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Local leaders’ status update: State of the City, County and Schools

IMPORTANT NOTE: Raleigh Convergence is no longer publishing, as of April 1, 2022. Read more.
Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin at the Raleigh Chamber State of the City, County and Schools.

How do local leaders see where we are now — and where we need to go?

At the Raleigh Chamber State of the City, County and Schools on Thursday, local leaders shared a high-level overview of accomplishments and priorities with the Raleigh area business community.

Here’s what each leader said:

Mary-Ann Baldwin, Raleigh city mayor

Progress on housing affordability and housing choice: 

Referencing her campaign 10-point plan, housing options are now expanded to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (commonly called “Granny flats” or backyard cottages), cottage courts (smaller houses that face a shared courtyard or driveway) and a recent text change aimed at increasing “missing middle” housing by allowing townhouses and duplexes in more neighborhoods.

On affordable housing, Baldwin pointed to the $80 million affordable housing bond passed by voters. Examples of the bond at work include a $3 million dollar grant for the Healing Transitions expansion. She mentioned a potential partnership with CASA, a nonprofit affordable housing developer that could include daycare. Purchasing land along bus rapid transit lines is also planned.

Commuter rail is a priority.

“We have to do commuter rail,” she said. An upcoming trip planned to Miami to look at commuter rail. 

Equity: An ongoing partnership with Shaw University’s Center for Racial and Social Justice is in its next step — topics are being developed based on survey feedback for Courageous Community Conversations. Ultimately, recommendations from the collaboration will shape city plans.

Downtown Raleigh: “Downtown needed some extra love” after the pandemic, she said, pointing to the work of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and activations such as the soccer field and Noon Tunes. An economic redevelopment study is planned to revitalize Fayetteville Street. 

Matt Calabria, Wake County Board of Commissioners Chair

Matt Calabria speaks.

Pandemic response: He highlighted the free, drive-through testing by Wake County Public Health and the relatively high vaccination rate of Wake County: 76% of Wake County adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 60% of NC and 68% of US adults. 

The county response also included $9 million in loans to small businesses through the Wake Forward program. Eleven million meals were served to area residents experiencing food insecurity over more than a year. 

The economic development outlook: The county generated more jobs and economic investment than before. Wake County’s employment rate is at a low 3.7%. 

However, with 120,000 households at an annual income of $50,000 or less, “the answer can’t be to just create more jobs.” Wake Works, a partnership with Wake Tech, offers paid apprenticeships for critical need fields.

Affordable housing is the biggest challenge besides the pandemic, he said. The county will spend $134 million for affordable housing in this year alone.

The goal to end veteran homelessness in 2021 is on track to accomplish by the end of the year. 

An investment in education is priority. The approved operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year was county’s largest yet. School nurse ratio is now 2:1 school, versus the past of one nurse covering up to five schools. 

As Pre-K reaches new levels of access for 4-year-olds, Wake County will start free Pre-K for 3-year-olds who are part of families with income 200% under the poverty line. Wake ThreeSchool would begin serving 100 students in fall 2022. More than 4,000 children are eligible. 

Ensuring prosperity that everyone can participate in: That includes investing in quality of life while making smart investments. Align incentives by doing the right thing and smart thing, such as affordable housing, worker training, and parks and greenways. 

Keith Sutton, Wake County School Board Chair

Keith Sutton speaks.

Wake County Public Schools’ pandemic response was praised by Sutton. He cited the 90.8% graduation rate, national award for Wiley Magnet Elementary School, and statewide awards for the WCPSS superintendent, Broughton’s principal and the district athletic director. 

Goals for the next year included: Fewer restrictions, not returning to the “old normal,” but working on recruiting and retaining teachers of color. 

Surprising moments from the Q&A session

The session largely focused on Apple’s potential impact. [read more: What Apple’s new campus means for Wake County]

 The Apple element and affordability: 

Calabria said: Affordable housing and housing affordability are two separate issues, the second of which effects a broader population. It resonates with what the city is doing with zoning, for example. Wake County zoning only exists outside of the municipal jurisdiction, so further collaboration with all 12 municipalities is needed.

Baldwin said: When she met with Apple, she understood they want to be a good corporate leader. Apple can be a part of positive change, she said, mentioning Duke Energy’s investment in Downtown Raleigh efforts as an example. Solving affordable housing requires collaborative work. What if there was senior housing near schools, or a teachers village? Raleigh, Wake County and schools can’t do it alone, and must work together. 

How Apple might affect transit plans:

Calabria: It doesn’t change our plans, but confirms what we’re doing.

Baldwin: Apple is for it. She anticipates Apple’s arrival will accelerate plans for commuter rail.

Author: raleighconvergence

Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is the editor of Raleigh Convergence.

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