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‘Build the future, honor the legacy’: City Council candidate AJ Williams focused on community solutions to public safety

<p>City Council Ward III candidate AJ Williams hopes to bring community members and leaders together with the goal of “holistically [changing] the way we think about public safety.”</p>

City Council Ward III candidate AJ Williams hopes to bring community members and leaders together with the goal of “holistically [changing] the way we think about public safety.”

Editor's note: This article is part of a series of mayoral and city council candidate profiles. Check back for more throughout the week.

Durham City Council Ward III candidate AJ Williams wants to unite community members as he works to reduce violence, combat the affordable housing crisis and honor the city’s history.                   

Williams, a Durham native, said that his platform is “going to take the buy-in of community leaders, of faith leaders, of elected officials, community organizers, families.” He hopes to bring community members and leaders together with the goal of “holistically [changing] the way we think about public safety.”

His gun violence prevention plan centers on addressing root issues of criminalized behavior such as poverty, mental illness, homelessness and unemployment. He also plans on investing in community-led initiatives as an alternative to police. 

“We have to be willing to put increased, and equivalent, and significant investment into community solutions as we do on policing,” Williams said. “The real solution comes from changing the conditions of people’s lives where people are not in a state of desperation or grief or hunger or houselessness. Those are the things that cause people to engage in criminal behavior.”

Specifically, he wants to allocate funding from the police budget to hiring unarmed, skilled care responders and increase funding to the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, which works on community-led prevention and intervention as alternatives to policing. 

Currently, community safety accounts for 3.25% of the public safety budget, whereas policing counts for just over 55%

Another major goal on Williams’ platform is to increase the amount of affordable housing in Durham. He hopes to work with local delegates on state levels to overturn state preemptive laws that slow Durham’s enactment of policies that create more affordable housing, he said.

Williams wants to implement inclusionary zoning, where developers can put aside a percentage of their units as affordable housing units. Additionally, he wants to combat the ban on rent control, which allows for rent hikes to happen at any time and threatens the homes of low-to-median-income residents. 

Another one of Williams’ proposed solutions regarding the affordable housing crisis is to implement a committee focused on developer accountability and oversight. The committee would be led by community members and would have the goals of setting “a standard for developers who would like to invest in our city.” 

“The reason the city is so rich and amazing is because of the people that are there. If you push those people out, then it won’t have the same texture,” Williams said. He explained that this proposal would help protect Durham’s historically Black districts and neighborhoods.

Williams’ passion for the city of Durham extends beyond his own life, he said, as his family has been here for four generations. His grandparents lived in the historic Crest Street community, and he spent a lot of time in Hayti as a child. 

Beyond his own roots in Durham, Williams said he feels a cultural connection to the historic legacy and rich cultural fabric that make up Durham. His slogan for the campaign is “Build the future. Honor the legacy.”

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