***This post is from June 2022, expect an update on our progress in mid-September!***
Approximately one year ago, ONE Wake embarked on a campaign to assist homeowners at risk of displacement from skyrocketing property taxes.
This issue campaign began organically through door knocking in the Rochester Heights and Caraleigh communities of Raleigh, asking residents what was the top pressure facing their families. What we kept hearing from homeowners, especially elderly homeowners, was that their property taxes had doubled and in some instances tripled within the prior few years. Race was a major factor. In the last four years, property tax increases were highest in African American neighborhoods that were historically segregated and under-resourced.
ONE Wake organizers and leaders then began to have relational meetings with homeowners to learn if they wanted to do something about it. ONE Wake follows an Iron Rule of organizing - we do not do for others what they won’t do for themselves. Through relational meetings we learned that homeowners were angry, and that they were willing to act. Our next step was having listening sessions (small group conversations) to hear the plights of the people.
Through these listening sessions we were able to speak with, and learn the intricacies of how property taxes and rising housing cost burden was affecting the lives of over 200 homeowners. We also began to partner with organizations that shared our concern, like Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, and the NC Budget and Tax Center. Together we did our research and learned that several other counties in North Carolina like Durham, Orange, and Mecklenburg have already directed significant public investment to keep longtime homeowners in their homes. The natural question was: why there, but not in Wake?
After months of listening and research, ONE Wake held our first public action to address this issue on October 21, 2021. The action was attended by over 600 homeowners and supporters: 250+ in person, and the rest viewing at home via Facebook Live. During the action a group of homeowners and ONE Wake leaders asked Raleigh City Council members Corey Branch and Stormie Forte, as well as Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria (who was the Chair of the Board, at the time) whether they would work with ONE Wake to create a new form of property tax assistance that would help to keeplong time, low income homeowners in their homes. The result was elected officials standing in front of hundreds of Wake County residents, and each answering YES! without hesitation.
Since our October action, ONE Wake leaders have been in conversation with all of the Wake County Commissioners as well as County staff (note: Raleigh Council members stated they would follow the lead of County officials). In the first half of 2022, ONE Wake has gained a good deal of recognition from Wake County Commissioners. The Commissioners have met with the homeowner team and ONE Wake leaders again and again whenever we requested a meeting. The Commissioners also instructed the County Manager's office to develop a menu of potential options to help address this issue.
Despite this progress, in early 2022, we didn’t have a deal, nor was a deal even on the table for that matter. For this reason, ONE Wake leaders and the homeowner team felt it was important to keep themselves and this issue on the minds of their elected officials. Our leaders understood that in the world as it is, we need power to effect change, and that power must be exercised consistently and persistently. With this in mind, we planned and executed a series of actions this spring to keep the pressure on!
Our first action in 2022 was a late February press conference and rally at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, just one day before the County Commissioners were set to receive the menu of options from the County Manager. Of course, we wanted to get our opinions heard in advance! Over 100 homeowners and supporters showed to stress to elected officials the importance of following through on their word of putting in place a new property tax assistance program.
Next, over 150 ONE Wake leaders and homeowners filled the Wake County Commissioners public meeting on April 4. One county staff member said that he had never seen so many people ever attend a Commissioners meeting. During the meeting, ONE Wake leaders made public comment to remind Commissioners of their pledge to assist homeowners. Participants were so moved that they began to spontaneously share testimony to urge the Commissioners to take action. The Commissioners then called on the County Manager to give an update. The Manager committed to bring back a more developed list of options on June 13.
Finally, in early June, a small team of 15 homeowners, leaders, and ONE Wake organizers met with three of the seven County Commissioners to begin conversing together about possible solutions. We had an open, engaging, and exploratory conversation to discuss ONE Wake’s proposals, as well as some creative potential solutions from the Commissioners. We left with a list of potential options, as well as an understanding that we were on track to create a coalescing vision for homeowner assistance by the fall that we could then take to the Raleigh City Council.
It seems that this meeting was helpful, because when the County Manager’s office reported back to the County Commissioners on June 13 as promised, they appeared to be stuck: they hadn’t substantially developed the original set of options that were presented in late February. Instead of allowing the issue to be shelved and forgotten, the County Commissioners strongly encouraged the County Manager’s office to redouble their efforts and work with them to develop real solutions.
We plan on continuing this work over the summer. Our next steps are to:
Meet with County Commissioners and County staff for a second work session to further develop options to assist struggling homeowners;
Take County Commissioners, County staff, and Raleigh City Council members on a tour of College Park to see the effects of skyrocketing property taxes and displacement first hand;
- Work with a team of pastors and neighborhood leaders to door knock and host listening sessions in the Town of Wake Forest to hear from long time, low income homeowners in that community about their experiences with property tax increases.
This fall, ONE Wake will call on the candidates for Raleigh City Council to follow the lead of the Wake County Commissioners to put assistance in place for homeowners who are struggling to pay city taxes. Join us on October 6th to show your support for this issue! Sign up today!
For more information about this campaign, or to get involved, please contact ONE Wake organizer Stephon Whitley at [email protected].
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