From correspondent Tammy Grubb
Michelle C. Johnson
1. What do you see as the town’s major issues over the next 10 years? What are your ideas for dealing with those issues?
The most important issues facing Carrboro are growth and development and their connection to economic development. Many decisions that the Board of Aldermen makes are focused on land use -- who can use it, how they can use it, and how that use will impact not only the surrounding neighborhoods but our community as a whole. Carrboro should continue to support development projects that are mixed-use and that protect the residential neighborhoods surrounding them, maintain a local living economy, encourage green building and green upgrades to existing developments, ensure walkability and bikeability, and provide accessible parking downtown.
I will support and engage in the town’s efforts to focus on local entrepreneurs and a local living economy. Carrboro currently has several programs that support local businesses and promote entrepreneurship, such as the revolving loan program, the WISE energy efficiency loan program for residences and local businesses, and job training workshops. I will explore the feasibility of the town allocating a portion of the revolving loan fund to local businesses that are in immediate crisis so that more businesses don’t have to close their doors. In addition, I will work with the Carrboro Arts Committee, the Orange County Arts Commission, and the Orange County Artists Guild to enhance our focus on arts in the community as a way to bring people into Carrboro and to support a local living economy.
I will work with the town’s economic development director and the Economic Sustainability Commission to assess available commercial properties so that potential business approaching the Economic Development Director will be better facilitated about places in Carrboro for their business. I will encourage the creation of a green building checklist for the town to use when considering development projects, with the understanding that the permitting of projects that meet a threshold level of green building standards will be expedited.
Affordable and inclusionary housing is another major issue facing Carrboro.
I will work to meet the diverse needs of residents in our community by serving on the local task force to assess the need for a work center for day laborers. I will work with the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Human Relations Commission, Justice United, local businesses, residents, law enforcement, El Centro Latino, and other stakeholders in the community to move forward with a solution that meets the needs of day laborers and the communities in which they reside.
2. What do you think the town could do on its own or in cooperation with community and business partners to preserve and increase the stock of affordable housing? In your answer, please indicate what price range you think is “affordable” for home buyers vs. renters.
According to the Town of Carrboro, NC Town Profile, the median value of a housing unit in Carrboro in 2009 was $307,600, an increase of 114% over the median housing value of $143,242 in 2000, representing Carrboro’s position as a desirable place to live. Median household income in Carrboro was $39,366 and per capita income was $29,418 according to the 2009 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The household income levels of Carrboro is evenly divided into thirds with 32% of the Town’s citizens earning less than $20,000 per year; 25% making between $20,000 and $50,000 per year; and 41% making more than $50,000 per year. Only 7.6% of families were reported to live below the poverty line, well below the national average of 9.9%.While Carrboro is a desirable place to live, a Carrboro family with the median household income of $39,366 would find it challenging to afford a $307,600 house.
The Board of Aldermen and Town Staff have a good relationship with the Community Home Trust and can continue to work with the Home Trust to change the affordable housing ordinance so that more people can afford housing in new developments. Our affordable housing ordinance needs a review and possible revision. The affordable housing ordinance should be revised to allow developers to offer affordable housing at 60% of the median income rather than 80% to address issues of affordability in the current economic downturn. In addition developers should have the option to pay a fee to the town Affordable Housing Trust in lieu of providing affordable housing units. This allows the town flexibility in providing affordable housing in existing and new developments and provides the opportunity for the Town to continue their support of the Home Trust in a collaborative way. I value diversity in our community and I will work to walk my talk related to this value. We must assure that valued attributes of Carrboro such as walkability and bikeability are things that are also available to people living in lower income housing. In addition the Town can work with developers when they approach the planning department, advisory committees, and the Board to encourage them to integrate affordability into their plans.
3. How do you think Carrboro can resolve the ongoing crime and/or nuisance problems near the intersection of Jones Ferry and Davie roads while also protecting workers’ rights?
Carrboro prides itself on being a diverse, open, and accepting community. Day laborers are part of our community. In the past year, there has been a resurgence of discussion about the anti-lingering ordinance that was adopted by the Board of Aldermen in 2007. The ordinance mandates that people can only stand on the corner of Davie and Jones Ferry from 5:00am to 11:00 am. This ordinance was born out of valid safety concerns expressed by neighbors, including concerns about harassment, public intoxication, and other criminal and nuisance behaviors. Although the current discussion is focused on rescinding the ordinance because of concerns about its constitutionality, there is a parallel discussion being guided by many stakeholders in the community, including day laborers, about the possibility of a worker center that would allow workers to be out of the elements (heat, cold, rain etc.) and to have access to a public bathroom. One of the questions I am interested in exploring is: what happens when we treat people with respect and afford them the same rights and access to resources as everyone else? Do nuisance behaviors decrease? If elected, I would explore a mechanism other than the anti-lingering ordinance to address the needs and concerns expressed both by the day laborers and their neighbors. Dialogue and relationship building needs to be enhanced among everyone in this community, particularly when there is a high conflict situation across lines of difference. When I was canvassing this past weekend I met with one of the residents impacted by the behavior of a few day laborers. He agreed that our municipality doesn’t need to participate in something unconstitutional and he also feels like the ordinance has increased his quality of life. From my understanding he would like a long term solution to address both his right and need for safety while respecting the rights of all humans, including the day laborers. If elected I would reflect Carrboro's value of diversity, my belief in community building, use my organizing skills to work with stakeholders in the community, including the Human Rights Center, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the UNC Civil Rights Center, El Centro Latino, and Justice United, to guide my decision making about how to best address everyone's needs and to come up with a long-term sustainable, equitable, and legally defensible solution.
4. How do you think the town can increase its non-residential tax base and bring in more jobs during tough economic times? In your answer, be sure to indicate where you think non-residential growth should take place, i.e. the downtown core, the northern transition area or elsewhere.
It is necessary for the town to increase its non residential tax base. In Vision 2020, Carrboro expressed a desire to double the town’s commercial tax base, and to do this, we need to focus on supporting local entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in our community as well as supporting existing businesses. Carrboro currently has several programs that support local businesses and promote entrepreneurship, such as the revolving loan program, the WISE energy efficiency loan program for residences and local businesses, and job training workshops. I am a proponent of transit-oriented development, particularly near the center of town. Density is most appropriate downtown and should emphasize local businesses, the protection of existing neighborhoods, and a collaborative process with citizens on growth issues. We need to encourage mixed-use development with a balance of residential and commercial development that is convenient to public transit.
5. For the last two years, Carrboro has avoided property tax rate increases and maintained staff jobs and town services. If the economy continues to lag, do you think Carrboro may have to increase taxes or cut jobs and services in 2012-13?
Currently, Carrboro is conducting a national search for a new Town Manager. The Town Manager will be instrumental in continuing Steve Stewart’s work to create a budget that was mindful of town needs and services, town staff, and property tax increases for residences. As the search for a new town manager continues, the Board of Aldermen needs to stress the importance of candidates having previous experience with budgets in challenging economic times. I am hopeful we will not have to raise our property taxes or cut jobs and services in 2012-2013, and will work to increase our commercial tax base so that Carrboro can generate more income from business instead of property owners.
Name: Michelle C. Johnson
Family: Partner Jeff Herrick
Address: 109 Center St., Carrboro
Phone number: (919) 260-2145
Occupation: Private practice clinical social worker, artist and yoga instructor at Carrboro Yoga Co.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from The College of William and Mary; master’s degree in social work, direct practice, from UNC Chapel Hill
Experience: Community and social justice activist; anti-racism trainer with Dismantling Racism Works; community volunteer; and previous member of the board of directors for the Dispute Settlement Center, Rape Crisis Center, Stone Circles, N.C. Lambda Youth Network and the Mental Health Association.