Evictions, affordable housing and jobs – what’s the mayor doing about it?
That’s what Durham CAN, which stands for Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, wanted to know at its meeting Wednesday night with Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.
Part of the Durham political process for candidates is going before the Durham CAN Assembly to say “yes” or “no” to the nonpartisan group’s agenda during their campaigns and after they get elected.
CAN leaders called on the mayor Wednesday to report what progress the city has made on what he agreed to support during his campaign. Schewel met with CAN leaders at El Buen Pastor Episcopal Church in East Durham.
“There are two things people like: more services and lower taxes,” Schewel said. “You can’t have them both.”
One of the mayor’s jobs, he continued, is to see what other people are doing, applaud it and say “that’s amazing.” And he also said he didn’t want to “over promise” anything. Still, Schewel told CAN how he was progressing on each of the group’s key issues.
CAN wants the city’s youth summer jobs program to add 116 more jobs to about 200 jobs this past year. Schewel said the budget is already set for summer 2018, but he supports adding at least 116 teen jobs for 2019, and hopes to double the program. To do that, Schewel said they need to involve private employers. CAN asked to be at the table when Schewel meets with those employers. Schewel said not at the first meeting, but that he would involve CAN at subsequent meetings.
Another CAN priority is jobs for formerly incarcerated people returning to the community. Schewel touted the city’s Innovation Team, known as the i-team, which is funding by a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant and works on re-entry issues.
Ibrahim Kamara said he is a convicted felon.
“I know the frustrations of being a convicted felon because you face many rejections,” he said. The jobs he has been able to get pay $8 an hour, which is not enough to support his wife and children.
“No one wants to hire us. We have to explain our story over and over,” Kamara said.
Housing and gentrification
Ashley Smith talked about the shame of going to eviction court for her middle-class, two-income household. They cannot afford their $1,580 a month rent, she said, and she doesn’t want to tell her children they need to move.
“Of all the issues that I work on, I work on this every day of my life,” Schewel told her.
“We can’t stop the forces of gentrification, we can’t stop them. Twenty people move here every day,” he said. “It’s driving the cost of housing up, and we know that. We can’t stop this and we can’t totally fix it, but we can make a difference.”
Schewel talked about the Durham Housing Authority’s plans for renovations and building new public housing. He also mentioned planned workforce housing for teachers as well as using low-income housing tax credits for affordable housing and Durham’s eviction diversion program. Durham County has the highest eviction rate of North Carolina’s 10 largest counties. Attorneys in the diversion program negotiatve with landlords by matching tenants with charitable assistance to resolve the eviction or negotiate a move-out date, among other steps.
“To be honest most of what we’re targeting is low end [income],” Schewel said of the city’s two pennies on the tax rate dedicated for housing. “If you live in a $200,000 house, we tax you $40 a year for a house for someone else.”
CAN will meet later this month with other City Council members. Those elected in November who agreed to CAN’s priorities are DeDreana Freeman, Mark-Anthony Middleton and Vernetta Alston. Middleton was a CAN leader before running for office.