Name as it appears on the ballot: Shanetta Burris

Age: 35

Party affiliation: Democratic Party

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Program Manager, Lillian’s List 

Years lived in Durham: 12 years (total) 

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

Issue One: Addressing income disparities for City employees. The city’s budget is a tool that can be utilized to address income disparities for City employees. If elected, during the FY ‘24-’25 budget cycle, I would work with my colleagues on council and the City Manager to ensure that we devise a strategy for addressing the issues regarding the lack of step pay for city employees. Our city employees are vital to the operations of our city and we must recognize their value.

Issue Two: Housing affordability (neighborhood stabilization, pathways to homeownership for low and middle income people/families). Access to safe and affordable housing is a human right, not a luxury. I believe that all within our community should have shelter. There are a variety of factors which contribute to homelessness; and it is up to our local government to devise strategies that will mitigate the harm on the most vulnerable in our population as a result of continued growth. In order to address the lack of affordable housing, I will prioritize working with non-profit organizations and business leaders to address the skills gap within our community. We must ensure that our neighbors have the skills to participate in Durham’s evolving labor market. Additionally, we must ensure that our neighbors have access to public transit that will enable them to travel to the job centers across our city. Finally, we must significantly increase our production of affordable housing. To achieve this we must expand public-private partnership and offer innovative strategies to encourage the production of affordable units for rent and ownership.

Issue Three: City Infrastructure. As our city continues to grow it is important that we have the infrastructure in place to meet the needs of our community. In 2022, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) detected the presence of toxic chemicals in groundwater near the Terry Quarry. The Terry Quarry is presently used as a storage site for Durham’s water supply. While it is still uncertain if the toxic chemicals will reach the quarry, it is imperative that the city leadership takes a proactive approach in identifying future water supplies for our community. If elected, I will work with both local and state agencies to determine if the quarry is suitable for use and devise alternative plans to ensure that our community does not receive contaminated water.

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?

I have over a decade of experience in grassroots advocacy, issue-based community organizing, and electoral politics. My educational, professional, and volunteer experience has afforded me with multiple opportunities to collaborate with community members of varying races, gender, religion, educational attainment, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Moreover, I have worked as an Associate Organizer with Durham CAN, Organizing Director for North Carolina with America Votes, and the North Carolina Senior State Organizing Manager with the Black Voters Matter Fund. In these roles, I was tasked with coalition building, managing budgets, and drafting and implementing large scaled programs. As an organizer with Durham CAN, I worked closely with residents from a historically Black neighborhood to address issues around crime, public recreational spaces, and affordable housing. This effort led to a commitment from former Durham City Manager, Tom Bonfield, to donate city lots for the production of affordable housing (via Durham Community Land Trustees and a local developer) and the replacement of playground equipment at the neighborhood park.

I am currently employed as a Program Manager with Lillian’s List, where I train and support progressive women who are interested in running for office in North Carolina. I believe that my lived experience will bring forth a unique and missing perspective to Durham City Council. I have a vast understanding of policy creation, implementation, and evaluation which is needed if our community is to be successful in addressing issues that impact the quality of life for all Durham residents.

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 am an avid believer that our city’s budget is a reflection of our priorities. One of the goals of the council is to create an environment conducive for shared economic prosperity. I am excited about the $10 million allocated in the FY ‘23-24 budget for the revitalization of the historic Hayti community. This should be celebrated as an effort to address the economic harm caused by the 1960s federal urban renewal project.

What troubles me about the budget is the city’s failure to address the concerns of our first responders. It is disheartening that members of council did not display more flexibility in addressing the issues related to step pay. Firefighters were advocating to receive pay based on years of service to the city and their ranks. As our city continues to grow it is imperative that we have adequate staffing for first responders.

We cannot continue to increase the responsibilities of first responders without ensuring that they are sufficiently compensated. Moreover, I am concerned about the message that this action sends to the applicant pool about our city as an employer. If I were on council, I would have worked to ensure that we took steps to address the concerns of first responders and found a compromise that both parties could be satisfied with. In summary, due to statutory obligations, I would have supported the final budget. However, I think more could have been done to find a compromise rather than the display of an “all or nothing” strategy.

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?

It is my belief that the root causes of gun violence can be attributed to income disparities, accessibility of firearms, an under-resourced social safety net, prolonged exposure to gun violence, and hopelessness. Widespread exposure to gun violence exacerbates pre-existing social and economic inequalities. I believe that the first step that the City Council can take is practicing authentic community engagement. It is my opinion that some members of council only engage with communities plagued by gun violence when it is of benefit to their campaign or policy platform.

This practice has eroded trust in many communities that are plagued by gun violence. We need to rebuild that trust by centering the voices of those who are impacted. Additionally, we need to expand our social safety net and offer comprehensive family support. Comprehensive family support includes living wage job training programs for parents and caregivers. Families impacted by gun violence need support in achieving upward mobility. Therefore, it is vital that those participating in programs have access to childcare, transportation, and income during the process. Children also need support via afterschool programs, recreational activities, skills training, and mentorship. Guns are far too accessible to our youth. We need to implement strategies that will ensure that young people are not able to purchase illegal firearms.

I believe class creates a barrier for addressing the root causes of gun violence. Those who are well resourced often impose their solutions on communities they are not in relationship with. While we may have varying theories of change regarding this issue we must accept when the community presents a solution that is not in alignment with our own ideology.

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?

First and foremost, we must ensure that those who fall within the lower end of the AMI aren’t subjected to hazardous living conditions. Within the past couple of years, various tenant groups have emerged discussing the impact of corporate landlords and the issue of substandard housing. We need to ensure that our Neighborhood Improvement Services department has the tools and resources to ensure that Durham residents live in healthy homes and neighborhoods. Moreover, the city can continue to explore opportunities that will incentivize landlords who prioritize the creation of quality affordable housing, housing that can include wraparound services for residents. We must also explore public-private partnerships.

If we are going to seriously tackle the need for affordable housing, we must address that, for some, there is a skills mismatch within our labor market. We must work with entities to ensure that our labor force acquire the skills needed to pursue employment in our labor market. This can be achieved by continuing to build upon the work of Durham Tech and non-profits such as Step Up Durham. Moreover, we must ensure that we create a system where those participating in these training programs can find time to pursue opportunities and have adequate housing, childcare, and transportation while participating in the programs.

For those within our city’s unhoused population, we must continue to support programs such as Families Moving Forward, which offers transitional housing for families. Additionally, we must ensure that our unhoused population receives comprehensive support to regain housing.

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.

My vision for sustainable growth and development in Durham includes the adoption of the new Comprehensive Plan. The City of Durham’s Comprehensive Plan outlines how our community collectively envisions growth and development. This plan directly influences where and how private development occurs, as well as the provision of public facilities and services to support our community’s future needs. The comprehensive plan is an opportunity for us to address historical inequities and ensure the fair treatment of all residents.

In regards to Expanding Housing Choices (EHC), it is hard to discern if this ordinance has made a significant impact on the increased production of “missing middle housing”. Prior to the passage of this ordinance, many opponents stated that this policy would accelerate the rate of gentrification in Black neighborhoods and severely alter existing neighborhood character. Moreover, it has yet to be determined if this policy has indeed created naturally occurring affordable housing. According to the 2022 Dataworks presentation entitled “Who owns Durham,” there is limited local data available on housing vacancy thus making it difficult to determine to what extent there is a shortage in housing overall versus a shortage in affordable housing. Moreover, the same presentation highlights that while there are 57.2 people coming to Durham each day, 58 people are also leaving Durham on a daily basis.

As someone who has participated in many community meetings regarding SCAD, I would argue that in addition to concerns around how the codes will be amended, a lot of community members have concerns regarding the origin of the amendments and some of the key players. When SCAD was initially introduced it was stated that Habitat for Humanity was a key partner in supporting the plan. However, it was later revealed that an unauthorized third party entered into an agreement on behalf of the non-profit organization. There is also concern about the community engagement process. Many neighbors feel as though engagement was only limited to special interest groups or those who stand to profit from the proposed changes. There are many in our community who have argued that the amendments are poorly written, ambiguous, difficult to administer, and full of unintended consequences or conflicting interactions with existing sections of the UDO. Finally, the amendments do not offer long term solutions for the production of affordable housing. The PATH section in the document only calls for affordable rental units for five years, however, if the units transfer ownership, the five year affordability clause is nullified. In summary, SCAD will only exacerbate the issues of affordable housing. I understand that a vote on this proposal has been postponed until November 2023. If this policy is passed in its current form, I believe that there is little that future council members can do to mitigate the harm to our community as it relates to the production of affordable housing.

A model that Durham may want to explore is from Houston, Texas. Earlier this year, the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) launched its affordable housing website. The website serves as a resource hub for people who need to quickly navigate the housing process. This program prioritizes low-income and workforce housing options. Properties acquired by Affordable Housing Houston do not pay property tax which allows development companies to offer decreased rent for 51% of the units in the property.

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?

Due to our Nation’s rich legacy of institutional racism, it is no secret that low-income and minority communities are often plagued by environmental harms. Those environmental harms include lack of access to safe drinking water, pollution, and exposure to toxic chemicals. Durham must be proactive in addressing the impact that such policies have on our current population. Therefore, I propose the formation of an Environmental Justice Task Force. The task force will exhaustively examine historical policies for the purpose of devising a set of recommendations in addition to a timeline for the City to address the issue identified. In the interim, it is important that members of City Council make considerations for environmental harm when reviewing zoning requests or changes. Moreover, timeliness and transparency in addressing discoveries regarding environmental injustices is paramount. Finally, members of City Council should take the concerns raised by residents seriously and identify strategies to address concerns regarding the impact of development.

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

It is imperative that we work with our regional partners, state, and federal government to establish a regional bus rapid transit network. This project will focus on connecting riders with employment centers in Wake and Orange Counties. While the Federal Transit Administration recently denied financial support for commuter rail, they did offer support for Bus Rapid Transit, which is included in the MTP. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is defined as a high capacity bus based transit system. BRT includes dedicated lanes, busways, traffic signal priority, off board fare collection, elevated platforms, and enhanced stations. In the interim, it is vital that we continue to provide Go Durham with the funding necessary to continue making improvements to existing routes, offering shorter routes to local job centers, conversion to fuel efficient fleets, fare-free ridership, and enhancements of the overall user experience.

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

Discrimination in hiring still exists, particularly for those who are currently or formerly justice involved, disabled, young, elderly, or recovering from substance abuse. The major job training access points (community colleges, non-profit job training organizations) require workers to find the required time to pursue training in addition to finding income for daily expenses such as housing, childcare, and transportation, while participating in training. Perhaps the most significant reason for people failing to complete training programs is their inability to maintain daily expenses or emergencies. To address this issue, we need to implement a scaled, critical mass, geographically focused jobs and income strategy. The first step in this process would be to establish a yearly performance based audit of all job training programs. The evaluation criteria will examine the number of people in each program, the number of annual dropouts, the cost per trainee, and whether the program provides income and benefits for each trainee. Moreover, we should require all training programs that receive public funding to provide a paid living wage apprenticeship for trainees or educational living wage stipends. Finally, trainees must be placed in a living wage (or higher) job with access to benefits. The city could explore providing a wage fund supplement to small businesses (fewer than 50 employees). The fund would encourage small businesses who agree to provide competitive wages, benefits, and safe working conditions to current and new employees in an effort to stabilize their workforce.

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?

Members of City Council function as the legislative and policy making body and have the final authority on city matters. Policies should be designed to improve the quality of life for all Durham residents and address the critical needs of our community. As a member of council, I am accountable to voters. I will prioritize building and maintaining relationships with members of our community by being accessible, responsive, and transparent. As your next City Council member, I will treat all residents who come before council with the respect they deserve. We all care about Durham, and our concerns should be heard and taken seriously.

I believe that council members should operate in a space where they do not make assumptions about an individual’s temperament or qualifications based on gender, religion, sexuality, or race. Moreover, members of council should provide grace to those they encounter and allow them to show up as their whole self. No one should have to diminish who they are to appease others. We all have our own lived experience which undoubtedly has framed how we view the world. In order for the council to be effective, members must always respect their colleagues regardless of political or ideological differences. Diversity in thought should not serve as an impediment to good governance.

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

Durham City Council can address first responder vacancies by ensuring that our city is offering competitive wages and benefits packages. Moreover, we must be intentional about addressing the grievances brought forth by our first responders. Failure to be responsive to the needs of our first responders serves an impediment for retaining current employees and recruiting new employees. Durham City Council has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust amongst our first responders. First responders should feel as though our elected leaders have their best interest at heart when making decisions regarding budget allocations.

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