Durham Mayor Steve Schewel Lays Out 2018 Vision in First State of the City Address | News
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel Lays Out 2018 Vision in First State of the City Address

Posted by on Mon, Feb 5, 2018 at 11:49 PM

In his first State of the City address, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel described big investments into affordable housing, announced new initiatives aimed at addressing food insecurity, food waste and racial equity, named a former city councilman Durham's first public historian, and revealed the "most fun thing" about his new job as mayor: Taking lots of selfies with constituents.

Schewel's address reiterated the "common vision" of Durham as a welcoming city and progressive beacon that he laid out in his first comments after being sworn in as mayor in December. He cautioned that Durham will not "reach out true greatness" with current state and federal policies counterproductive to providing living wages, affordable housing, health care, quality public education, and protection from deportation.

"We have to stare that reality in the face," he said. "But OK, that’s enough of that. Once we have stared that reality in the face, we have to put it aside and get to work here at home."

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Schewel began by highlighting some work that's already being done. He recognized city employees who have gone "above and beyond" in the past year, detailed investments in affordable housing and touted plans for "the biggest infrastructure project in the history of North Carolina": Durham-Orange Light Rail (although that project faces some federal funding unknowns). He thanked Police Chief C.J. Davis for implementing "reforms that are aimed to build trust in the community, and especially in communities of color" and honored individual officers.

Schewel looked ahead to the city's sesquicentennial — which on April 10, 2019, will mark one hundred and fifty years since Durham's incorporation. For the next year, former councilman and educator Eddie Davis will serve as the city's first public historian. "No one is better suited for this honor," Schewel said. Davis said he plans to use his post to highlight some "unsung heroes" and "under the radar" events in Durham's history.

"So what, tonight, is the State of Our City?" Schewel said. "We are a welcoming city, a diverse city, and a prosperous city determined that our prosperity will be shared. We know that 20 percent of our residents, mostly people of color, do not share in our prosperity, and we are committed to change that."

Durham's tree canopy is diminishing, he said, and what exists is "inequitably distributed," leaving historically black neighborhoods red-lined and denied loans in the 1930s without adequate tree cover today. "Durham needs to plant 60,000 trees in the next 20 years, and I am calling on our residents tonight to help us do that."

Schewel announced the formation of a race equity task force, to be chaired by Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, and heralded the formation of a joint-city county committee that will look at what to do with Durham's dismantled Confederate monument and begin a discussion of what people, places, and events should be memorialized in the Bull City.

"Black Lives Matter. And we must work every day to make sure they matter here in Durham," he said.

Between the city and the Durham Housing Authority's budgets, more than $80 million will be spent on creating and preserving affordable housing in Durham this year. But "we need to do more," Schewel said. Financial institutions, nonprofit housing developers, and the city will be working to set up a housing trust fund, and Schewel suggested the city may also need to issue a bond to address its affordable housing needs, the most critical being the redevelopment of the Durham Housing Authority's deteriorating public housing stock.

Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott said those redevelopment plans will require "an investment beyond what the Housing Authority can make on its own." Monday's speech reinforced an already strong commitment from the city to help make that happen.

"One thing that's clear, being here in Durham is unique to any experience I've had in other cities," he said.

Schewel set his sights on ending children's homelessness and bringing the county, city and Alliance Behavioral Health together to house and provide support services for the homeless.

With an estimated fifty thousand Durhamites without reliable access to sufficient food, Schewel announced plans to hold a food security summit and a food security coordinator. He also described a pilot composting program with citywide food waste collection.

"Let’s become known as the city where we eat in the best restaurants and do the best job of feeding all of our residents," he said. "Let’s create an economy in Durham around food security and food justice."

After singing a few lines of Emma Lazarus's famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty, he welcomed the families of Jose Chicas and Samuel Oliver-Bruno, two men taking sanctuary from deportation in Durham churches.

"Te damos la bienvenida a Durham con los brazos abiertos y corazones abiertos," he told them. "In Durham, we welcome you with open arms and open hearts."

On Tuesday, the full text and video of the speech will be posted here.

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