Name as it appears on the ballot: Paris Miller-Foushee
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Training for Action Progress Advocacy Team Lead at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services
Years lived in Chapel Hill: 23 years
1) 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 am running because the issues that face our town—affordable housing insecurity, environmental injustice, and public safety—are not peripheral to me. As a young girl growing up to a single mom in public housing, I understood the impact local government has on the lives of people early on. Running for Chapel Hill Town Council is a culmination of my work in this community. I serve on the Board of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center and EmPOWERment Inc. where I advocate for affordable housing and tax justice in my historically African American neighborhood, Northside. I work at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services where I advocate for marginalized members of our community as they secure housing and address public safety concerns. I used to be a professor at St. Augustine’s University, an HBCU in Raleigh. My work, lived experience, and advocacy will guide me as I advocate for a purpose-built, transit-oriented, walkable Chapel Hill that integrates greenspace to protect our environment and social services to enhance our public safety. I want the Council to prioritize community engagement with marginalized communities that will fuel a comprehensive plan and vision for our town so that we can grow sustainably and equitably. On Council, I will champion expedited review for affordable developments, transit projects that decrease car dependency, and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports minority and women-owned businesses while diversifying our tax base. Representation Matters and I’m ready to lead and I’d love your support.
2) Given the direction of Chapel Hill government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Currently, Chapel Hill government is growing project to project basis without an overarching plan for what we want to be. This is not sustainable. We need a vision and a plan for what our community wants to be. We all agree that increasing access to amenities and affordable housing while decreasing car dependency is a priority, but this is not possible without good planning and finishing the Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO). On Council, I will advocate for finishing a comprehensive plan and the LUMO so that we have a bird’s eye view of what community benefits and amenities our constituents need and want. Next, I will advocate for making our entitlement process more efficient so that we can attract creative, top-grade developers who will be incentivized to provide benefits while building community-centric, green, environmentally friendly spaces along transit corridors. These changes will move our town towards achieving a vision instead of trying to achieve our priorities on a project-to-project basis.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
The three most pressing issues the town currently faces are all interconnected. Our lack of affordable housing, especially for those who work in our town, leads to high carbon emissions from cars as people commute to and from work. Lack of housing to meet the needs of people coupled with poor transit access between residences and commercial spaces means that our communities are not sustainable. To address these three interconnected issues, I propose that we leverage Town-owned land to build mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented, walkable communities that balance meeting community needs and greenspace. I would also advocate for making our entitlement process more transparent and shorter so that we can collaborate with developers on securing the best designed, most creative, and most environmentally sustainable benefits for our community. And, I would push for comprehensive planning that scopes out a path forward for cultivating a Chapel Hill that has walkable spaces with amenities and affordable housing at all income levels interconnected by public transit. These three measures will increase our affordable housing stock, decrease commuter car emissions, decrease car dependency, and increase our environmental sustainability.
4) What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town council and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you consider significant.
Most importantly, I have lived experience with the issues facing our town. I grew up in public housing, and if my family didn’t have access to affordable housing, we would’ve been unhoused. I live in the historically African American neighborhood of Northside where gentrification, taxation, and studification are threatening long-time residents like my family. I am a Black, Muslim woman navigating economic inequities in a marginalized community while raising a young Black boy in today’s policing climate. I am a mother and an advocate who is doing the community work to relieve the issues I’ve personally experienced my whole life. I work at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services where I train the next generation of leaders and marginalized communities in advocacy for affordable housing, safety, and environmental justice. I serve on the Boards of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center and EmPOWERment Inc where I advocate for affordable housing at 30% AMI and for the protection of marginalized residents of the Northside neighborhood. I served on the Town’s Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce–our body is making clear restorative and social recommendations to ensure that our safety is coupled with social services. I am also the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Branch Secretary. In this capacity, since the murder of George Floyd, I have been working on the Orange County NAACP collaborative Six-Point Law Enforcement Plan that outlines specific policies to achieve bias-free policing. My run for Town Council is a culmination and continuation of my work in the community that I have been doing so that we can build a Chapel Hill where our kids can actualize their humanity to the fullest.
Communities from all backgrounds have supported my run for Council. I have received endorsements from the Breakfast Club (an advocacy group founded by the Chapel Hill 9), Equality NC, NEXT, and the Sierra Club).
5) Last year, town voters approved a $10 million affordable housing bond, and so far $5.2 million has created nearly 300 affordable units. But affordable housing remains a concern. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes?
Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better? The bond was a good step forward by the Town to increase opportunities for nonprofits to build affordable housing at income levels typically underserved (30-60% AMI). The bond has funded collaborative work at 2200 Homestead Rd, a mixed-income development by Habitat for Humanity, and a multifamily development to serve 30% AMI residents in Pine Knolls by EmPOWERment Inc. We can build on this momentum by increasing the importance of collaboration when scoring bond applicants. We should bake in collaboration among providers and between commercial and residential uses into our scoring criteria so that we can further maintain affordability of residential spaces while increasing access to amenities. To get the most out of bond money, the Town should expedite review for projects that receive bond money so that projects can maximize affordability by not having to go through an extremely lengthy, repetitive entitlement process.
The Town can also leverage Town-owned land to build affordable housing–specifically the Greene Tract, American Legion, and Jay Street.
And yes, the Town should promote gentle density by emphasizing the missing middle—duplexes and triplexes. We also work to decrease impervious surface in between single-family homes so that we can increase affordable housing availability on a single plot of land.
6) How should the town and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes, especially in neighborhoods such as Northside? How should local governments address rising rents, particularly for residents of public housing? What role does the town have in ensuring its residents who live in mobile home parks remain housed in light of development pressures? Homelessness has increased by 40 percent in Orange County in 2021. How should the town and county address this issue?
I live in the Northside neighborhood, and was personally impacted by the inequitable rise in property tax revaluations. The Town can put in place another layer of zoning protections for homeowners in neighborhoods like Northside so that family homes are not compared to big investor-owned student rentals for valuation purposes. The County can work with community organizations like the Jackson Center to understand which homes in the area are comparable and which ones are not. The County can also improve its record-keeping practices so that assessors’ property records are most up to date with what is on the property being assessed.
Local governments can address rising rents for public housing residents by allocating subsidies to cover increasing costs. We can also ensure that public housing appliances and infrastructure are energy-efficient to mitigate rising utility bills due to outdated appliances. To mitigate rising rents as a whole, we have to build mixed commercial-residential spaces that make generating stable rental income without increasing rents possible while lowering market-rate rent increases across the board.
The Town has an obligation to residents in mobile home parks just like the Town has an obligation to residents in single family homes. Never, would we consider displacing residents in single family homes. The Town should engage with mobile home residents in our community to understand what they want so that we have their priorities in mind when making decisions. We can also work with Resident Owned Communities (ROC) to provide financial assistance to mobile home park residents so that they can own the property and the land they live on.
Orange County has a leading Emergency Housing Assistance program to mitigate homelessness. We need to collaborate with the County and nonprofit service providers on the continuum of care (Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, EmPOWERment Inc, Compass Center, etc) to ensure that we are sharing data on emergency housing needs and inventory. This way, we can intake residents and meet their needs in a collaborative, systematic, and efficient way.
7) The town recently approved the Aura and University Place projects and more large development projects will continue to come before the council. What do you want to see from large development projects such as these and should the town develop comprehensive long term goals for projects? What role do developers have to connect with the Chapel Hill community and surrounding environment? What, if any, concerns do you have about traffic, scale, preservation of green space, and potential effects on the environment?
The Town needs to prioritize Comprehensive Planning that is built on robust community engagement so that we know exactly what kind of projects we need to build to meet our needs. If we do the upfront work of engaging the community, we won’t have to rely on developers to guess what to build. Comprehensive planning will allow us to prioritize our needs–affordable housing, commercial amenities, transit access, and greenspace so that we move towards achieving our priorities when we build on land.
Without comprehensive planning, we cannot plan developments to mitigate traffic, preserve green space where applicable, and ensure that water sources are protected. I think developments should be uncoupled from parking to reduce impervious surface, should be alongside transit corridors to decrease car dependency, and should integrate greenspace into the architecture to enhance design and preserve the environment.
8) The town recently partnered with UNC on Downtown Together, to revitalize downtown and create a hub of innovation. What would you like to see come out of that partnership and what specific changes would you like to see downtown?
I want to see increased collaboration between UNC and the Town to conduct comprehensive planning on what our Downtown should look like–in terms of connectivity, transit access, amenities, business-types, and public gathering spaces. We should also make the taskforces more diverse–bringing on more women and BIPOC business-owners to represent the interests of downtown. Additionally, I would like to see the taskforces and stakeholders involved to set a goal for what percentage of downtown businesses we want to be minority and women-owned. We should then work to have those needs documented and planned for in order to ensure that we have an equitable, vibrant, inclusive downtown.
I want to see more diverse businesses, increased connectivity, and gathering spaces downtown with an emphasis on pedestrian and bikelane infrastructure.
9) The town recently adopted a resolution to follow recommendations from the Re-Imagining Public Safety Task Force, with the mission of increasing public safety, eliminating inequalities, and enabling all in the community to thrive. In actionable terms, how do you see these recommendations being implemented to improve policing? How should the town address panhandling?
I served on the Re-imagining Public Safety Taskforce. Here were our major recommendations and how I see the Town implementing them:
Community Building Collective Planning: The Reimagining Safety Task Force recommendations took a holistic approach to community safety. In order for the town to address these recommendations, it can not work in a silo and must take a regional planning approach, building collaborative community infrastructure with Carrboro, Orange County & UNC to address social, economic, and environmental challenges that impact safety.
Data: The Town should prioritize the use of evidence- based policing, and fund outside experts on data sets, using data to analyze and inform CHPD policing strategies. We need a road map/process to move from analysis to action for reform and attaching it to goals. We must seek to identify policies which lead to law enforcement disproportionately and unfairly targeting people of color.
Reduce Armed Police Response: In order to move to a 24 hr Crisis Unit and reduce armed police response, the Town will need to expand the current number of 6 Crisis Unit staff to double, 10-12. For situations that don’t warrant an armed police response, such as report gathering, CHPD can conduct certain duties online-virtually, reducing public exposure to armed officers.
Affordable Housing: As a Chapel Hill community, we should not criminalize poverty. Panhandling is caused by a lack of adequate, affordable housing, low wages, lack of health care, and other systemic causes. We must leverage Town owned land to build more affordable housing at 30% AMI to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. We need to work towards constructive solutions, housing not handcuffs. Continued support and Town funding of programs such as the Orange County Street Outreach and Harm Reduction Program (SOHRAD) is essential in helping to interrupt the homelessness-jail cycle. CHPD should continue conversations of expanding the list of divertible offenses with SOHRAD. SOHRAD has seen over 20 law enforcement deflections, freeing up police resources that can be redirected to housing, and services that will actually end the need for people to panhandle and ask for help in the first place.
10) How should the Greene Tract be developed? Does town government have a responsibility to protect public forests, parks, and other green spaces near low income communities as it currently protects public land near wealthy ones?
The Town has an obligation to respect the demands made by the Roger Eubanks Neighborhood Association made clear during the 9-month collaborative process among the community, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Orange County that culminated in the 2016 Mapping our Futures Report. The Greene Tract should honor the recommendations of that report where community members called for a school, 2-3 story mixed residential-commercial spaces, a pharmacy, and a grocery store. These are real community needs expressed by members who gave their time to engage in the process and make their voices heard. The Town has an obligation to meet those needs. According to the report, there will be green space preserved on the land. The Town should follow the recommendations in the report and the resolution that both Carrboro and Orange County already adopted to move forward.
11) The town recently adopted a Climate Action Plan. Do you think the plan goes far enough in addressing issues related to climate change? What are some short and long term actionable items you see coming out of the plan?
The Climate Action Plan focuses on decreasing carbon emissions and achieving net zero. The main way to accomplish this is through our land-use planning to guarantee increased connectivity via bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure to decrease car dependency–and decrease emissions.
Short term, I see our Town investing in alternative energy infrastructure for Town-owned buildings and assets. I also see the Town working with marginalized communities such as Northside to provide assistance to long-term residents on retrofitting their appliances to be more energy efficient.
Long term, I see our Town investing in Climate Action Land Use Planning. We need to commit to a holistic vision of our Town so that we can build sustainably in a way that meets our housing and amenity needs while decreasing the need for cars. Gentle density is the way forward to address climate change in the long-term.
12) How do you feel Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic? If you don’t think the pandemic was handled well, what should have been done differently?
Our elected bodies in Orange County have handled the COVID-19 pandemic extremely well. We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, a leading Emergency Housing Assistance program that housed our most vulnerable residents during this time, and we have kept our businesses largely protected during this unprecedented economic downturn as well. Moving forward, I would like to see more collaboration among both Towns’ and the County’s economic development office to more deeply understand the impact of the pandemic on minority and women-owned businesses, and deploy funding in an accessible, equitable way to such businesses that are struggling during this time. The Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Partnership, and EmPOWERment Inc. have done great work engaging the minority and women-owned business community; we have to build on that work and increase collaborative assistance to business-owners who might not always have access to guidance and resources to aid them during a crisis.
13) In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
Representation matters, and we must elect those who can connect the Town staff and elected officials to marginalized groups. I live in the historically African American neighborhood of Northside. I’m a part of the Foushee family, and we have fought for equal opportunities and civil rights in this community for over 9 generations. As a Town, we need to center marginalized voices by meeting them where they are–going to churches and community spaces to really listen to what folks are dealing with. We need to constantly listen, not just invite folks to a public meeting when a complicated project is up for discussion. That’s why I’m running. We can only foster a more inclusive community when those from that community have a seat at the table. I’m running for a seat at the table–to champion inclusivity, equity, and access.
14) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can the town recruit and retain more bus drivers? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?
We can run our busses more frequently daily and during/after working hours so that essential workers can use the bus to ride to and from work. We should also expand routes along Homestead Rd to allow residents who live closer to the ETJ to ride into town to go to work. To do this, we need to recruit and retain more bus drivers. We can do this by providing incentives packages with better benefits, no split shifts, and full-time positions to recruits in order to retain more drivers. By incentivizing more people to drive busses, we can reduce the amount of time they have to spend in a lounge in between shifts, and can work better hours along more frequent and extended routes.
Regarding bike lanes, we need to think beyond paint for bike lanes. I was to see two things: above the curb bike lanes along major corridors and on Franklin and Rosemary Street. And, more internally connected bike lanes that are flatter and accessible to ride for functional purposes so that people can ride a bike efficiently without always having to take a throughway to get to where they need to go.
15) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
Our Teen Center is in disrepair. In order to invest in ourselves, we need to invest in our youth. We need to provide resources, counseling, and activities for youth of all backgrounds in a community space. In alignment with the recommendations I made while on the Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce, we need to connect the youth with community and Town resources. We can host an annual Youth Leader Summit where we bring young people together, listen to what they have to say, educate them on opportunities, and give them a place to connect with each other. Public spaces for young people to gather with purpose is community building. This is something I will commit to.
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