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Council OKs 'First Steps': Housing And Job Training Initiatives

Mayor Jennifer Roberts
David Boraks

The police shooting of an African -American man in Charlotte last month sparked protests not just about policing, but also about racism and inequality. In an open letter a week ago, Charlotte City Council pledged new policies and programs. Monday night, the council took what it called "the first steps."

In a single unanimous vote, the City Council approved a series of measures in response to community anger and frustration after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.  They include:

  • Shortening from five years to three years the city's target for developing 5,000 affordable housing units.
  • Hiring a consultant to draw up a strategic housing plan to help the city figure out how to fill the rest of the estimated 34,000 affordable units the city needs for low- and moderate-income households.
  • Spending $1 million on a new pilot workforce development program. It would help 180 people initially, and could expand to more than 500. 

There weren’t many specifics, particularly on how the city would hit the housing goal.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts said the steps are part of acknowledging the long-term problem.  “We also recognize that yes, there is racism, and it is wrong,” she said.

Speaking in broad terms, she said eliminating racism is a collective effort.

“We have to admit wrongdoing. We have to hold people accountable, and we have to pledge to change and have other people hold us accountable,” Roberts said.

The meeting was a lot more low-key than the one on Sept. 26, where angry protesters called on the mayor, council members and police chief to resign.  

Council member Al Austin said he knows the vote isn't a long-term solution.

“Although we had quite a bit of emotion anger on the 26th, I don't think that's over. People are still angry. And I still feel that and I feel it out in the community,” Austin said, as a couple in the audience shouted their agreement.

But he said the council needed to do something.

“These items are the beginning of us trying to take some actions. Now, they're not …  we've still got more work to do,” Austin said.  

In comments before the council vote, a handful of speakers called for changes. Charlotte NAACP leader Corinne Mack repeated her demands for greater police accountability.  Resident Tina White called for broader changes than those up for a vote, like better schools and more federal rental housing assistance.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake gave the night's most impassioned speech, saying the council's plans didn't go far enough.

“Affordable housing is fine, but we need low-income housing ... we need low income housing for our people,” she said.

The council also endorsed Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney's plan to expand the use of body cameras, to hire an outside firm to review department policies, procedures and community relations, and give more power to the city police review board.

As for the outside review, interim city manager Ron Kimble said The Police Foundation of Washington, DC, could take six to eight months to deliver a final report.

Council member Austin said he wishes it could be faster.

“Hopefully this won’t be something that we get and it’s a nice book, and we put it on the shelf, because I think it really needs to be addressed.”

“The elephant in the room is race,” he said, “and we’ve gotta deal with that.”