Mike Woodard hopes to improve housing, economic development, city services in Durham

Published 3:02 pm on October 12, 2023

(N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, shakes Council Member Monique Holsey-Hyman’s hand at Holsey-Hyman’s press conference after she got cleared from an extortion investigation.  (Photo taken by Jailyn Neville)

N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard, (D-Durham), finished second in the primary for Durham mayor, making him a finalist for the seat. He announced his campaign in July after current Mayor Elaine O’Neal decided not to seek re-election. 

Senator Woodard is running for mayor because he hopes to help Durham stay together to solve the major challenges that the city is facing. 

The senator said he believes Durham is at a critical point and that it is his duty as a community member to offer his skillset from his 18 years of political experience in the N.C. Senate and Durham City Council. 

He said he considers Durham’s three main challenges to be enhancing city services, maintaining citywide economic success and creating accessible housing. 

“There is a sort of intersectionality for these things,” Woodard said. “They are all connected.” 

He said he believes Durham already does a good job maintaining its infrastructure, but that there are also instances when the city could do better, such as increasing wages and providing working equipment. 

Woodard also said he hopes to increase wages for city workers, such as firefighters and sanitation workers. As mayor, he said he wants to look more into the reason for vacancies in city positions because he says that there is no way a department can be productive if over 30% of positions are not filled. 

He plans to meet with each city department both individually and collectively to make sure all employees feel appreciated. 

But he said he knows it will take more than gratitude to repair the city’s relationship with its employees. 

Woodard wants to give city workers the tools they need to succeed, including higher wages and working equipment for every department in the city. 

Another of Woodard’s priorities is maintaining economic success for the city. 

Because of the recent increase in businesses building into the city and the low 3.2% unemployment rate, Durham is considered one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. 

But Senator Woodard understands that not all of the city is feeling the benefits of this prosperity. The senator said he wants to find ways for all Durham residents to take advantage of jobs by making them more accessible. 

One of his goals is to spread economic success to all parts of Durham, especially to young people of color. He said he supports Durham YouthWorks, a program that provides training to young people so that they can be competitive in the job market. 

Woodard said he considers YouthWorks one of the best ways to include more people in the economic growth that the city is experiencing. 

He also said he will strive to attract good-paying jobs with employers who align with Durham’s progressive, research-forward values. 

His other priority is housing, an issue that Durham has been struggling with in recent years. 

Housing prices in the city have continued to rise. The median home listing price in August 2023 was $429,200, according to Realtor.com. Most families in Durham are renters, but they are in danger of displacement due to the population growing and developers “flipping” houses for newer, wealthier residents. 

Residents’ biggest concern about the current housing market is the lack of affordable options. Even though there is a lot of development, a lot of people fighting for higher wages are being left behind

The US News and World Report considers Durham the third hottest real estate market in the United States because of buyer demand. However, 32% of current homeowners in the city cannot afford their housing

He said he knows housing is an issue on many residents’ minds, especially during this election season. 

The City Council has pushed back their vote on SCAD, Simplifying Codes for Affordable Development. 

SCAD is a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance that changes regulations for zoning and land development. Supporters say that this amendment will increase affordable housing for the city through more development. Opponents say it will give more power to larger developers, creating more gentrification. 

The original amendment was introduced by developer Jim Anthony and Habitat for Humanity of Durham. The HFHD has since formally removed their name from the amendment since no appropriate authority ever approved the organization to be a co-applicant. 

After initial discussions, the council decided to wait until after the election to vote on the amendment. 

Senator Woodard did not say anything about SCAD. 

However, he said he supports the Durham City Council’s $95 million bond referendum from 2019, calling it a smart financial down payment. 79.5% of voters voted in favor of the bond, which supports Forever Home, Durham. This organization uses its funds to create affordable housing options. 

Woodard said the city should work on workforce housing so that people don’t have to commute from other counties to work in Durham. He defines workforce housing as housing for people who work in the community such as teachers, firefighters, restaurant workers and department store staff.

He said he believes that housing, economic prosperity and maintenance of city services are interconnected issues with no clear solution. 

With city services, economic success and housing in mind, Woodard has been campaigning on the ground in his community. He said he believes the most important thing a leader can do is stay in touch with constituents. 

Woodard said he believes Durham is ready for change and he is running for mayor because he wants to be one of the changemakers. 

Edited by Ethan Horton and Hannah Noel