Mayor Steve Schewel recently laid out his agenda for shared prosperity, describing Durham as a “progressive beacon for the South and the nation.” Electing a progressive City Council will hopefully prove to be an important benchmark for Durham but make no mistake – our job as Durham residents is far from finished.
In Durham CAN we understand our city will need more than a City Council that’s resolved to tackle such growing problems as poverty, inequality, gentrification, and lack of well-paying jobs. We also need involved citizens who hold our elected officials accountable. We know that democracy will only function if Durhamites continue to show up consistently and persistently to impact the decisions that affect their lives.
Last year, CAN engaged over 2,500 Durham residents in conversations about their vision for the city. Only a few days prior to the election, 612 CAN leaders who previously participated in those citywide conversations met with Mayor Schewel and the three other City Council candidates to present a series of well-researched proposals.
That evening, each of the recently elected officials made specific promises to the people of Durham. The commitments included the creation of jobs for disconnected youth, apprenticeships for those that have been involved in the justice system, putting together an affordable-housing trust fund, addressing the current eviction crisis, and the investment of $2 million over two years to maintain permanently affordable homes in Northeast Central Durham.
All those promises were fresh in our minds when we recently launched an ambitious listening session campaign, which seeks to connect with at least 1,500 Durham residents who need work or have been affected by the criminal-justice system. Hundreds have already participated in those sessions throughout Durham. The result of that broad-based listening effort will be a more involved citizenry with a clear agenda for a better Durham for all.
In the next four weeks, the mayor and three other council members will meet with CAN leaders to publicly report on their progress in fulfilling their promises. With so much growth and so many awards won by our beloved city, it is sometimes easy to lose track that in Durham over 4,000 residents ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor employed and about 700 people return to Durham each year from state prisons needing employment. Durham has the highest eviction filing rate among North Carolina’s 10 largest counties, with one eviction case filed per 29 residents in the last fiscal year; and 33 percent or roughly 39,000 households in Durham County are paying more than they can afford in housing costs.
Durham CAN encourages Mayor Schewel and the City Council to meet their commitments to our city. We will continue to work with the people of Durham to hold our elected officials accountable and to make Durham a place where everyone can thrive.
Submitted by Ivan Parra on behalf of the Durham CAN Strategy Team.