Wake County Commissioners Clash Over Timing of Affordable Housing Vote | News
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wake County Commissioners Clash Over Timing of Affordable Housing Vote

Posted by on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 3:10 PM

click to enlarge Wake County Board of Commissioners - WAKE COUNTY GOVERNMENT
  • Wake County Government
  • Wake County Board of Commissioners
An affordable housing vote in Wake County was pushed back a couple of weeks, and the commissioner leading the charge is not happy.

On Monday, the Wake County Commission took up a vote approving rules of procedure and appointing twenty-nine people (selected by staff) to a steering committee on affordable housing, an important early step in the process of constructing an affordable housing plan for the county.

Notable suggested members of the committee include nonprofit housing developer Gregg Warren, Raleigh housing director Larry Jarvis, Wake County Housing Authority CEO Burnetta Smith, former Wake County Superior Court judge Howard Manning, and N.C. Justice Center general counsel Bill Rowe.

Commissioner John Burns first thanked Commissioner Jessica Holmes, who has led the affordable housing effort, and said it was "certainly an issue we need to focus on and is of absolute critical importance to our committee."

Burns then raised the question of how the commission was put together and "who's filling what spot," and then moved to postpone the vote until December 5 so, as Burns put it, there could be more input from the commission’s incoming members (Greg Ford and Erv Portman, who are replacing Caroline Sullivan and Betty Lou Ward), as this is an issue that would define "the first two years of their term."

Burns wasn't the only commissioner to oppose the vote taking place on Monday; Chairman James West said the "balance of the committee is not what it needs to be" and added that two weeks would be sufficient to get "everyone on board."

Holmes immediately and vociferously objected, noting that she hadn't been consulted on the membership of the Wake County Water Partnership, an initiative led by Burns and Commissioner Matt Calabria that also passed on Monday.

"I will accept the delay, but the reason for the delay is very unfortunate," she said. "For two years I have been talking about this board, and there has been delay, obstacle, delay after delay after delay. And Commissioner Burns waited until I was out of the country to inform the board via email. … Never once has he called me or sent me a personal email or text message. So the way this situation has been handed is very poor and very disrespectful. This is not how we should communicate with each other."

Burns denied that he had any ulterior motive. "It's unfortunate that aspersions be past on fellow commissioners and their motivations," he said.

The motion to delay passed 5–2, with Holmes and outgoing commissioner Ward voting against.

In an interview with the INDY on Wednesday, Holmes said that she thought Burns wanted to delay the motion because his pastor, who applied to be on the board, wasn't on the list.

"We all went into this knowing this committee would be comprised of housing experts, not necessarily our friends and associates," she said. "We have boards that are essentially social appointments, boards that require expertise, boards where you appoint donors to your campaign. … I made it very clear from the beginning that this isn’t a social board."

Burns, who said on Monday that Holmes would be a "great leader" on this issue, adamantly denied that.

"It's not about my pastor," Burns said. "That would be inappropriate for me to hold things up to get one person on it. … I think my pastor would be upset if he found out I did that."

"I’m going to vote for it. I have every intention of voting for it," Burns continued. "I had questions, and those questions are being answered. If we had a meeting on this upcoming Monday, I would vote for it.”

Holmes says that, although it's just two weeks, this could hinder the commission’s ability to get affordable housing into the 2017 budget.

"We’re going to miss out on December altogether and probably the beginning of January," Holmes said. "If our initial process isn’t completed as soon as possible, that assessment of how we’re spending funds, then it minimizes the possibility of the committee to request funds by the 2017 budget cycle. And we only do the budget once a year, so if we don’t do it this cycle, there won’t be the opportunity to put it toward until 2018, which is an election year.

"Again, this is the timeline that the board agreed on," Holmes added. "It’s been very public that we’ve been going on [this timeline]. To delay it at this point, it just blows my mind."

Burns disagrees, saying that it won't affect budgetary considerations at all.

"It’s a goal of this commission, of all members of this commission, for affordable housing to be a focus of this year," he said. "A delay of two weeks is not going to remove the focus on this issue. Not going to happen."

The board will take up the issue at its next meeting on Monday, December 5, Ford and Portman's first. 

*A previous version of this post said that Matt Calabria led the Wake County Water Partnership. Burns and Calabria have both led that effort.

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