Renters comprise a slight majority of Raleigh residents, but they don’t get the same opportunities as homeowners to weigh in on city projects.
After a debate over a change to the city’s sidewalk-petition process last week—and a social media firestorm over an outgoing council member’s comments—that might change.
At the city council’s July 2, meeting, council member Nicole Stewart asked if the Transportation and Transit Committee had considered the views of renters when formulating an update to the city’s sidewalk-petition process. Under the city’s old process, the city sent notices to property owners who lived adjacent to the proposed sidewalk; the change, which passed unanimously, will broaden who is notified to those within a two-block radius if the project is near a park, greenway, school, library, religious center, assisted living facility, community center, or transit stop.
The council decided to change this process earlier this year after council member Stef Mendell killed a sidewalk project long planned for Oxford Road after a few homeowners complained; she changed her mind after the INDY reported on her decision.
“The idea that we have fifty-percent renters in our city and we are not considering their input in projects like this is quite alarming to me,” Stewart said.
Mayor pro tem Corey Branch, who has been filling in for Mayor Nancy McFarlane while she recovers from back surgery, pointed out that altering the outreach process could affect “all of our petition processes, not just this one.”
Stewart saw that as a feature, not a bug—arguing that the city needs to engage renters in a more meaningful way.
Planning and zoning outreach is mandated by state law, assistant planning director Travis Crane told the INDY. Depending on the nature of the project and the governing body, that notification can happen in three ways: direct mailers to property owners, posting signage on a property, and legal advertisement in the newspaper.
The city also posts notifications on its website, Crane says.
“There’s no direct outreach to other groups,” Crane says. The city does, however, manage to notify renters of disruptions in trash or recycling pickup—though Crane isn’t sure if there’s a database of all renters, such as those who live in large complexes that have collective waste pickup.
“That’s been the age-old question in planning: How do you notify—forget for a second renter-versus-owner—but how do you notify the public of things that are going on, and I think the bigger question is, how do you generate interest in that topic?” Crane says.
At the meeting, Dickie Thompson, who recently announced he would not seek re-election, implied that renters are less invested in their communities than homeowners and were thus less deserving of consultation: “Please consider this,” he said. “Some of the renters are there for a very short-term period, and the property owners are certainly more invested than people that may stay in a neighborhood for six months.”
Kay Crowder also suggested that because of high turnover in her district near N.C. State, collecting and updating data on renters would be challenging.
“I have lots of people who move in and out on a regular basis, sometimes monthly, so it’s sometimes a fact of, where do you go to get the data to inform that person who might be living there for just a semester or part of a semester?” Crowder said.
City Manager Ruffin Hall said outreach to renters is “something cities are struggling with all over the place,” and suggested staff come back with a report on the current notification process.
But on social media, some in the Raleigh political scene took the council members’ comments—or lack thereof—as a sign that they couldn’t care less what renters think.
Hey @stef4council @dcox4council @RussForRaleigh @Crowder4Council I rent and walk on sidewalks. Do I not matter?! #ralpol https://t.co/MnwhuhtLSp
— Wes Tripp (@westripp3) July 3, 2019
Because, you know, separating people into a one group that can petition their government and another group that cannot petition their government based on whether or not they own land is such a great fucking idea. https://t.co/qmf1NBYkIP
— krethera “feminist she-devil” stormborn (@justkreth) July 2, 2019
Stef Mendell, who didn’t say a word during the brief discussion, responded:
Disappointed that many are wrongly claiming that Council doesn’t think renters matter. Watch the discussion. The issue is HOW to make it work. We asked staff to see what other municipalities do so that we can figure out how to do it here. #RalPol
— Raleigh City Council District E Representative (@stef4council) July 4, 2019
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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