Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer. May 6, 2022.

Editorial: Local governments alone can’t solve the housing crisis. NC must step up

Charlotte and the Triangle have experienced some of the fastest growth in the country in recent years, but it hasn’t been without consequences.

Rent is getting expensive and housing prices have soared, exacerbating an already dire housing crisis. In Charlotte, despite nearly $219 million invested in affordable housing over the past 20 years, the city is still tens of thousands of units short. Only 1% of apartments in Mecklenburg County rent for less than $1,000, recent data showed.

The pressure is on local governments to spark the development of affordable housing through public funding and policy. Housing dominates the conversation in municipal elections, as both developers and residents jockey to have their voices heard.

But despite the best efforts of local officials, affordable housing supply is nowhere close to meeting demand, and rent increases are pricing even more residents out. The current economic situation has only made matters worse, and many U.S. cities are starting to get more aggressive in their approach.

In North Carolina, however, city and county officials are limited in just how aggressive they can get on housing policy. Municipalities only have as much authority as the state legislature has granted them. It’s why municipalities can’t enforce their own minimum wages, and why they couldn’t pass nondiscrimination ordinances until late 2020.

Rent control is forbidden in North Carolina, thanks to a preemptive ban enacted by the state legislature in the 1980s. Our state is not alone in this — 36 states prohibit rent control — but as landlords continue to implement rent hikes, many of them are starting to reconsider.

Another popular tool is mandatory inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to include a certain proportion of affordable units in new construction. But the ability of local governments to enact mandatory inclusionary zoning policies for rental housing is a legal gray area in North Carolina, due to the state’s rent control ban, and could result in legal challenges.

Nor can local governments assess impact fees on new construction to support infrastructure and affordable housing. Impact fees have to be approved by the state legislature, which hasn’t handed down that permission in decades.

Much like local governments, the state, too, provides public funding for affordable housing through the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund, which is administered by the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. The agency was once described by former State Budget Director Lee Roberts as “one of the greatest returns on investment of any state money spent.”

Yet the state’s investment in the Housing Trust Fund is much lower than it used to be — funding decreased nearly 68% between the 2007 and 2015 fiscal years, and has seen only a slight increase in the years since.

Democrats in the General Assembly have introduced legislation to address these issues. Most recently, Senate Bill 386 proposed an increase in allocations to the Housing Trust Fund. Senate Bill 426 would explicitly allow local governments to enact inclusionary zoning ordinances, and Senate Bill 437 would allow them to impose impact fees. None of the bills gained traction in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Affordable housing is not just a local responsibility. Development decisions, of course, are best made at the local level, but local governments can’t do it alone, and they certainly can’t do it with a limited number of tools at their disposal.

In its 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the city of Charlotte mentioned a desire to “lead the charge to pass enabling legislation for mandatory inclusionary zoning.” The city has also, in recent years, discussed presenting an impact fee proposal to the state legislature. But this will take significant persuading of Republican lawmakers, who have long been wary of both spending public money and giving local government more power.

That might be unlikely to happen. But the pressure should also be on the state, not just local governments, to provide solutions to North Carolina’s housing crisis.

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Winston-Salem Journal. May 6, 2022.

Editorial: The end of abortion rights

Abortion rights represent, perhaps, the deepest of many chasms that divide the American people — sometimes even when they’re getting their facts from the same sources. It’s unlikely that many minds will be changed by oft-repeated talking points — and certainly not by some of the insulting and often medically inaccurate rhetoric that comes from the Republican contingency. On this issue, the party has no compunctions left about forcing what is, ultimately, its religious beliefs onto the rest of the American public. So be it. They’re winning.

The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, one of the six conservatives on the court, animates the fight that many have been expecting ever since then-justice candidates Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett promised they would respect stare decisis — court precedent — in contradiction to then-President Trump’s promise to nominate justices who would overthrow Roe. It brings the dire prediction of the end of abortion rights — the first time in our history when the court would repeal rather than expand a right — one step closer to reality. Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ assurance that the draft is not the final product — which is expected to arrive this summer — has done little to reassure an anxious public.

The immediate effect of Roe’s elimination is uncertain for North Carolina, where 52.6% want to keep or expand Roe’s provisions, while 40% would eliminate or reduce abortion access, according to a recent Meredith Poll. Much would depend on the outcome of the November election. If Republicans pick up enough seats to override a veto from the governor, women in North Carolina may find themselves having to trek elsewhere for abortion access — or to the inevitable abortion pill black market.

Those who have not even those options — primarily poor women and women of color — will be forced to give birth by parties that will offer them no parenting assistance.

Or they may be desperate enough to risk dangerous illegal abortions, some of which could lead to death.

Republican legislators and activists have worked hard to bring us to this precipice. Aside from the distortions, deceit and sheer spite they’ve used to push abortion restrictions in the past, the party’s long-term commitment to disciplined organization and messaging has been effective. Will Rogers’ classic joke stands: The Democratic Party is rarely, if ever, as organized or as well-prepared. If its leaders don’t learn from this event, there’s little hope for its future.

Republican support for outlawing abortion has also taken precedent over its traditional support for small government (some already have admitted to seeking a federal ban on abortion next), states’ rights (some abortion-restricting states are now trying to punish adjacent states that accept abortion refugees) the free market (they also seek to punish the several major companies that promise to cover costs for women who travel out of state for abortion access) and the simple notion of telling the truth. Outlawing abortion has become the golden idol to which they will sacrifice all — which may be why they’re finally on the verge of success.

As consequential as the decision over Roe’s viability would be, like most issues today, it’s just one part of a larger picture: the Republican rebellion against the modern civil rights era. It’s in keeping with their leaders’ desire to turn the page back to a simpler time when white, Christian, male and straight represented a ruling class and anyone who didn’t fit that profile — a majority today — was suspect. Republican legislators like Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana have recently floated the elimination of federal protections for access to birth control and interracial marriage (likely in the name of also eliminating same-sex marriage) respectively.

We also can’t ignore Republican Party preparations to undo the results of the 2022 and 2024 elections if they don’t produce the desired outcomes.

It’s hard to imagine just what kind of society they envision. It’s not one characterized by liberty and equality. It’s not one in which prosperity is spread, in which a rising tide lifts all boats — that cliché is only trotted out when the wealthy make financial gains. And it’s not one in which truth is recognized for its own value.

It’s also not a vision that’s shared, even by the majority of conservatives. Yet most conservatives will follow legislators’ lead with little objection, perhaps because of the distrust they feel for liberals and for our society’s institutions, from the media to the military — a distrust that has been fueled by a right-wing media disinformation campaign.

In other words, this is just the beginning. Democracy and the rights of individual self-determination are under serious threat now and for the foreseeable future.

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