APN Chat with Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Ceasar Mitchell
(APN) ATLANTA — In our first in a series of interviews with this year’s Atlanta Mayoral candidates, Atlanta Progressive News sat down with candidate, Ceasar Mitchell.
APN met with Mitchell at his law office in Buckhead; Mitchell doubles as a Council Member at Large and a real estate attorney.
Mitchell voted to support Council Member Felicia Moore’s 2008 legislation calling for accountability by AHA. Mitchell also made a successful motion for public housing residents and advocates to speak without time limits at a Council CDHR Committee meeting last year.
In a 45 minute interview, Mitchell answered questions ranging from affordable housing to crime and the economy. APN has already reached out to Council Member Mary Norwood for an interview; while Norwood expressed interest in doing an interview last year, APN has not yet received a return phone call. APN will reach out to State Sen. Kasim Reed shortly.
As noted on APN’s blog, www.atlantaprogressiveblog.com, Norwood is currently leading in terms of money raised and name recognition. Reed comes in second, with Mitchell coming in last.
HOW CAN WE INCREASE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN ATLANTA?
We’ve got to put in place an inclusionary zoning policy, I’m a big proponent. We can approach this as voluntary or compulsory [We should] put in place some kind of blend, a baseline requirement and an enhanced incentive requirement.
What do you think that baseline requirement should be?
I would say 10% as a starting point.
What is the definition of affordable for you? Do you mean housing for teachers and police officers? Or for someone working at Target?
The formula is usually 120% of Area Median Income. But the market has really changed in the last 7 to 8 months- credit is scarce, salaries are depressed as well [Now, you’re talking about] $100,000 homes.
You’ve got a philosophy; everyone shouldn’t necessarily be in a home [versus an apartment]. You have to save and get some stability. There’s some merit to that, but it’s subjective.
Someone working at Target, making $20,000 a year might only qualify for a $60,000 home. With my background as a real estate lawyer I know there is a cost to deliver housing at that price point. In a general environment, you have to evaluate the cost to deliver housing. In a scenario of someone who can afford $60,000, but it costs $100,000 to build, a $20,000 to $30,000 subsidy is needed. At what point do you completely dis-incentivize the private market?
GIVEN THE BUDGET SHORTFALLS AND THE RECENT CUTS TO POLICE AND FIRE, WOULD YOU SUPPORT EFFORTS TO MAKE MARIJUANA ENFORCEMENT THE LOWEST POLICE PRIORITY IN ATLANTA?
I’m not in favor of legalization of marijuana. A crime is a crime is a crime. It’s bad for children.
What you’re speaking about is priorities. Everything else being equal, go after kids robbing a person’s house. In an environment again of limited resources, keep people safe of bodily harm. I don’t think we need to do anything legislatively. Practically, we need to be tough on crime.
SOME SAY THERE IS AN INCREASE IN VIOLENT CRIME IN ATLANTA, OTHERS SAY THERE IS NOT. DO YOU THINK THERE’S A PROBLEM, AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
There is a problem. I live in the West End. I’m a victim of crime. My car got broken into. We can’t ignore it. We can sit here and say, 2000 police officers. It will happen incrementally at best, not through hiring but through retention.
I’ve said 2,500 by the end of my term, and to have good recruiting practices, and to maintain morale on the force. Right now , a police officer has to pay for their own shirt and shoes [but the City should provide those.]
We’ve got to look at deployment. I authored legislation to require 8 weeks of foot patrol for all new trainees. This is a baseline commitment to community policing, really interacting with citizens. Foot patrol tends to reduce crime.
MAYOR FRANKLIN HAD A TEN YEAR PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS IN ATLANTA, BUT SOME SAY HOMELESSNESS HAS RISEN. WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY? ALSO, WOULD YOU REINSTATE A FUNDING RECOMMENDATION FOR THE METRO ATLANTA TASK FORCE FOR THE HOMELESS, WHICH MAYOR FRANKLIN HAD RESCINDED?
We need to identify what success means. It sounds great to end homelessness in 10 years. You may have more homelessness in Atlanta, but there may be success occurring.
When you have a large metropolitan city, you’re gonna have more homeless because there are more resources. If you announce you’re going to provide services, you’re really going to be a magnet.
The question should be, how many folks have we been able to successfully move into housing?
The same standard should be for Peachtree and Pine. I applaud their work and I hope they’ll be able to continue. Everyone needs to be judged by the same standards
You [also] got to talk productively, respectfully, to people around the table.
People suspect there’s a lot of emotions involved in that situation. Some say folks want to remove Peachtree and Pine from the area and that it’s a development opportunity. And that may well be the case. Folks say Peachtree and Pine is trying to put the issue [of homelessness] on front street.
MAYOR FRANKLIN HAS TAKEN THE CITY’S STRONG MAYOR STRUCTURE VERY SERIOUSLY, AND SOME HAVE SEEN A MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY APPROACH. WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
My approach is to continue my approach as a Council Member toward collaborating and providing the public with input [opportunities] and getting intellectual capital from the community.
[I have created boards or technical advisory groups regarding issues such as downtown vending, parks, and taxis.]
When I was Chair of the CDHR Committee, when the Beltline was being discussed, I was criticized because I slowed down the process to allow for community input, to allow AHAB and the NPUs input in the legislation, an organized process and venue.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO ABOUT THE BUDGET SHORTFALL?
Public safety is a real important issue for me. People are talking about raising taxes to pay for police, and I think that’s a fallacy. According to our City Charter, we are to provide for public safety, health, and welfare.
We will have money in the budget to develop public safety. If that’s a priority, we fund that first.
Then the question becomes, Do we want to raise taxes on secondary or tertiary items? Such as a consulting contract for an IT improvement? Or keeping recreation centers open another hour?
We don’t have a deficit because Mayor Franklin said we’re not gonna be in a scenario where expenditures exceed revenues [and she made cuts].
I hope in a year we won’t have a deficit to grapple with, or any deficit will be small because of the steps taken.
The real issue is service delivery. Making those tough decisions about what those priorities are. My position is, fund those priorities.
For other functions, do we raise taxes for those? Or do we want to continue to provide those services? We shouldn’t just run to increase taxes.
Were there any cuts Franklin made you did not support?
You know this. The Fire Station. I knew we’d have to make some cuts. I tried to spark a debate or at least some educational process, but I couldn’t get the Administration to have that conversation.
[There may have been in the budget] $1 million for travel, $5-6 million for consulting. I don’t know whether these were essential [or whether] alternative cuts could have been made.
What would you do to make the budgetary process more transparent?
Don’t hide the ball from the Council until the end. We should pursue zero-based budgeting.
APN RAISED SEVERAL CONCERNS ABOUT THE ATLANTA HOUSING AUTHORITY’S MASS DEMOLITION OF PUBLIC HOUSING, INCLUDING ISSUES OF RESIDENT INPUT, THE AVAILABILITY AND LOCATION OF VOUCHER HOUSING, AND AHA’S CLAIMS ABOUT THE CONDITIONS OF ITS BUILDINGS. WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE TO THE CONCERNS APN HAS RAISED ABOUT AHA’S POLICY?
My response, you heard very publicly, I was very clear. Again, a communication issue and somewhat of a political issue.
My understanding was the vast majority of people living in these projects were glad to see some redevelopment occurring.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: As previously reported by APN, this is not true. Residents were never given a choice by AHA; they were simply told demolitions were planned and asked whether they wanted a voucher. A GSU study shows about half of families and the majority of seniors would prefer to fix up their current housing. The vast majority of residents in Hollywood Courts and Palmer House signed petitions opposing demolitions.]
Fundamentally, I’m in favor of the Quality of Life program, to move from concentrated poverty to mixed income.
But just because a program is great in concept doesn’t mean it’s perfect or above reproach.
I had a couple meetings with the Housing Authority expressing my concerns, with Ms. Glover and Mr. Simms and I told them to be upfront with people. I didn’t call a press conference or introduce legislation.
I’m a big proponent of one to one replacement. We ought to be ensuring there’s housing available in the proximity of that housing, especially for seniors and families.
If you’re a senior, to have to move to Clayton or Cobb can be very disruptive so there needs to be some level of sensitivity to that. The Housing Authority has programs, the Housing Choice vouchers and the project-based.
[The lack of affordable housing] is a market issue. The question is, what can the Housing Authority do to help ameliorate that? They have some good programs in place, but they came off as arrogant. They had a PR problem.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is email@example.com.
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