I’m back! Updates and summaries since summer break

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I’m back! It’s been an eventful several months since I’ve written; Council was on summer break, and as most of you know, I also unfortunately contracted COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. I am recovered and feeling much better. Thank you to everyone who reached out with kind words and support. I’m thankful I got my vaccine and my case was mild.
 
I am motivated to do more to help others get vaccinated too, so I’ve partnered with a group of local organizations, including Activate Good, to organize a vaccine and job event September 1. Details are attached.
 
I missed a few updates before the summer break so I will provide a summary of some important items:
 
1. We passed a budget that:
  • Includes FARE FREE transit through the next fiscal year (June 30, 2022);
  • Allocates a dedicated funding source for parks maintenance (an issue that was ignored for too long);
  • Increases the living wage for all regular, full-time employees;
  • Creates the Department of Equity and Inclusion;
  • Funds a citywide Minority, Woman and Business Enterprise Disparity Study which will assist the city in effectively addressing contracting disparities;
  • Creates, for the first time ever, an Office of Community Engagement to assist in elevating community engagement efforts in our city; and
  • Funds development of more affordable housing.
2. Council tackled major zoning reforming by allowing missing middle housing. Missing middle housing is a type of housing between single-family homes and large apartment buildings. This type of housing used to be more common, and many examples are still present in some of our older neighborhoods, but poor zoning decisions decades ago largely excluded missing middle housing in favor of zoning that requires single-family use. No more! We approved allowing -plexes, townhouses, and small apartment buildings in nearly all of the city.
 
This change will allow for a variety of housing types in different neighborhood settings, meeting the demand for living in these areas at different price points. Under the old zoning rules, we saw mostly single family homes or high-density apartments, while at the same time, the neighborhoods near these new developments became increasingly expensive, which priced housing out of reach for many if not most households.
 
We have more work to do to address housing affordability in our city, but this zoning reform is a big leap forward. Missing middle housing is also a leap towards reaching the city’s goal of reducing carbon emissions and other air pollutants. Because missing middle units share walls or ceilings with other units, they are substantially more energy-efficient than detached houses. According to the Department of Energy, a unit in a two-to-four-unit apartment uses half the energy of a detached house, and a townhouse uses about two-thirds of that amount. Also, when missing middle housing is allowed in places that are close to jobs and shopping they produce shorter car trips and more walking and transit trips than the average home in the region. This means carbon output from transportation, a major source of emissions, is substantially reduced.
 
We had a regular City Council meeting last Tuesday, August 17, and a special meeting for rezoning cases yesterday, August 23, 2021. Below is a summary:
 
1. We allocated $100,000 to support the construction of the North Carolina Freedom Park. The purpose of the NC Freedom Park Project is to construct a commemorative park in downtown Raleigh to celebrate the contributions of African Americans in North Carolina toward a better society and to reflect the importance of full freedom for every citizen and the sanctity of justice and equality. The park will be located on state-owned land between the State Legislative Building and the Governor’s Mansion.
 
2. We authorized an an agreement with Downtown Raleigh Alliance to fund a social services ambassador position that will identify and assist persons on the street in need of services.
 
3. We agreed to partner with City and Capital Broadcasting Company (CBC) to provide continued support in producing the Nights of Lights event at Dix Park for 5 more years. Night of Lights is a drive-thru holiday light show at Dix. The initial Nights of Lights event occurred in 2020 and attracted thousands of visitors.
 
Our next City Council meetings are September 7 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., virtual (again).
 
jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov

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