bring sidewalk conditions and accessible curb ramps up to standard. Investments in multi-modal transportation, and especially environmentally sustainable transportation, is absolutely vital from both a community and environmental perspective. While I recognize the expense this would bring to the city, I also recognize that we must secure the future for our children and generations to come, which means divesting from a car-centric, fossil fuel reliant view of transportation.
8) What can or should the city be doing to uplift low-wage workers? To uplift small
As one of the largest employers in the city, Durham can and should lead by example. This means a compensation package that gives our workers what they deserve. This can push up wages for everyone by creating competition in the marketplace. Additionally, the city’s worker’s rights commission has created an avenue for workers across the city to come together and build solidarity with each other. While the city is preempted by state law from taking action on minimum wage, paid sick days, or other progressive reforms, the Workers Bill of Rights passed by the commission can be used to provide positive pressure on local businesses to encourage them to treat their workers well.
Small businesses have been especially hard hit during COVID, and the city provided loans and changes to policies, like on-street dining, have been helpful but not enough. We should continue to provide financial support to small businesses. I’m especially interested in the city’s recent efforts to promote employee ownership, and would love to see us expand that work as well.
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?
As an organizer, I have spent 13 years engaging in communities across demographics to win changes for all of us. I am excited to continue this work as a city councilor, continuing to uplift the most marginalized voices in our community. Inevitably, people within the community will have different opinions, so for me, it comes down to evaluating who is harmed vs benefitted by a decision, who has more vs less power, and what voices are we not hearing at all. I’m always going to prioritize more marginalized communities and follow my values. Ultimately, I can’t promise how I’ll vote on challenges we have yet to face, but I can be transparent with voters on my values and lean into those with every decision.
10) How should Durham’s city council address first responder vacancies?
City workers have been deprioritized during COVID, and, making matters worse, we’ve
experienced rapid inflation that, although it has slowed, still impacts Durham families. Given this, city council needs to prioritize getting city worker compensation back on track. As a former labor organizer, I am committed to collaborating with city workers, including union leaders, to ensure we do this in a way that is equitable and competitive.
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