Q&A with Candidate, Lauren Welsh, Atlanta Council District 2
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of the City of Atlanta 2017 Municipal Elections, this article presents the questionnaire responses of candidate, Lauren Welsh, who is running for Atlanta City Council District 2.
The District 2 seat is being vacated by Kwanza Hall, who is running for Mayor of Atlanta.
In addition to Welsh, there are four other candidates, including Amir Farokhi, Stephon Ferguson, Zelda Jackson, Nick Mulkey, and Lauren Welsh.
Farokhi’s responses were previously published by Atlanta Progressive News.
APN noted that Farokhi has close ties to Central Atlanta Progress, which has had a stronghold over at least the last two Councilmembers – Hall and Debbie Starnes, both who led the charge to close the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.
Welsh told APN that she did not believe the City of Atlanta should have spent so much time going after the homeless shelter.
APN sent contact messages to Ferguson, Jackson, and Mulkey via their respective websites; none of their websites provided an email address. Mulkey’s website sent an autoreply, and APN has sent the questionnaire to firstname.lastname@example.org .
As shown in her responses below, Welsh said she is open to the idea of allowing citizens to make relevant comments to Council Committees without having to worry about time limits.
This makes Welsh the only candidate so far to make that commitment, aside from incumbent Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large).
Welsh served as the Vice President of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta.
Welsh’s responses are as follows:
What is your position on the following affordable housing proposals?
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 approach.
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 support and will champion this approach. We should not be using 80% AMI as the definition of affordable housing when more than half of Atlantans pay 30% or more of their paycheck toward housing. We must recognize that in order to have a dynamic, diverse city, we will need to create housing for all age and socioeconomic levels.
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 the intent of this policy, but the focus on 60% to 80% AMI is still too high. We need to revise the ordinance to reflect 15% to 30% AMI. I also believe that we focus affordable housing policy too much on the BeltLine when instead it should be a citywide approach.
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 his approach.
Creating a baseline inventory of Atlanta’s existing affordable housing stock.
I support this approach. Without knowledge of what we currently have, it will be impossible to track our progress on this issue. We also need to continue to track the percentage of individuals who are spending 30% or more of their income on housing so that number changes as well.
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 this approach.
Offering grant assistance to property owners of aging multi-family apartment buildings, in return for securing promises to keep the units affordable.
I support this approach.
Exploring the increased use of community land trusts;
I support the increased use of both community land trusts and our Fulton/Atlanta Land Bank. We have not dedicated nearly enough resources to either of these tools to effectively create affordable housing.
Increased use of Tiny Houses and accessory dwellings, including appropriate zoning changes;
I support this approach. There are many single family housing lots throughout the city that could accommodate a “tiny house” or “granny flat” creating additional housing opportunities for students, seniors, low income individuals and more. This approach can go a long way in diversifying housing in some of our neighborhoods that are mostly filled with single family housing.
Creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
I support this approach.
Use City of Atlanta median for purpose of determining Area Median Income, rather than Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta.
I support this approach.
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?
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?
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 would be open to the idea. I absolutely want to encourage the highest level of public engagement, so I do not like time limits. However, I have seen how one strong personality can dominate a conversation to the point that others feel drowned out. There must be a balance.
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?
Absolutely, I would allow citizens to make public comment on individual items as they come up in the agenda. Forcing everyone to go at the beginning without any response from City Council makes it seem as if it’s only being done because it’s a requirement – not as if these comments are truly informing the conversation and the policy.
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.
[Editor’s note: Since sending this questionnaire, further research by Atlanta Progressive News has shown that the Charter already contains a right to make “reasonable” public comment at Work Sessions but this has not been recognized by the Council.]
Do you believe Committee Briefings should be videotaped and made open to the public?
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)?
[Editor’s note: This has already happened in the City of Atlanta. Since this questionnaire was first sent to Welsh, the Council unanimously adopted the measure, which was signed by the Mayor.]
Do you support extending bar hours to 4 a.m.?
Yes. When the City of Atlanta changed the bar hours from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., this was done because a small population in Buckhead was having challenges balancing neighborhoods and entertainment areas. There was not a citywide problem with the 4 am closing time. I believe there are more effective ways to create this balance than shutting down our night time economy. Recently the City of New York created an Office of Nightlife recognizing the value of the creative and economic space of evening businesses. Instead of shutting down businesses because we don’t understand how to balance day and night time economies, we must value how art, zoning, entertainment, and community in the evening are a critical part of a vibrant city.
Do you support the increased use of solar panels and other renewable energy at City-owned buildings?
How should the City of Atlanta change its policies and practices to promote more recycling by residents and businesses?
The Recycling Perks program is a start by rewarding people who recycle, but it needs to offer more significant benefits if people are going to sign up. I would support the City of Atlanta banning all plastic bags.
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?
Yes, because I don’t believe a regressive sales tax is the way to fund the work of our city government. We must show more political will to invest in critical needs in Atlanta. I would not remove any of it at this point because it is already collecting income, but I would not vote to support an additional increase of our sales tax.
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 would recommend a complete overhaul to our MARTA bus system. This would be a quick and cost-effective way to significantly adjust public transportation access. We must create more effective bus routes that take people where they need to go, and we must run buses on an every 10 minute schedule.
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?
First and foremost, the City of Atlanta must take back the responsibility and ownership of our sidewalks in the public right of way. Private owners should not have to pay for their repair. I will develop a comprehensive parking management strategy that will create parking zones throughout our city based on resident and business needs. Money collected by charging for parking will be dedicated specifically to improving sidewalks.
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 believe each Council Member should be trusted enough to best understand his or her district and the needs of those communities. What some call “pet projects” could be very worthwhile investments in neighborhoods. However, any expenditure on individual projects must go through a thorough community vetting process.
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?
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?
Do you support linking Councilmember salary to meeting attendance, except in the case of a documented excuse?
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2017)