APN Candidate Q&A: Dustin Hillis, Atlanta Council District 9
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of the 2017 Municipal Elections, Atlanta Progressive News has distributed a questionnaire to several City Council candidates, and is planning to send out another round to another several candidates soon.
We will publish the questionnaire responses as they come in.
Dustin Hillis, an aide to Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9), is running to replace her in the Atlanta City Council, as Moore is running for City Council President. Like so many circles of life, Moore herself was an aide to former Councilwoman Gloria Tinubu before running for Council.
Hillis has focused on demolishing blighted homes in District 9.
Hillis, who is White, is seeking to represent a majority Black district in northwest Atlanta that is also becoming increasingly diverse.
The District, which includes the former Hollywood Courts and Bowen Homes public housing communities, is seeing substantial new investment from developers as well the related challenges of gentrification that are likely to become an increasing issue over the next four years.
Additional candidates for District 9 include Kwame Abernathy, William Harrison, Gabriel Levine, Jared Samples, and Darrius Snow.
Hillis is the first candidate to reply to the APN questionnaire out of about a dozen who have received them to date.
In this questionnaire, rather than ask open-ended questions, we tried to be as specific as possible, to get candidates’ positions about various proposals related to both substantive, progressive policy issues; as well as issues related to democratic participation in Council process.
CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE FOR ATLANTA PROGRESSIVE NEWS
1. What is your position on the following affordable housing proposals?
(a) Surplus Property Affordable Housing ordinance 17-O-1643. Requiring that surplus city parcels that are suitable for use as housing be sold to nonprofit developers for $1 to develop affordable housing.
I support this ordinance, as sales of surplus city-owned land to non-profit developers is an identified best practice to meet affordable housing needs.
(b) Promoting the production and preservation of units at 0 to 30 percent AMI of the Area Median Income (AMI) across all City of Atlanta policies. This is the income bracket with the greatest and fasting growing unmet need, whereas the recent trend in City housing policies has been to produce affordable units at higher levels of AMI.
I fully support policies that would promote more affordable housing preservation and development in the lower (0-30 percent) AMI category.
(c) Inclusionary Zoning, including as proposed in the Beltline Overlay District by Dickens et al. Requiring that new multi-family buildings include a certain percentage of affordable units, while giving incentives to the developer in the form of upzoning.
I support inclusionary zoning practices overall, and this certainly should be adopted in the Beltline Overlay District. This policy will not only help meet the dire need for affordable housing units near the BeltLine, but will do it in a way that benefits the community as a whole and developers as well.
(d) Adding form of housing payments (ie – Section 8 voucher) as a protected class to be protected from housing discrimination in the City of Atlanta – thus requiring that lessors cannot discriminate against an applicant solely because they have a Section 8 voucher.
I support further discouragement of housing discrimination by adding form of housing payments/source of income as a protected class in the City of Atlanta.
(e) Creating a baseline inventory of Atlanta’s existing affordable housing stock.
I support creating a baseline inventory of our existing affordable housing stock, as well as projecting and updating that inventory.
(f) Exploring property tax reforms, including seeking State Legislature to pass enabling laws: (1) to allow lower tax rates based on income; (2) to allow tax breaks for lessors who keep rental rates affordable; and/or (3) to allow tax breaks for nonprofit developers.
I support working with our state partners to enact legislation that would allow the City of Atlanta to pass meaningful property tax breaks for lower income residents, providers of affordable housing, and non-profit developers.
(g) Offering grant assistance to property owners of aging multi-family apartment buildings, in return for securing promises to keep the units affordable.
I support some form of grant assistance to owners of older, multi-family apartment complexes, as long as the grant is somehow tied to ensuring the property meets and maintains code compliance in regard to highly hazardous and property maintenance violations. This would not only keep the units affordable, but also keep them in a presentable condition.
(h) Exploring the increased use of community land trusts;
Yes, I support exploring more usage of CLTs in Atlanta.
(i) Increased use of Tiny Houses and accessory dwellings, including appropriate zoning changes;
Yes, I am hopeful this can be addressed with the City’s zoning rewrite, if not sooner. I am enthusiastically watching Clarkston’s treatment of tiny houses and would support pushing the City of Atlanta to be the most recent municipality to allow for domiciles under 500 sq. ft.
(j) Creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
I fully support the creation of an affordable housing trust fund in the City of Atlanta in order to fill our affordable housing needs.
(k) Use City of Atlanta median for purpose of determining Area Median Income, rather than Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta.
I agree with most of the assessments that state AMI numbers used for many affordable housing formulas are too high. Given those who would be impacted by Atlanta’s affordable housing policies would live within the City of Atlanta, usage of City of Atlanta AMI would be more appropriate in our affordable housing legislation.
DEMOCRACY AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
- Do you support using general fund revenue to create a public financing campaign system for Municipal Elections, much like the Democracy Voucher program in Seattle, Washington?
Yes, I support looking into “clean/honest elections” measures that could be implemented in the City of Atlanta and ultimately letting voters decide if they support their tax dollars being used to support candidates.
- Do you support limiting or prohibiting campaign contributions from individuals doing business with the City of Atlanta, or from individuals employed by entities doing business with the City of Atlanta?
Yes, I support prohibiting campaign contributions from individuals or businesses (and their employees) during the time that they have an item on a City Council agenda.
- If appointed Chair of a Council Committee, or if asked as a Committee Member to vote on a public comment policy pertaining to a Council Committee, would you be open to the idea of no time limit for public comments? If not, why not?
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the first amendment, specifically, and free speech, generally. I have a long record as a neighborhood association officer of allowing completely free in-person and online debates on issues impacting our community without censoring or limiting comments.
However, I’ve also had the honor of working at City Hall for two years with Councilwoman Felicia Moore, and I’ve seen plenty of times when Council members were too stringent with public comments (the more common occurrence) and some instances where extremely extended public comment periods were used as a political tool to prevent/delay votes or other important Council business.
In order to ensure the work of Council gets done in a respectable timeframe, I support time limits for each commenter. However, I do believe that time limits should be longer in committee meetings than in full council meetings, given committees are where most of the work on items gets accomplished.
- Relatedly, would you allow citizens to make public comment on individual items as they come up on the agenda, or should public comment be restricted to the beginning and/or end of the meeting?
I support a dedicated public comment period at the beginning of meetings. Regarding committees, I believe each committee and/or its chair should be able to set their own rules governing public comment.
- Would you support a change to the City Charter allowing the public to comment at Work Sessions? Currently, there is only the right to comment at Full Council and Council Committee.
I support public comment at work sessions on a case-by-case basis. It is important that work sessions fully serve their purpose in allowing the Council to work with the administration and its departments to get more understanding and clarity on issues.
- Do you believe Committee Briefings should be videotaped and made open to the public?
I am strongly supportive of committee briefings being open to the public. I do not feel strongly either way on the official city videotaping of the briefings.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
- Do you support reforming City of Atlanta municipal code to eliminate the possibility of jail time for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis in the City of Atlanta (i.e. – decriminalization)?
I support decriminalization of marijuana. However, if this is done on a local level, it must be accompanied by an aggressive information campaign that educates citizens of the fact possession is still a violation of state and federal law, and they can be arrested/jailed for violating those respective laws.
- Do you support extending bar hours to 4 a.m.?
I do not currently support extending bar hours. This position could change if Atlanta would effectively enforce current state and local laws regarding liquor license violations. Additionally, if establishments have increased violations and crimes, the City should be able to take swift and decisive action against that business up to and including revocation of their alcohol permit and business license. If a bar is too dangerous to allow APD officers to work off-duty shifts there, it should also be deemed too dangerous for citizens and closed. Otherwise, a few bad apples are truly ruining the whole bunch.
So in summary, if Atlanta punished bad operators more effectively, I would be more encouraged to support extending bar hours.
- Do you support the increased use of solar panels and other renewable energy at City-owned buildings?
Yes. Furthermore, I believe the city should look at developing solar and methane-powered renewable energy generation at its closed landfill sites and any other city-owned land that would be able to produce renewable energy.
- How should the City of Atlanta change its policies and practices to promote more recycling by residents and businesses?
I would support expanding DPW’s Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Team, so the city can more effectively evaluate and educate citizens in regards to contaminated bins. This would not only include non-recyclables being placed in recycling bins, but also recyclables placed into regular waste bins. I would also support looking into usage/expansion of RFID technology on bins and rewards programs to incentivize recycling.
I also believe the city must find an innovative way to encourage recycling, or at least proper disposal, of used tires instead of illegal dumping of them. This is a very severe problem in District 9 and across other areas of the city. We can modify/enact measures at the local level, but we will also need to work with our state partners to modify/enact state measures.
- Do you believe the City of Atlanta sales tax rate is too high, and would you support any portion of the sales tax rate not being renewed? If so, which portion and why?
With the current City of Atlanta sales tax now totaling 8.9%, I would be hard-pressed to support any more additional increases, given how regressive sales taxes are. I would support renewing the water/sewer, MARTA, and transportation MOSTs, given I believe those are vital to repairing and improving important infrastructure in our city.
- Which of the several public transportation projects that have been proposed do you think deserve the highest priority? Current proposals include several MARTA rail line extensions in several directions; the Beltline and various street car lines; and several other projects.
I believe Atlanta would see the largest transportation benefit by extending/adding more heavy and light rail lines. This includes the Red Line extension and the Clifton Corridor. I would also be interested in the possibility of extending the Green Line up the Perry Blvd or Marietta Blvd corridor.
- What is your plan to make Atlanta more safe for pedestrians and to provide Atlanta’s pedestrians with safe passage in the form of sidewalks?
Our city must continue to establish more sidewalks and crosswalks and replace those that do not meet ADA standards. The lack of sidewalks is an egregious problem in District 9, given a majority of the district was not annexed into the city until 1952, and the city has done little since then to address the issue. One example I like to give is that I live within 1.5 miles of three City of Atlanta parks and none of them are safely accessible via sidewalk, with even main roads having gaps in the sidewalk and lacking proper crosswalk markings & signals.
I would be a strong advocate for the city to more aggressively fund sidewalk improvements, sidewalk repairs, crosswalk improvements, and additional pedestrian safety measures.
- Do you support restricting Council Office expenditures to staff and constituent outreach? Currently, some Council offices use their funds to run their offices, while others use some of their funds to allocate grants to pet projects in their district.
I do not support this, as I believe having the ability to bring important projects to your district is needed when departmental budgets do not fulfill needs. However, I would want to ensure these funds/projects are spread equitably throughout the district and would support some additional restrictions/oversight.
- If elected, would you still be employed in any other outside full-time or part-time employment, aside from your salaried position at City Hall? If so, what will that outside employment be?
I am currently an ICU nurse at Emory University Hospital. I dropped down from fulltime to part-time in January to focus on the campaign. If elected to City Council, I would further reduce my commitment to my current career by dropping down to a “PRN” (pro re nata/ as needed) employee. This would only require me to work two 12-hour shifts per month, while also allowing me to still meet the state requirements to maintain my professional licensure. These shifts would of course be scheduled on days when there are no official Council meetings.
As our next City Council member I believe there are a long list of challenges and opportunities facing District 9, and I plan on being available both at City Hall and in the district when families and businesses need me. My family has already made the necessary changes to help make this happen – we are all in.
- If elected, do you commit to sitting in your chair during the public comment portions of Full Council and Committee Meetings to actually listen to the public?
Yes, public comment is an important part of our democratic process, especially on the local level. Furthermore, I believe committee meetings should not begin until a quorum is met and should be recessed in the event the quorum is lost.
- Do you support linking Councilmember salary to meeting attendance, except in the case of a documented excuse?
I would support an ordinance that garnishes a council member’s wage due to an unexcused absence from a meeting of full council or an assigned committee meeting.