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'We can make a difference': Schewel talks gentrification, goals in first State of the City address

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel emphasized sharing prosperity from economic development in his first State of the City address. 

The 50-minute address was delivered Monday to a standing-room only crowd in the City Council's chamber. In the talk, Schewel emphasized Durham's rapid growth, explaining that 140,000 new people are projected to migrate to the city—which currently boasts a population of more than 260,000—in the next 20 years. He also said that in today's polarized political atmosphere, Durham may not receive as much federal and state financial support as was initially projected. 

“In an age where government is constantly under attack, it is our job as a City Council to defend the institutions of local government,” Schewel said.

He noted that infrastructure improvements brought about by local government will be important to maintaining the level of quality of life that people seek from the "Bull City."  

Schewel added that he is determined to ensure the city’s economic prosperity will be shared, saying that some Durham residents have yet to benefit from the gains the city has made in recent years. He explained that 15,000 Durham households are severely housing-burdened, meaning they are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. He also noted gentrification as an obstacle to affordable housing.

“We cannot stop these forces but we can make a difference,” Schewel said, highlighting the importance of efforts to build affordable housing and increase mixed-income developments.  

The mayor lauded Phail Wynn, Duke’s outgoing vice president for Durham and regional affairs, for his efforts to promote a partnership between Duke and Durham towards creating affordable housing opportunities.

Schewel also praised the city’s efforts to address veteran homelessness, but added that the city needs to invest in more ending childhood homelessness. Also relating to children’s development, Schewel said he aims to work with local officials and non-profits to fund a food security coordinator position. 

“We must be known as the city where we eat in the best restaurants and we do the best job of feeding all of our residents,” he said.

In addition to announcing his plan for a food security coordinator, Schewel proclaimed his support for several other proposed task forces to promote equity. He said he will ask the council next month to create the city’s first racial equity task force and that the city and county will establish a joint city-county committee on Confederate monuments and memorials.

Elliott Davis, a sophomore who attended the speech, said he thought Schewel’s decision to highlight housing and other issues like policing and environmentalism was “interesting and impactful."  

“I'm recognizing how much work there is to do in the city, but recognizing how it’s really a progressive beacon in the south and in the country and all the progress we’ve made,” Davis said.  “I’m really looking forward to seeing the progress as well as taking part in it myself.” 

First-year Andrew Carlins also said he was pleased with the talk, specifically how Schewel addressed issues of gentrification and race.

“I was pleasantly surprised to hear how many community organizations work directly with the city and how many public organizations [work] to ensure equitable housing and living situations for residents in Durham," he said.


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