2/6/2020 Meeting Summary: Bold decisions on police accountability, community engagement, and housing affordability

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We made some big decisions at our City Council meeting this week to address issues of police accountability, community engagement, and housing affordability. Some of these decisions were difficult to make, but I believe they are pushing our city in the right direction. Below is a (very long) summary (don’t worry though, I included some pictures!):
 
1. After years of debate, we took action to create a police advisory board and also requested city staff to develop a vehicle for police-related complaints, through which concerned individuals do not have to directly contact the police department with the complaint. In November of last year, the city hosted a series of six community dialogue sessions in each Raleigh district concerning options for police review boards. I attended the session in District C. Staff presented an overview of the data from those dialogue sessions, and while there was not one model that fit everyone’s wishes, it was clear that there was a strong desire from the community for action to address issues of transparency and accountability. The police advisory board will be comprised of a mental health professional, a civil rights attorney, a victims’ advocate, an LGBTQ representative and an appointee of the police chief and will oversee the policy and procedures of the police department. The oversight board won’t have subpoena power (that power can only be granted by the N.C. General Assembly). As I stated on the record at the meeting, this board is not everything I wanted it to be, and it is not a perfect solution. But it is a first step in the right direction, and I hope it will help build trust and relationships between the community and those who have pledged to keep them safe. If you are interested in serving on this board, please send your resume to jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov
 
2. We authorized text changes to make it easier to build townhouses and duplexes citywide in more residential districts, and we authorized a text change to make it easier to build senior housing. I also asked that we look at allowing triplexes and fourplexes in the same manner as duplexes, and the council authorized staff to gather more information. All of these changes will increase housing affordability, and many of these multi-family housing options already exist in some of our oldest neighborhoods throughout the city. We also authorized a new initiative by the mayor to provide funds to assist our most vulnerable residents find permanent housing; called the “Compassion Fund,” the fund will provide money to families living in hotels who can’t move into an apartment because they can’t afford the security deposit and/or first month’s rent. We seeded the Compassion Fund with an initial $25,000 from the contingency budget and have challenged the private sector to contribute as well. I also brought up the issue of landlords not accepting housing choice vouchers (commonly called “HCVs”) and the council agreed to bring up that issue during a planned meeting between the city, county, and schools.
 
3. We took a bold step to change and modernize our community engagement process. Increasing community engagement and access has been a goal of this council from the start; as you may recall, at the first meeting this year, we made it easier to appear before council and share ideas and concerns, by eliminating the prior two week advance sign up requirement and revising the rules of decorum. Now we are shifting our focus to creating more ways to engage with residents where they are, with the goal of increasing community engagement and providing the public multiple opportunities to engage in the city planning process. We authorized the city to hire a consultant to assist us in creating a new city office of community engagement, and as part of this process we made the tough decision to end the old system known as Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs). CACs were formed nearly 50 years ago, when the way we shared and received information was very different. Citywide surveys conducted in 2016 and 2018 showed that an overwhelming majority of the city had never attended a CAC meeting. I have attached a map illustrating the 2016 survey responses. At first, my preference was to reform the CAC system, but in recent years there have been studies and a task force report that made recommended changes, but nothing happened. After reviewing the data and the attempted reform history, it became clear that to build something new we had to end something old. While it may be painful at first, we are working toward a new, inclusive community engagement system geared toward problem solving that will help us in the long term. I want to thank all of the individuals who have worked tirelessly to make CACs a resource, and I hope they’ll join us in reaching out to neighbors to increase participation in creating a new structure of engagement.
 
In the meantime, it is important to note that residents are still able, and encouraged, to weigh in on rezonings and new developments in their neighborhoods. Under our city code, before submitting an application, a developer must conduct a neighborhood meeting with notice to all property owners within 500 ft. At the meeting on Tuesday, we also authorized a text change to require an additional neighborhood meeting later in the process for larger or more impactful rezoning requests. These neighborhood meetings are focused on finding solutions that work both for neighbors and the developer.
 
4. We approved a rezoning request in the fast-growing Warehouse District for the block including CAM. Important, note, CAM is not going anywhere, just getting taller and more neighbors. The rezoning authorizes 40 story towers including affordable housing, retail, and pedestrian-friendly spaces. Attached are some early renderings of the project.
 
Our council retreat is Friday, 2/7 and Saturday 2/8 at the convention center. As always, open to the public to attend.
 

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