Carolina Sullivan

Interview with Caroline Sullivan

In City Council by Jane Porter1 Comment

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The City Council has proposed putting an affordable housing bond on the ballot next year. Do you support the bond and do you think that’s enough to address Raleigh’s affordable housing problem?

The affordable housing issue is incredibly complex. We’re going to need to employ many strategies to address the issue. It’s going to be with us from now on. The housing bond is needed. It is one piece to a much larger puzzle. We need to employ all of the strategies that we have available to to start increasing the stock of housing that’s safe and affordable for all of our citizens. Affordable housing is also a big term that means a lot of things, and so when I think and talk about affordable housing, I think and talk about people that we’re trying to house because the strategies and the funding and the way you go about the housing is different for different groups of people. So, you’ve got what you would think of what traditional affordable housing is, which might be some of the voucher programs, Section 8, some of the city housing. You’ve got supportive housing, which I have experience with when I worked in the County. That’s housing for individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Different kinds of funding, different type of voucher, it also involves not just the real estate but the human services side.Veterans housing—again, a different funding stream and two sides of that one, too. Workforce housing, housing for people just starting out, young people. Also, senior housing. Our senior numbers are rapidly increasing and they need different options. You’ve got different groups of people that need housing that is safe and affordable. You’ve got different funding and capital streams for them. We’ve got to figure out the best way to coordinate and deploy all of those strategies. The housing bond that the city is going to put on the ballot is going to address important things like partnering to build new stock with non-profits, partnering to build new stock with private developers who are leveraging the North Carolina housing financing tax credit money, continuing programs to keep folks in their homes, continuing programs to keep mortgage assistance and first time buyers. The other piece is protecting the stock that we already have. One of the nonprofit boards I was on is Passage Home and this is one of the areas that they focus on. How do you partner with nonprofits? The city is actually partnering with Passage Home on some of these programs to protect units that are affordable now. So, it’s the building, the protecting, the assistance to keep people stable in the housing they have. We also need to look at the support for folks that are in danger of being evicted, to keep people housed stably. None of this can go in a vacuum either. When I was on the County board, we did transit and before we put that question on the ballot, we had a long-term transit exercise where you had everybody in the room—developers and people from the counties and municipalities and community advocates and all the partners—and we had to do those value exercises about whether we valued coverage or frequency and what’s most important to the community and where do we want to go. It was incredibly instructive before that initiative passed that we had facilitated community engagement full of good information and education and working with diverse groups to be able to get to that plan. We need to have the same sort of exercise with affordable housing because everybody’s talking about it, which is great, but sometimes, I fear we’re talking across each other and not coming up with a good, comprehensive solution. Everybody is a partner in this. Developers, nonprofits, all of the governments, banks,financing. In Charlotte, they ran a $50 million dollar bond and then they raised the other $50 million,  so there’s also room for working with foundations and corporate partners and banks to be able to augment what we’re trying to do with the bond. 

Raleigh’s Human Relations Commission recently recommended the city set up a police oversight board with investigative and subpoena powers. Raleigh’s Police Chief has stated she is not in favor of such a board. Does Raleigh need a board for police oversight?

There needs to be increased engagement and people need to feel heard. The city is looking at different types of boards right now and that process needs to go forward because it’s critically important to have robust citizen engagement. That is one piece of this. We also have to look at safety in a bigger way. What can law enforcement do to engage more in communities, have police establishing those relationships before there arecrises. Also, continuing to train the officers in crisis intervention training. The last few tragic incidents have involved individuals with mental health brain disease and 386 officers have been trained in crisis intervention out of the 800. So, continuing to get all the officers trained in these de-escalation tactics is extremely important. The community does need to feel heard and listened to and a part of the solution as well.

John Kane has proposed building a 40 story tower in the Peace Street area downtown. If elected Mayor, would you support the rezoning for that proposal as is, or try to negotiate for inclusion of affordable hosing units?

There is a place for developers to participate in addressing the affordable housing crisis. We need a plan that’s predictable and consistent and long range. That’s a piece of that greater housing conversation. Density where it makes sense is needed. That’s a very dense part of town already. It’s zoned to be a dense part of town. The improvements that they’re doing on Peace Street and Capital Boulevard will help that. It’s becoming what we want in a dense neighborhood: grocery stores, you’re able to get your housing, your office and your free time in a dense, walkable area. Because we’re having these discussions about housing and growth, the areas that are designated and should be dense, I think that makes a lot of sense

Does Raleigh have enough density and do we currently have the infrastructure to support more?

There’s not enough stock in general. It’s the supply and demand piece of this equation. Infrastructure is going to continue to be an issue. When you talk about infrastructure, it’s everything from traffic congestion with people coming in from downtown or going out to RTP. The city is trying to keep up with city roads. Many of the roads in Raleigh and the state are state-owned roads. There are some improvements on the horizon in that area as well. And then you have the whole transit side, which is different. People are feeling the expanded buses now, and that will continue to expand, which is great to move people around the city who don’t want to use their cars or don’t have cars to use. The Bus Rapid Transit is predicted to be completed on the New Bern corridor in 2023. The planning of the corridors going to the north and then the south and the west are also getting planned. The commuter rail is also in the works. So we’re going to have more robust transit options, which will help as we grow. We need to be mindful and intentional about how we develop around these transit corridors, not just transit-oriented development but really transit-oriented communities, and focus on where these fixed lines are going to go. How do you focus on the first and the last mile to get people from the transit stations to where they live. And having really robust community engagement. Making sure people aren’t displaced—that some affordable housing is not displaced to make new affordable housing. That the community has really strong buy-in to how these transit-oriented communities will be developed is incredibly important as well.

CACs (neighborhood meetings) have traditionally been ways for citizens to engage with decisions that will go before the City Council. Do you support CACs or do you think, with a lot of these conversations happening online these days, that CACs have outlasted their usefulness?

I’m going to every CAC; I’m going to go visit all of them. That’s been a great experience. They’re very different. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. That is a good way for some people to have engagement and learn about the city. Different people are interested in different kinds of engagement so that’s a piece of this puzzle as well. Some of these CAC’s are streaming, which is good for the people who can’t come out, because 7 o’clock in the evenings, especially if you have children, is very, very difficult. So using technology to increase the ability for people to join virtually. How else can we increase engagement? I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s replacing CAC’s, it’s coming up with other ways for people to engage. People don’t understand how powerful they are, especially in local government. Working with folks to be able to increase engagement, meet people where they are, deploy technology is incredibly important. It’s just like where people get their news; right now, people are getting their news from different places.

Are the current members of the City Council putting forward a strong enough vision for Raleigh’s growth?

There’s room for improvement. As we were talking about the transit experience and the housing exercise, there needs to be more discussions on growth in general—where we’re going to be in five, 10, 20 years; how do we manage the growth and how in this process do we feel that everybody’s heard? There’s not a divisiveness in these discussions. People in this city love their city and they want what’s best for their city. It’s a matter of understanding where people are coming from, getting educated on the issues, understanding growth and the implications of growth and trying to come up with a vision of how we’ll be able to handle this in the future, because the growth is coming. And we can prepare for it and build a city that is going to be strong and provide opportunity for all of the city in the future and continue a great quality of life. I fear if we don’t make the decisions on where we want to be in the future, it will be difficult to handle the growth as it comes.

Are the city managers and staff doing a good job implementing the Council’s vision as stated and running the day to day operations of the city?

I think [the city manager] is doing a good job, he’s a strong manager. When I was on the County, we worked on certain initiatives with the city and their staff and the staff is doing a good job. The elected officials are supposed to set vision and policy and look out for, not just today but five, years, 10 years, 20 years and be working on that, but through that process, setting goals and working with staff on policies for the day to day; making sure that the city is working well every single day. You do both. From my experience with the county, the city and the county government is very well run. It’s important for the elected officials to be able to give them a strong vision of where the city should be going in the future and guidance so they can execute what needs to be done every day. There are a lot of talented people and they’ve done a good job serving the community. In the work that I do now, for a business-led education non-profit, we focus on not just supporting teachers and students but we’re in career development, we have a career development focus. Young people are wonderfully interested in serving the community but they don’t’ see how public service is community service, and it is. Working for local government is an important way to serve your community and we need to remember that as well.

Recently, the Council passed a suite of rules regulating Airbnb and electric scooters. Do you support the rules or feel they are too strict?

In certain parts of the city the scooters serve a purpose. They’re either the last mile from transit or getting around without a car and they’re fun. I’m glad the rules are clarified and there is the option for folks who choose to ride on the scooters, and we have bikes at the same time. We’re in a better place for those different modes of getting around. Airbnb are good options. It’s a way you can rent out a room in your house and be able to stay in your house and have a different source of income, which is important especially as housing is becoming much more expensive. For a lot of families especially, they like to rent Airbnb’s, it’s an easier way for them to travel with their children, so that’s important as well. I think there are ways you can maybe increase the opportunities for Airbnbs while having really good, clear rules to prevent abuses. I understand neighbors not liking when sometimes things are rented and there are noise violations or parking violations, but I think we can do that through good, clear rules and regulations and policies. Airbnb rules might prove to be a bit strict. Maybe we need to look at where some of these Airbnbs go, whether we figure out from a geographic standpoint. We’re not New Orleans or Charleston or some of these cities that are tourist destinations where they are having problems with folks not living in any of these homes and they’re just renting them out. There are not that many times where there’s a great demand for whole house rentals, it’s mostly graduations. So maybe we look at how many times you can rent out your whole house. As we continue to grow and live with these rules there are ways we can hopefully expand the opportunities without having the neighbors feel that it’s disruptive for them.

Last Word

I want to talk about opportunity. In all of this, you need to look at the city holistically, and one piece, especially with growth, is are we growing in a way where we’re not leaving people behind? I would like to focus on that as well if I’m elected mayor. How do we provide opportunities for young people to be able to know about, be trained for and have experience for these jobs that we have right now and the jobs in the future? How do we make sure that the city is a place where businesses want to move and bring jobs and how can we also give those opportunities to young people that grow up in Raleigh? How can we grow our own talent pipeline to be able to continue to recruit businesses and jobs in the future. And how can we make sure that no groups are left behind? It shouldn’t matter where your zip code is for what opportunity you have. Also, when I was with the County, we did work on the gender gap; how can we support women in the workforce? How can we as a community look at our gender gap issues? How can we provide salary negotiation training for women to make sure that they start out on their first jobs on the right foot and don’t perpetuate that wage gap through their careers? How do we encourage businesses to be more family-friendly? Because it’s important that women feel supported in the workforce. As you look at the demographic changes, there are less children coming through the educational pipeline, so it’s important that everybody in the city is working to their best ability and they’re supported to do that. I also believe we should focus on individuals with disabilities and job opportunities for folks that are neuro-diverse, who might have developmental disabilities and think differently as well as people that have physical disabilities. How do we support them?

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