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?
I’ve worked outside of the system as the leader of a vigilante housing nonprofit. I’ve worked with the system as an officer of my NPU. At some point, however, you want to change the system itself! I got tired of sweeping up after bad policy, and I’m distressed by the lack of working-class voices in our political deliberations.
2) What makes you better than your opponents?
I object to the term “better,” because we are lucky to have many good candidates running for 4th District. Some are strong campaigners; some have already worked for the City in an official capacity; some have more business experience, or have just been in the community longer. “Better” depends on what you value.
I value people. My nonprofit experience has given me a lifetime’s worth of working with, and listening to, difficult people with difficult problems. As a result, I have developed a pragmatic approach towards problem solving combined with a bone-deep respect for folks in all walks of life. Given the huge cultural and class differences spanned by our District, I think I’m well suited to bridging the divide between our different neighborhoods and representing the interests of all of our citizens.
3) What is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
It’s dynamism — Atlanta is constantly willing to try new things and reinvent itself. I think being destroyed in the Civil War took away the illusion that things can just stay the the same simply because that’s what we’re used to. We work hard to try to be forward-looking.
4) What is Atlanta’s greatest challenge?
We face many challenges in Atlanta, from our water and road infrastructure, to our school system, to issues surrounding affordability and gentrification. But the issue that dogs almost all of these issues is a lack of faith and communication between the City and our citizens. Frankly, many people feel that the City doesn’t listen to their concerns unless it’s election season.
Whether this is factually correct or not is almost entirely besides the point. Despair and cynicism are self-fulfilling prophecies; for folks to have faith in democracy, they need to feel that the government is listening, responsive, and inclusive.
5) How would you address that challenge?
The simplest way to give people that faith is actually be listening, responsive, and inclusive. The centerpiece of my campaign is a set of achievable proposals to make it simpler for neighborhoods to organize, engage, and effect change (“get together, work together, win together”):
+ Get Together: I propose we put signs at public spaces where people go – schools and libraries, parks and rec centers, hospitals and fire departments – giving locally useful information about the area’s City Council district, Neighborhood Planning Unit, and neighborhood organizations. We want to make it easy for people to discover where to start getting engaged throughout their day.
+ Work Together: I’m a big fan of the Neighborhood Planning Unit system. But the folks who show up at these meetings are the ones with the time and resources to attend. We should lower the barriers to attendance – childcare at the meetings for families with kids, streaming video for second-shift workers, mobility vans for the elderly, and so forth. We simply shouldn’t limit public input to only middle-class and upper-class homeowners; that gives a distorted view of the area’s needs and concerns.
+ Win Together: I propose we use participatory budgeting to allow our neighborhoods to actually design and budget local improvements. If elected, I pledge to use the bulk of my discretionary fund to finance a participatory budgeting pilot program for my District.
6) What are the top two or three things you’d focus on during your term as an elected official?
As I mentioned above, I’m seriously focused on expanding the franchise to reengage our community. I also want to work on guaranteeing that there is enough affordable housing for every income level – as someone who’s worked with the homeless for over two decades, I understand how impossible it can be to try to improve your life without the fundamental stability of a place to stay. And, to continue on the theme of stability and safety, we must improve relations between the population and the police. People who are afraid to go outside and unwilling to call the police will not engage in their communities in a productive manner.
7) What is your opinion of the Beltline? Would you have done things differently?
As a native Atlantan, I love the idea of the Beltline. We stay in our little enclaves much too much in this city, and so it’s great to have this thread connecting the entire City, with people on bikes and on foot, exploring the City and meeting each other.
However, the timing of its development is unfortunate. Now that people are returning to the city, the Beltline is seen by those afraid of gentrification as a weapon of displacement. We really, really need to stick to our commitments for ensuring housing affordability along the Beltline.
8) What is your opinion of the Streetcar? Would you have done things differently?
As transit, the Streetcar is a flawed idea. It combines the rigidity of fixed rail with the vulnerability to traffic of a bus, and it lacks the network of stops to make it useful. A Bus Rapid Transit system would have been cheaper, faster, more flexible, and more useful overall.
However, there’s a stigma to riding the bus, whereas people love the idea of a streetcar. I’m willing to do stupid things initially if it leads to better outcomes later.
A streetcar needs dedicated lanes to really work effectively. I would have abandoned the whole project in favor of improving our bus lines and bus stops, including adding countdown timers to the next bus arrival at the stops.
9) What should the city do to reduce traffic congestion?
Building more road infrastructure simply brings more cars until the roads get clogged again (“induced demand”). At some point, we need to reduce the number of cars coming through the city. Build more park and ride lots on the outside of the city; use congestion-price parking along the streets to ensure that there’s always parking available while encouraging people to consider alternatives; continue to work on the “last mile” transit problem with more sidewalks, bike lanes, and bike rental kiosks, plus bike garages like in Chicago; and build transit, transit, transit.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing in the City?
Longish answer here –
Of the proposals I’ve heard so far, we basically have two types of suggestions for counteracting the effects of gentrification – protective proposals, and prescriptive proposals.
Protective proposals are ones that shield people from the effects of gentrification, such as the Westside Future Fund’s “Anti-Displacement Tax Fund”. The problem with these types of proposals is, while they’re very good for the people that they cover, they don’t actually create more affordable housing – in fact, it removes properties from the market, meaning that the folks who aren’t covered by the program have it even worse – usually renters and low-income newcomers. Proposition 13 in California is a poster child for this problem. As a result, I think that such programs should be used sparingly.
Prescriptive proposals try to use zoning and mandates to ensure that affordable housing gets built alongside high-dollar housing – the term is ‘inclusionary zoning’. However, many businesses are simply willing to pay the fines as a part of doing business, so while this is a better overall approach, we’re still trying to circumvent the market forces that power displacement.
I propose that we work with the market. The current sales tax on property (called the Real Estate Transfer Tax) is 0.1%. That’s crazy low; across the country it has gone as high as 4%. I propose that we significantly increase the tax on high-dollar property sales and dedicate the revenue stream to help encourage the construction of affordable housing. This would both increase supply and decrease demand, working to moderate the dramatic price increases that price people out of their neighborhoods.
Furthermore, I propose that we base property taxes on a rolling average of property assessments instead of the immediate assessment value. Lastly, we need to examine alternative housing arrangements such as Accessory Dwelling Units, which would allow new housing to enter the market quickly and allow current homeowners to benefit from the influx of new residents.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes. I promise to have my office abide by the City Auditor’s recommendations from the 2009 and 2016 audit reports. We cannot rebuild trust in government until we act in a trustworthy manner.