This year’s Durham’s City Council elections have 12 candidates running for three open seats. Renee J. Vaughan is running for the first time for Durham City Council at-large, in hopes that diverse voices of the people of Durham are represented.
Vaughan is a twenty-six year Durham resident, a certified research administrator at Duke University, has served on the city’s Homeless Services Advisory Committee and was previously executive director of the homeless prevention program “Operation Goodwill.”
Needless to say, Vaughan has continuously shown how she cares for the community of Durham, but how does she want to change Durham, and how does her vision differ from other candidates’?
“I am a new voice, and my goal is to make sure that all voices are heard,” Vaughan said.
She emphasizes how she wants people in Durham to feel comfortable knowing that it is their city, and that their concerns are important to the council.
There are a number of issues at stake, and Vaughan has been at the forefront of resolving issues of homelessness. She hopes that Durham can achieve affordable housing for all citizens of Durham, safe and equitable neighborhoods in the community and ultimately an end to homelessness.
“So many people have talked to me about the affordability issue- that they feel they can’t work and live in the city in which they serve and I think that’s something that we need to do something about, specifically looking at the homeless,” Vaughan said.
Along with developing an equitable community, Vaughan believes shared economic prosperity is important as well, to have businesses and entrepreneurship open to many sectors of the community. As a certified research administrator for Duke University, Vaughan has worked across the spectrum of research and research administration, and she believes, “there’s a lot to know about developing funding capacity for non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations. Some of the strategies that maybe we can use to elevate funding for the types of things that we want to see happen in Durham.”
A major topic for the Durham community has been the SCAD proposal, and is something that the Durham City Council plans on revisiting after the elections. SCAD, or Simplifying Codes for more Affordable Development, is an amendment proposal for Durham’s zoning and land development that is supposed to increase affordable housing, but some are concerned that some of the provisions will be unhelpful in doing so.
Vaughan mentions the possibility of implementing ADUs, or Accessory Development Units, as well as faith-based and mission organizations’ ability to come up with similar dwellings that are smaller and could be constructed for people such as the unhoused, people with disabilities or parents who are aging.
“I believe that we have to be open to looking at housing differently than maybe we have in the past, and look at density, and what is allowed in certain areas,” she said.
Vaughan believes there are a number of innovative ideas that could aid in affordable housing, such as tiny houses and repurposing cargo containers.
She also mentions how churches and faith-based organizations could enter the development area, use the properties, and address the issues concerning SCAD.
“There’s a lot of faith-based property, and perhaps they will be able to come up with some unique projects that will address the issues,” Vaughan said.
She notes that churches are already significantly involved with societal ills of the community that impact housing, so it is a possibility that organizations already working with unhoused people can be involved in development projects. Vaughan believes citizens should be aware of any changes that could potentially be made from SCAD, and that the voices and concerns of citizens in Durham should be heard so that any proposed regulations are in the best interest of the people living in Durham.
Vaughan is passionate about people finding community within Durham, and to assist those who fall through the cracks.
“Just being able to enjoy your neighborhood is important, being able to fellowship, to enjoy meals, or go to movies…” Vaughan said in regard to finding a desirable community.
Vaughan also highlights that although there are issues that need to be addressed in Durham, there are also a number of opportunities for youth and adults in Durham, but that people may not always be aware of them.
“We [City of Durham] have a lot of websites, but the information may not always be updated,” she said.
She states that there is a lot happening in Durham, and that she hopes to do work on educating and informing citizens of all the great things going on in the city.
Vaughan is also an advocate for reforming the Durham police force. She believes violence incited by police against Black people needs to be addressed, but also believes that there is a place for people who can de-escalate situations and are trained in community policing.
She is an advocate for programs like the HEART program, which was developed to relieve police of certain calls and to focus on violent crime.
“There are a lot of people that have been trained to handle certain issues, mental health issues and other crises,” Vaughan said. “We need to let them do their jobs, and we need to expand that. So we have to have a multi-pronged approach to safety in Durham.”
Durham is currently in the early voting period, and the first municipal primary election will be on Oct. 10, where the total number of candidates running will narrow down to six.
“I’m hoping to be able to move forward to the general, I am excited by what I’ve seen,” Vaughan said.
Renee J. Vaughan is currently accepting donations, volunteers and other support on her grassroots campaign website, vaughan4durham.com, and is open to listening to the city’s ideas and concerns.
“There’ve been a lot of opportunities to talk with citizens around the community about various issues and to get their input so I’m hopeful of being able to bring forward some of those innovative strategies and ideas,” she said. “You’d be surprised, people have a lot of ideas about what they’d like to see in Durham and how it is that we can work together, how we can pair the seniors with the youth.”
Edited by Eliza Benbow