2017 Mayoral Candidates
on Affordable Housing & Ending Homelessness

The Unlocking Doors Initiative invited all mayoral candidates to share their thoughts on affordable housing, with responses limited to one page. Below are the guiding questions:

  • What are your goals for affordable housing in Durham? How will you support Durham's efforts to end homelessness?
  • How do you plan to support the Durham Housing Authority?
  • What role do you think the private sector can play in supporting affordable housing in Durham?
  • How will your leadership incorporate meaningful input from all stakeholders in affordable housing issues—including tenants and landlords?
  • Would you be willing to convene the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable again next year?

Please find below thoughts on these crucial questions, shared by Farad Ali, Pierce Freelon, Shea Ramirez, and Steve Schewel. 

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Farad Ali

The importance of this Roundtable Discussion, to me, is to listen and to seek “out of the box” solutions. We must plan better as a community to implement a plan that offers all of our citizens affordable housing.   

The housing gap in Durham divides us. While there seems to be a lot of conversation about solving the affordable housing crisis, the unfortunate reality is that in Durham; we do not stand alone in meeting the affordable housing needs of the community. A recent study revealed that “not a single county in the U.S. has enough affordable housing options to meet the needs of its qualifying lower income population.”

While we stand strong nationally as a “world class” City with one of the most premiere technology parks—universities and tremendous braintrust in the country; and yet we have not progressed significantly on the issues of affordable housing and the myriad of elements of poverty that make in my mind the need dire.

This means that we through our growth have continued to struggle to solve the issue -- thus historically doors are locked to a larger number of Durham residents—the poor, the homeless, low income households, citizens with health impairments and minorities. While these residents are our most vulnerable and often without a strong voice to leverage change—we must listen and provide the necessary infrastructure so that every citizen may have a place to call home.

While I commend the City of Durham on their overall 5-year housing strategy. The plan does not go far enough. It is time to take a more aggressive stand and approach. We start by engaging the people, the communities, organizations like Unlocking Doors, The Housing Authority and others to take the bold steps in achieving policies and a assuring a home for every single citizen.


Pierce Freelon

Pierce Freelon is committed to affordable housing, both homeownership and rental and champions the rights and protections of tenants, particularly low-income renters and residents of Durham's Housing Authority (DHA) communities. Pierce has been spending time getting to know residents living in DHA communities, as well as listening to their concerns and visions for the future of their communities. 

Landlords play a big role in the availability of safe and affordable communities.  They also have an impact on gentrification and the displacement of long-term residents in our communities. There is an immediate need to address high eviction rates and the increasing number of fair housing complaints.  Addressing affordable housing concerns must be paired with solutions to ensure fair access to housing without discrimination in order to facilitate equitable, just communities. Pierce looks forward to continuing to work with landlords, residents, community members, and the city to ensure that Durham is a community where everyone can thrive. We are happy to share additional updates from Pierce as they become available.


Shea Ramirez

My goals for affordable housing in Durham are to clean up the program that has been a broken system for generations and to hold all parties accountable.  I plan to support Durham’s efforts to end homelessness by providing adequate housing, mental health services, proper job training, and home ownership workshops along with active action plans.

I plan to support the Durham Housing Authority by reviewing and revising the policies so that the Durham Housing Authority and the occupants are accountable for their actions. 

I think private sector can play a role in supporting housing in Durham by holding occupants responsible, ie. having them attend mandatory ownership and etiquette workshops to show them how to maintain the properties, enforcing the occupants to follow guidelines and requirements in order to keep housing assistance, and ending the waiting period by issuing a maximum time for housing assistance. This allows ownership and accountability with a hand up and out to owning their own home.

My leadership will incorporate accountability from all stakeholders.  Accountability will remove the dollar signs off of the occupant and the property.  This should be a stepping stone to ownership and accountability so that housing assistance doesn’t become generational.  We must stop handicapping individuals.  Individuals will never reach their full potential if we continue to be enablers.

I would love to convene the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable again next year. 


Steve Schewel

My goals for affordable housing in Durham begin with an overarching principle: Everyone in Durham deserves to have a safe, decent, warm, affordable home. With limited resources and nearly limitless need, we need to focus on the most critical goals. My highest goals are to (1) end family homelessness within the next few years ; (2) continue the strong City support for the Housing Authority (DHA) so that DHA can have the resources to redevelop its 14 aging housing communities which currently house 6,000 of our neediest residents; (3)  ensure the success of DHA’s housing voucher program so that the additional 6,000 people supported by those vouchers are able to get housing; (4) use publicly owned land downtown to leverage affordable housing; (5) develop an effective strategy for inducing developers to contribute to our affordable housing; (6) help low-income homeowners affected by gentrification by providing loans to pay their increased property taxes, those loans to be repaid interest-free when the home is sold; (7) help fund Habitat construction and provide gap financing for current affordable projects underway through the Land Trustees, CASA and others; (8) plan for redevelopment of DHA’s downtown communities as mixed-income so that they are still home to the current DHA residents but no longer force those residents to live in isolated poverty.

I will support Durham’s efforts to end homelessness in several ways. See above for some of them! I will support (1) DHA working with homeless service providers to prioritize homeless people for public housing; (2) support the credit-building and income-building work by CEF and others; (3) continue working to draw private landlords into being willing to accept Housing Choice Vouchers; (4) support the risk mitigation fund that will help landlords be willing to accept renters with vouchers; (5) launch a major effort to help our local non-profits build enough permanent supportive housing to serve all of our chronically homeless; (6) continue to provide funding for the successful Rapid Rehousing efforts that rehoused 184 families last year.

Please see the first questions above for the significant ways that I will support the Durham Housing Authority (DHA). As the City council liaison to DHA, I have worked to strengthen the DHA board and to support its superb new director, Anthony Scott, in his plans to improve DHA’s housing. DHA’s success is critical to our community’s success.

I have listed above several critical roles the private sector can play in affordable housing. But the key issue is how to get developers to contribute to this work in a meaningful way, and we are severely limited by state law which won’t allow us to require affordable units in any development. So we need a coherent strategy through density bonuses, other incentives, and appropriately withholding zoning within the constraints of the law to induce developer cooperation. I will work with community advocates, City staff and council colleagues to develop this strategy. It won’t be easy because of the legislature’s strictures, but it’s critical.

I regularly reach out now to bring all stakeholders into the discussion. I listen to tenants, landlords, homeless people, housing activists and non-profit leaders. I meet with them in person, get their ideas, and work on many occasions to bring them together. I will convene the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable next year. Also, I will convene a Durham Affordable Housing Convocation during my first year as mayor to help us chart a common way forward—and then I will work every day to implement our common plan.