The Raleigh Planning Commissioner responds to comments from council members which it describes as “offensive and hurtful”
During a discussion at a working session of Raleigh City Council Yesterday, District A Council member Patrick Buffkin recalled the first meeting of the council’s second term, held in January, on making city-owned land available for affordable rental housing.
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel spoke to council members about the benefits of financing affordable housing units by mixing incomes in new housing developments to cover operating costs to keep some units affordable, Buffkin said.
And then, consciously or not, Buffkin made some insensitive comments about places “that only house poor people”.
“Another benefit of having mixed income in these developments is that you are building a healthier community,” Buffkin said towards the end of the meeting. “Mayor Schewel said when he spoke to us: ‘Don’t build projects that only house poor people.’ They are places with no hope, there are few role models for the children who live there, and a much better option for the community is to have that mix of income, people from different backgrounds, people from different backgrounds, each other help learn to live together. “
Buffkin added that he believes mixed income developments “really are the best solution for Raleigh”.
“It works financially, it works for the community too, so I think this is a good model,” he said.
This afternoon, Nicole Bennett, urban planner, member of the Raleigh Planning Commission and long-time resident of the city, made comments in a statement to the mayor and council that she posted on social media.
“Not only are these statements insulting and hurtful, they perpetuate the narrative that poor people lack morals and values,” wrote Bennett. “That’s just not true. Poor people lack the financial means. Period.”
Bennett added that while she is aware of the problems associated with the concentration of low-income people in developments such as the “old public housing estates (or ‘projects’), it is not the people who are the problem.
“The problem is the environment,” she wrote. “The problem is often that the people who live in these communities are pushed aside and forgotten. The developments were not built to benefit the community. They were built to imprison people who were viewed as savage and undeserved by a policy of marginalizing the poor, especially poor colored people. “
Later in the letter, Bennett wrote that it was “worrying and hurtful to hear a councilor disparage hard-working poor people – many who are in the position they are in because a system is rigged against them” .
“To suggest that simply adding people with higher incomes will somehow help their moral character is insulting and reinforces many of the racist overtones on which many of our policies, programs, and procedures focus,” wrote Bennett.
Councilor David Cox, who is generally at odds with most of the other members of the council, also responded to Buffkin’s comments on his social media page.
“It is a myth that has to be stopped that poor people (and maybe people of color) cannot be trusted and they are bad role models,” Cox wrote on his Facebook page. “This has to stop and it is untenable and disappointing to hear such opinions from our board of directors.”
The INDY reached out to Councilor Buffkin for comment. You can follow the meeting here; Video of Buffkin’s comments starts at approximately 1:12:50. Read Nicole Bennett’s letter to the Mayor and Council below.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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