Opinion

Why am I running for the Town Council again? Let me count the reasons – Maria Palmer

Maria Palmer
Maria Palmer courtesy of Town of Chapel Hill

Why am I running for the Chapel Hill Town Council again?

Because everyone matters! I have found myself giving voice to folks who don’t get many opportunities to speak to power, among them, immigrants and refugees and first-generation citizens born to Spanish-speaking, undocumented families. As a Town Council member, I have been able to speak for underrepresented communities when we make policy, as well as to advocate to businesses, employers, and organizations as a representative of Chapel Hill, the community that elected me and cares about all its residents.

Because social justice requires proactive government! Chapel Hill has a proud history as a progressive community. However, for decades, black citizens have suffered discrimination, environmental racism, and have been deprived of opportunities for education, career advancement, home ownership, and wealth creation. As a consequence, the black community is still disproportionately poor and disenfranchised. I have voted to make Chapel Hill a Living Wage Certified Employer, benefiting our lowest-paid workers. I petitioned the council and voted to approve Paid Parental Leave for town employees (starting July 1, 2017!), and I have supported major investments in our historic black neighborhoods, in youth empowerment and in affordable housing.

Through initiatives such as A Penny for Housing ($784,000 next year) and partnerships with nonprofits and UNC, Chapel Hill is poised to double the number of affordable units in the next two years, including:

▪ DHIC-Greenfield Place/Greenfield Commons: 149 affordable rental units in the Ephesus-Fordham district (Total development cost: $23 million, made possible by an investment from Chapel Hill of only $4 million).

▪ Homestead RD: 50-plus units to be built in partnership with UNC’s Horizons Program for mothers in recovery and other low-income families.

▪ Northside Neighborhood Initiative (NNI): in partnership with UNC, Self-Help Credit Union, and the Jackson Center, uses a $3 million no-interest loan from UNC to maintain and develop low-income housing.

▪ Affordable Housing Development Reserve (AHDR): Established by the Town Council in March 2015, this money will support land banking, construction, rental assistance, and other much-needed programs in light of the loss of Section 8 Voucher units and the long waiting lists for affordable housing.

Because I want to see progress continue! While I am only one vote, some of our decisions for progress have been close, and we will need to re-elect progressive voices to continue moving forward, with the following initiatives:

▪ Major revision of the Land Use Management Ordinance. We have made some changes, including allowing better commercial signage and ancillary apartments to help families that want to have a mother-in-law apartment or retirees who need to supplement their income. Ancillary apartments will provide density without changing the character of our neighborhoods, and create and maintain more affordable housing options. A completely revised LUMO can remove barriers to affordable housing, promote multi-modal transportation, connect neighborhoods, and encourage environmentally-friendly development.

▪ Light Rail. Already, Chapel Hill has benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants to hire internationally recognized station-area planners. We can bring new businesses and walkable, transit-oriented development to focus areas, protecting the environment and bringing economic investment to Chapel Hill without incurring unaffordable debt.

▪ Stormwater improvements. We have made huge investments and need to continue making improvements to ensure that water runoff is contained and flooding reduced as new development is approved.

Because I want to use my expertise and experience! The learning curve is steep when you become a Town Council member, but in four years, I have become intimately familiar with our town’s issues. As liaison to the Parks, Greenways and Recreation Advisory Board and the Transportation and Connectivity Board, I have acquired expertise in transportation networks. I am committed to making our town walkable, bikable and pedestrian-friendly. I have also spent four years working with our Parks and Recreation staff to ensure that all children and youth have affordable recreational opportunities. I will work diligently to support the construction of a Teen Center, a permanent Farmer’s Market and other needed community facilities.

I love Chapel Hill, its beautiful tree-lined avenues, its festivals and celebrations, its Tar Heel pride and progressive, forward-thinking residents. I am seeking a second term on the Town Council because I believe even a great community can be better. I believe we can make Chapel Hill better than it’s ever been.

Editor’s note: Candidates in this fall’s elections are invited to submit one letter of 250 words per month and a total of two guest columns of up to 750 words between now and Oct 15.

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