Mayors and Affordable Housing, Part 1

In full disclosure — an earlier version of this piece leaned very pro-Francis. I stand by my criticisms of McFarlane’s record, but I won’t fully support Francis without digging into his potential relationship with anti-LGBTQIA+ legislators. In general, I am disgusted how capitalism stunts our opportunity to grow.

Voters will choose either incumbent, Nancy McFarlane or challenger, Charles Francis as Raleigh’s next mayor on November 7th. Mayor McFarlane, and the two local newspapers that endorsed her, fed heavily from the past year’s panic-buffet of blaming infighting in the Democratic Party for electing the 45th president. The Democratic Party’s judgment of internal competition as a condition too dangerous to contemplate lest we want more GOP seats rattles with the death notes of a political ideology wants For the People, but can’t because, $$$. For today, the options we have are what we have- so what’s their deal?

Upfront, I’m not impressed by Mayor McFarlane, and that’s before I even get to policy. I went to a Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT) action at a City Council meeting last year, and watched the Mayor’s facial expressions through a series of speakers — her eyebrow twitches when she’s angry. Beginning with Akiel Denkins’ mother, her sharp pain re-opening unhealed wounds, and with each new speaker’s spoken word, song, poem, or story about the pain and fear felt by black residents in Raleigh during encounters with police. I listened to them, but I watched her– lots of twitching. At the end, with a shaking voice, she responded to the intensity filling room — “I am offended…,” she began.

Last month, about a year later, I tried to navigate the 14+ day advance noticed needed before being approved to speak to my City Council — the county commissioners have a paper sign up right there at the door! But I managed only to watch Mayor McFarlane’s face stayed planted in her laptop screen during the public comment periods on topics of gentrification, revitalization and, again, a well-designed body camera policy. This, and her statement a few weeks ago, at the start of the run-off campaign says everything that most of us won’t hear.

Her attempt to work Charles Francis up to some sort of agent in a GOP sleeper cell, rather than pointing out his very-real role as the attorney for the Raleigh Housing Authority. Why not focus there instead of as Francis the provocateur using “misleading rhetoric” and “misstatements” to deceive voters into forgetting her vision of “a better, more sustainable, more vibrant Raleigh?” Francis agrees that Mayor McFarlane’s records speaks for itself — and Raleigh’s affluent citizens, but his record the RHA attorney speaks for protection of the state. What possible reason could she have not rebutting his promises for an affordable housing focus with the legal cases where he represented the Authority against residents? His position doesn’t earn her pro-column points, because not only does she avoid legitimate details about Francis, she does so while deflecting from the details of her own tenure as Mayor by demanding we focus on what she thinks matters the most — her. Her vision, her legacy, her interpretation of Raleigh’s future prosperity.

That’s the problem. This continued emphasis on the shiny image of Raleigh presented in the Top 10 Best of lists, rather than the unphotoshopped reality of half the citizens. The function of ego that will not allow her (or others) to see that building new neighborhoods from the ashes of urban decay both look good, and be bad for the original residents. We praise the economic improvements of the neighborhood after Hope VI paid to build Capitol Park as the replacement for Halifax Court. Except that only 150 of the 318 (90 reserved for senior citizens) public housing units returned.

For every word of praise spoken and written about downtown Raleigh’s new urban boom so too are there archived public comments and city council minutes clearly noting the citizens that have never agreed that what she and her Council have built is a better, sustainable, vibrant, or prosperous Raleigh. All of those criticisms began long before most of us knew a Charles Francis existed. More importantly — where are our demands for explicit definitions of what the City Council under her leadership means by “affordable housing?” Where are our questions about the HUD regulation differences for how we spend for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money versus Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA)? And why aren’t we asking her to detail the selection criteria she used for her nominations to the Raleigh Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, especially considering that the 9-person Board holds all the power?

“The City has no influence over the management, budget, or policies of the Authority. The Authority’s Board of Commissioners has the responsibility to significantly influence the Authority’s operations. This includes, but is not limited to, adoption of the budget, personnel management, sole title to, and residual interest in all assets (including facilities and properties), signing contracts, issuing bonds, and deciding which programs are to be provided.(1)”

Well, that probably explains why she never goes after Francis, the Raleigh Housing Authority’s attorney. Institutions protect themselves, even at the cost of elections.

To that end, many folks accepted her statements that $60 million dollars over 10 years tax bond funding represents an unprecedented effort. We accept so much from the politicians we decide are good people, don’t we? Looking at the silent efforts from the anti-war effort during the Obama years and judging us all with equal scorn. How many of us know the differences between public housing and housing choice vouchers, or the difference between tenant-based, or project-based rental assistance? How many of us know the fair market rent for Raleigh apartments? How many of us know that HUD allows local housing authorities to run home ownership programs where for a fixed number of years, the Section 8 voucher can be used toward a mortgage rather than rent? There are 9 people plus at least one attorney that knows why Raleigh doesn’t run that program.

White progressives and liberals take the little bits we knew about a few things we know something about — gentrification, housing, and the attempt to replace the Citizen Advisory Councils with a Community Engagement Board and we make entire decisions on the effectiveness of our local government based on surface-level information. We have to stop asking what, and start asking why.

A map of the Raleigh voting precincts, the majority on the left are shaded in brown, and are McFarlane victories. Those on the right (East Raleigh) are shaded tan and are Francis victories.

Source: Wake County Board of Elections 10/10/2017 Election Results Map

Why did Francis win all the precincts on the right? Why are all of the black-majority precincts clustered in East Raleigh? Why did the City suddenly start to care about preserving affordable housing in neighborhoods where houses could be bought for less than $70k right up until our attention caused property values to skyrocket? Why do we think the black residents of East/Southeast Raleigh are not actively participating in challenging development plans? When we decided to construct of I-40 in right down the middle of their backyards, do we really think that property owners didn’t fight it with the same energy as that of the white, North Raleigh neighborhoods? There’s a reason for a difference in the success rate that has nothing to do with citizen engagement; it’s called institutional racism.

Black and white neighborhoods? Raleigh’s population is totally diverse — look, someone painted it right there on the side of the building and printed on all these yard signs — Y’all means All! I mean, yes, we are diverse. We are so diverse that we have racially concentrated areas of poverty (RCAP), where 50% of the residents are minorities and the poverty rate exceeds 30% of individuals in a defined area. Of the several RCAPs in Wake County, all are located within the City of Raleigh(2).

Again, ask why the concentration of poverty and race exists in East Raleigh when the entire point of Housing Choice vouchers is to prevent that very thing. Though also understand that HUD’s efforts to deconcentrate poverty in public housing didn’t start until 1968’s Fair Housing Act forced integration of public housing projects.

When the answer to people actually living and dying without access to housing is “well, this is more than any other City Council has ever done” why aren’t we prioritizing the truth of the People over a politician’s statement?

Why do we continue to allow the private market to accumulate profit off families surviving on the significantly less-than side of the $80,200 area median income? Why do believe that developers and mortgage lenders lose money on building affordable housing? They do not.

If Y’all meant All, we would prioritize someones truth as fact over our personal assumptive perceptions. We choose ourselves because it’s easier to remain ignorant of how our complicity creates economic and racial inequity. This is not progressive.

Now, ask why it’s so easy to identify white supremacists carrying their message with flaming tiki torches, and so hard to see how white supremacy carries a similar message with municode and policy.

  1. Analysis and Audited Financial Statements, Year ended March 31, 2017