Durham voters approve $95M affordable housing bond, return incumbents to City Council

Durham voters strongly supported a $95 million affordable housing bond and returned incumbents to the City Council in a contentious election that centered on race and crime.

Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero were the top vote getters in the race for three open at-large council seats. The three incumbents ran on a shared “Bull City Together” platform.

Johnson and Reece won their second terms. Caballero, who became the city’s first Latina on the council when she was appointed two years ago to finish now-Mayor Steve Schewel’s unexpired council term, won her first election.

“I am just relieved and exhausted,” Johnson said Tuesday evening. “I am glad that I will be able to continue to do the work that I have been doing on council.”

It was a duel for the third seat, with Caballero and challenger Joshua Gunn, a rapper and co-owner of a co-working space in the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance building, trading places as the ballots were counted.

With all 56 precincts reporting, Johnson, who finished first in last month’s primary, topped the field with about 20.64% of the more than 36,000 votes cast, followed closely by Reece (20.33%).

Caballero had 19.78% of the votes to Gunn’s 19.37%.

“It was tense for sure,” Gunn said Wednesday.

Gunn said he is grateful to his team and supporters in a race that highlighted a group of people who want change. “I feel like we made a really powerful statement to say the other voices in our city matter,” Gunn said.

Caballero didn’t return telephone messages left Tuesday and Wednesday.

Defense attorney Daniel Meier finished fifth and community advocate and former Councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff finished sixth.

In the race for mayor, incumbent Steve Schewel easily defeated challenger Sylvester Williams, with nearly 83% of the votes cast.

The City Council race highlighted tension between some members of the Hispanic and African American communities. Victoria Peterson, who finished eighth in the Oct. 8 primary, filed unsuccessful election protests questioning Caballero’s U.S. citizenship.

A significant dividing line emerged between the incumbents, and the challengers centered on recent shootings and homicides in the city and the incumbents’ decision not to support a request by Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis to add more officers to her department.

Affordable housing bond

Voters supported the $95 million affordable housing bond with nearly 76% approval.

The bond is part of the city’s larger $160 million five-year plan to address affordable housing, reduce homelessness and stabilize neighborhoods.

Next steps, according to Schewel, include appointing an implementation committee, which will include development, construction and other experts, along with Durham Housing Authority residents, who will work with city staff to make sure the money is spent efficiently.

“The roll-out won’t be fast,” Schewel wrote in a Reddit post. “It will be careful and deliberate, but by the end of the five-year time period we will be housing many more of our homeless families, putting first-time low-income home-buyers in homes, stabilizing low-income renters and homeowners in their homes, and building lots of new affordable units,”

The bond will cost the owner of a $230,000 house about $37 a year, or the equivalent of 1.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value, over the next 20 years, according to the city.

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc., the Durham People’s Alliance, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham and the Sierra Club have all endorsed the bond.

The Friends of Durham, citing spending on the now failed Durham-Orange light rail project, backed the bond with conditions.

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