In an effort to help voters prepare for the Nov. 7 elections, Atlanta Loop sent questions to candidates running for Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Mayor and Atlanta School Board. Early voting begins Oct. 16. To see district maps, click here.
1) Why are you running for office in the city of Atlanta?
I believe that the City of Atlanta is at a critical point where we need to make significant investments in community development, transportation, safety, affordable housing, creative environments, schools, public space and more. We’ve become distracted by the big shiny developments that project an exterior image to others outside of Atlanta while ignoring what our neighborhoods need internally. For the last 20 years I have rolled up my sleeves and done the hard work of community building through my professional career as a nonprofit leader working with organizations like the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, United Way of Metro Atlanta, VOX, Community Farmers Markets, Partners for HOME and more. I’ve also done this through my personal time serving my community as an NPU representative, constant board member of the Candler Park Neighborhood Organization, founding board member of the Candler Park Conservancy, steering committee of our neighborhood’s first Master Plan, Moreland Corridor Task member, former member of the Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond Technical Advisory Committee, and more – and I do it all as a labor of love and because I believe in the City We Make!
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I have the most experience working directly with and for the City of Atlanta and our District 2 neighborhoods. Running for, and serving if I am elected, as a City Councilmember is a natural extension of both my personal and professional work. This is not a stepping stone for my personal advancement. I’ve spent 20 years working on the ground in Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods, tackling homelessness, affordable housing, public transit, and social justice issues as a proven neighborhood leader and nonprofit expert. I’m not a politician. I am not backed by politicians, nor have I run for political office before. Instead I’ve built my extensive experience and constant loyalty with Atlanta communities as a long-standing neighborhood advocate backed by a long list of neighborhood leaders with a very long list of neighborhood accomplishments.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Our inclusivity. The City We Make is not just a slogan but a belief that Atlanta is a place where you have the opportunity to make your own. We are a welcoming city that understands and embraces the value of diverse voices, backgrounds, cultures, and interests. And we are a growing city that is struggling to reinvent and revitalize our communities to meet the needs of the hard-working families and small-business owners of Atlanta. If we focus on this spirit of inclusivity and truly embrace “the beloved community,” that means we must all be in these conversations together and uplift voices of those that are the hardest to hear.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge in this city will be growth, of population and business, and how we respond to such challenges.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
I operate on an 8 to 80 scale – can an 8-year-old child safely get to school and can an 80-year-old senior citizen easily get to the grocery store? I support creating zoning that allows a mixture of housing for a variety of people at all stages in life as well as all socioeconomic levels – not just single family or large multi-family, but “missing middle.” As our next city Councilmember, I will fight to create a Department of Transportation for comprehensive thinking about future projects and make sure all transportation decisions are connected to land use. I will also update and revitalize the NPU system and strengthen its connection to the Department of City Planning and the city overall. Lastly, as a former public school teacher, I will help APS and City Council work cooperatively on long-term solutions to the rise in population we will see in the coming years and make sure education is always the top concern of any decisions we make.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
I will prioritize local growth that better connects with and serves the urban fabric of our neighborhoods. I will help expand and improve our public transportation systems and multiple modes of transportation that encourage Atlantans to rely less on their cars. Finally, I will update and revitalize our NPU system to create a much more robust civic engagement model that serves to strengthen our neighborhoods.
(Please visit www.LaurenforAtlanta.com for specific action plans)
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I believe in the vision of the Atlanta BeltLine as created by Ryan Gravel. It is an incredible city-building opportunity where we are seeing issues of equity, transportation, public art, small business support, public space, affordable housing and more play out. These issues are not unique to the Atlanta BeltLine – they are issues across the board in our city and must be addressed that way. I believe that the City of Atlanta lost its way in providing real leadership for the BeltLine. The city prioritized quick development over thoughtful community building, and because of that we now have more luxury apartments with huge parking garages on top of a transit line than we could possibly ever need. In the last five years Atlanta has lost 5% of its affordable housing units, every single year. We have a land bank that could have been buying up blighted properties for years now but the city provided it with no resources to do so. While there is plenty of blame to go around, one of the larger failures was on the Atlanta City Council’s community development committee’s lack of implementation and holding developers accountable. This is yet another reason why we desperately need a proven neighborhood advocate on City Council. Too many people want to be long-term incumbent politicians who are more focused on their careers rather than building “the beloved community” of Atlanta. For the past 20 years I have worked incredibly hard to make sure our neighborhoods are safer, and have a voice at the table.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I believe that streetcars can work in the City of Atlanta, and they certainly have a history of doing so. However, I believe that the current downtown loop was not implemented effectively. It travels from tourist attraction to empty parking lot and moves more slowly than walking because it sits in traffic. My biggest concern about the current Atlanta Streetcar loop is the damage it has done to the City’s ability to convince Atlantans that extending the streetcar lines can work. I fully support the extension of the streetcar across 40 miles of Atlanta as supported by federal transportation authorities and City Council, and I fully support the streetcar being managed by MARTA. However, the future routes and usages of the streetcar must be tied to land use so that modes are not developed an isolation, and that we push the streetcar more in a direction of alleviating serious commuter congestion rather than simply a tourist attraction.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
First and foremost we need to recognize that the only way to reduce congestion is to get people out of their cars. We’ve spent all the resources we can maximizing vehicle throughput, and instead we need to invest in pedestrian, bicycle, and transit options that decrease driving. I’ve proposed creating a Department of Transportation for strategic and comprehensive thinking about how we move around the city and to make sure the significant investments in transportation from the Renew Atlanta Bond, the MARTA tax, and the TSPLOST tax are spent equitably across the city. I support creating a comprehensive parking management system that works for both local businesses and residents and serves as a dedicated funding source for sidewalks. We must focus on getting people to their jobs, seniors to their doctors’ appointments, and parents to the grocery store. We must prioritize a focus on daily trips instead of shiny tourist transportation projects like the current streetcar loop downtown.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
I propose several changes to the way we regulate and think about housing. First, I will support the Department of City Planning’s work to update our 1982 zoning code that will encourage and regulate a variety of types of housing for those at all ages and stages in life as well as at all socioeconomic levels. This includes zoning that supports “missing middle” housing, accessory dwelling units, and more. Second, I will strengthen the capacity and resources of our Atlanta Community Land Bank. This land bank has the ability to buy up vacant and blighted properties throughout Atlanta to fix them up and sell at an affordable price. We had the opportunity to do this during the Great Recession when home prices were particularly low, but we didn’t prioritize it. Third, I will support mandatory inclusionary zoning policies that require affordable housing units at all new developments at 30% to 50% AMI, not just 80%. And I will work with MARTA to create permanent supportive housing at their transit-oriented developments to help individuals experiencing homelessness. Lastly, I will focus on property tax reform that keeps our taxes at a consistent level so we don’t have the massive increases like the recent ones in Fulton County.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?